A significant event happened on 19 April this year that will have passed most people by. It wasn’t a royal wedding (and best wishes to the happy couple), finding alien life or the release of a new superhero film but the switching off of the Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) channel which sends HMRC PAYE Real Time Information. Right now I can imagine people scratching their heads and asking what on earth is EDI?
Electronic Data Interchange
Let me explain.
EDI, along with the internet, was an electronic channel through which large volumes of payroll data could be sent and has been the mainstay of HMRC transactions for approaching 20 years. But time doesn’t stand still in the digital world and the costs of maintaining the system and the multi-channel option couldn’t last forever. It needed to be replaced.
The Beginning of the End
In 2015 it was decided that HMRC would decommission EDI in April 2018. Immediately the EDI Customer Relationship Management (CRM) team, based in Shipley, began looking at what that meant. A moment of shock hit when we realised it was going to affect more than 800 customers (or Trading Partners), the majority of whom were the largest employers and pension providers in the UK and beyond. Between them, they administer 21,000 PAYE schemes representing more than 22.5 million employees and annuitants (a person entitled to receive benefits or payments from an annuity).
In a perfect world the internet transition would be as simple as flicking a switch but, for large employers where systems are closely integrated, the decommissioning represented a real challenge to implement. All 800 of them needed to switch to doing business with HMRC over the internet in a limited timeframe. Extending the deadline was not an option.
The End of the Beginning
So what did we do?
Once the terms of reference were agreed the project began in earnest. Our CRM team reviewed every customer against a series of parameters to create a risk-based scoring system used to inform our contact strategy early in 2017, with those more in need being contacted first.
We worked closely with our customers to find common themes and issues, which we shared with other customers in our efforts to smooth the transition process. Members of the team conducted more than 100 visits to customers’ premises to talk through unique and detailed requirements including software compatibility, security concerns and practical steps like setting up as an agent. We kept our customers up to speed with regular communications and the team dealt with thousands of emails and telephone calls over the course of 2017 and early 2018.
Ultimately the biggest challenge to the successful delivery of the decommissioning project was the delivery of internet-enabled software updates to existing payroll software products. Three quarters of our customers used one of a handful of software providers. Naturally, those providers had their own release cycles and they had both scheduled delivery of their internet-enabled software only months before the April deadline. This didn’t leave our customers with as much time as we’d have liked to test their internet solution but I applaud each and every one of them for their efforts and good humour, even when we were very busy working through challenges to keep the implementation on track.
As lead of the CRM team, I’ve never seen a more passionate group of people working so hard than in the last few months EDI was operational. There was laughter, even when the going occasionally felt tough, and the dedication and commitment carried the team over the line and we transitioned all of our customers to the internet and switched off our EDI service on the 19 April 2018. The 812 customers with 21,000 PAYE schemes reporting on 22.5 million people are now in the brave new internet world.
EDI was an unsung hero for HMRC having been in operation for nearly 20 years, supporting millions of transactions and setting a standard by which other services were subsequently measured. Although most staff, and much of the employer community, have never heard of EDI there will always be a small team from Shipley who will remember its final days and weeks with pride.
Ian Hall, Senior Customer Relationship Manager
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