DWP to roll out home-grown customer information platform to 80,000 civil servants

New application, which was developed internally, will ultimately run in AWS environment


Credit: Lauren Hurley/PA Images​

A customer information system application developed by the Department for Work and Pensions is to be rolled out to 80,000 users across government.

The platform, called Searchlight, was built to replace an IBM customer information system that was showing signs of age, according to project scrum master Stephen Headley.

“Customer information was provided by an ageing interface that presented data in a functional way, via multiple screens that were cumbersome to navigate,” he said.  “We consulted extensively with the system users during our discovery phase, and they expressed a number of pain points with the existing interface, including time wasted due to system timeouts. Additionally, information architecture meant that tasks took too long, with the user having to toggle between screens to gather information for their task.”

The platform holds information on 22 million UK citizens, and is used by 60,000 staff at the DWP and 20,000 more across the rest of Whitehall to manage the payment of £168bn in benefits, credits, and allowances each year.

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Work on creating a new application began more than two years. The project is being undertaken by a multidisciplinary team of DWP staff and workers from BPDTS Ltd, the in-house IT company owned by the department. 

IBM – with which the DWP signed a seven-year, £525m contract in 2011 – worked with the department to “to coach, mentor and transfer knowledge to corresponding DWP disciplines” before being phased out. 

“The project embraces user design and product ownership, and is maintained by a DWP-led team,” Headley said. “We invested significant time in carrying out research with numerous user groups with diverse needs and detailed testing of prototypes to shape the presentation and navigation of customer data on the application. At each stage of building the application, we engaged with users, sought feedback directly via the application and then brought this input back to improve the application. We also advertise our new features as they roll out via a ‘What’s New’ channel, also integrated.”

Searchlight has been designed as a “single page application” that works on PCs, tablets, and smartphones. It will ultimately be run from the DWP’s hybrid cloud environment, using Amazon Web Services.

Some 20,000 civil servants are already up and running on Searchlight, with the remaining 60,000 users of the DWP’s customer database to be migrated in the coming months. This will include DWP staff and workers from various other government departments. 

“I’m excited to see the continued benefits Searchlight will bring to the organisation and how we can also help other emerging services and platforms within DWP Digital integrate with it,” Headley said. “We’ve still got a raft of features to introduce and move the application to AWS but, hey, we love a challenge!”


Sam Trendall

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