The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) pays out £115 billion a year to more than 26 million customers. While its IT systems may not always have been in the spotlight for all the right reasons this past year, the department headed by Joe Harley has certainly been central to some major changes.

Over the last 12 months, the department points to significant progress in the major IT Transformation Programme that started in late 2005. Underpinning this was the realignment of existing contracts for IT services with EDS and voice and data management with BT. Harley said this contract rationalisation is delivering services based on industry-wide standards, supplied at competitive, market prices and driving up supplier performance. The EDS deal signed in 2005, for example, was designed to reduce the number of individual contracts from 150 and cut IT spend by £900 million over five years.

As a result, the DWP has increased its number of screens and also introduced some new technology. “Within this programme we have seen the roll out of new PCs to all desktops in the DWP (plus mobile devices), an upgrade of voice and data networks, the consolidation of mainframes and other servers to two resilient centres, the roll out of modern telephony based on BT’s 21st Century Network, and the adoption of the Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) reference model for systems development,” Harley says. “This has been achieved all at reduced cost to the department”.

A major milestone has been the first successful releases of the Pensions Transformation Programme, designed to enable state pension claims to be processed in one 20-minute call rather than taking two hours and several customer contacts. And on an operational level, a major implementation of a new department-wide, resource management HR system has also been completed.

Harley adds: “It has been gratifying that DWP’s Customer Information System (CIS) technology has been selected to contribute to the National Identity Card.” CIS provides a single view of information about UK inhabitants and will form one of the biggest high-performance databases in Europe, currently with 88 million accounts, running at 160 transactions per second. Harley said CIS is already helping DWP customer facing staff, including those in the Pensions Transformation sites, to give customers more accurate and timely information and to more easily trace customers.

DWP technology did not escape scrutiny for some less positive milestones over the last year though. The announcement last July that the Child Support Agency would be wound up was widely reported after its £450m computer system failed to deal with the number of claims. Ministers also revealed the ‘fresh start’ non-departmental CSA replacement – Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission (C-MEC) – will inherit the existing £456m case management system, provided by outsourcer EDS and criticised by a National Audit Office report published at the beginning of 2007.

Looking ahead to the next 12 months is the completion of all elements of the IT Transformation programme, including the introduction, using the new 21st Century Network, of the virtualisation of contact centres through the introduction of Voice over Internet Protocol.

The Department also highlights the introduction of the new Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) as a significant priority. This is a key element of the Government’s Welfare Reform programme as outlined in the Welfare Reform Green Paper A New Deal for Welfare: Empowering People to Work and provided for in the Welfare Reform Bill presented to Parliament in July last year.

Essentially, ESA is a new allowance that will replace incapacity benefits for new claims from October 2008. It will make use of the Benefits Processing Replacement Programme (BPRP), announced three years ago, which was meant to save £60m annually by joining up the benefits payment system more effectively. The BPRP system will be recycled for ESA processes – the same area involved in the DWP’s debt management unit, responsible for recovering money owed to the government from benefit fraud or overpayments.
Harley concludes: “The key business challenge for the department is to continue to improve our service levels to customers while delivering the required efficiencies for the taxpayer.”

“The key business challenge for the department is to continue to improve our service levels to customers while delivering the required efficiencies for the taxpayer”
– Joe Harley, IT director general and CIO, DWP