In this exclusive Q&A – and ahead of a keynote presentation at PublicTechnology Live this month – the tax agency’s CDIO Daljit Rehal discusses his transformation priorities, including reforming the supply chain, tackling legacy IT, and a major push towards low code
The PublicTechnology Live conference taking place in London later this month will close with an on-stage interview exploring ‘the future of public services’.
There could be few better candidates to discuss this topic than the chief digital and information officer of HM Revenue and Customs, Daljit Rehal (pictued below left).
The work of the department – which, in the 2020/21 year, included collecting more than £600bn in revenue, helping 14 million people via the furlough and self-employment schemes, and assisting thousands of companies with the transition to the UK’s post-Brexit rules and systems – touches the lives of every citizen, and the operations of every business.
Its huge workload in supporting pandemic response and Brexit came in addition its ongoing delivery of a major transformation of the tax system, via the rollout of the Making Tax Digital programme. Not to mention an overhaul of its own technology supply chain and infrastructure, which aims to diversify the supplier base with which it spends £900m a year, while embracing cloud and tackling legacy systems.
Ahead of Rehal’s appearance at PublicTechnology Live on 29 March – a CPD-certified event that is free to attend for the public sector – we caught up with the digital chief to get a preview of his thoughts on the department’s priorities for the future, and his reflections on the achievement’s of the past few years.
PublicTechnology: What would you characterise as the major digital and IT objectives for HMRC in the year ahead?
Daljit Rehal: It won’t come as any surprise that Making Tax Digital continues to be a key priority for us. On Making Tax Digital for VAT, we’re gearing up for 1 April when all VAT businesses, regardless of turnover, must use software to keep digital records and submit tax returns. On Making Tax Digital for Income Tax (MTD ITSA), we’re working closely with customers, agents and software developers on the pilot, making sure we’ve tested it fully with them before MTD ITSA is introduced in April 2024.
We’re continuing to transform our systems and the way we work, for example improving the tools our advisers use by giving them better access to information, for a quicker and more joined-up customer experience.
And to better support all of the services our colleagues and customers use, we are restructuring our IT supplier model through our Technology Sourcing Programme, continuing to improve resilience and stability of services by moving to cloud hosting, and strengthening our cybersecurity.
What’s the latest on the Technology Sourcing programme, and the ambition to diversify the supplier base?
We’re on track with our plans to break up our largest IT contracts and award new ones, while protecting our live services, by June 2022.
So far, we’ve launched 26 competitive tenders, addressing over 85% of our IT spend, and awarded 22 contracts to 9 different suppliers.
But our Technology Sourcing Programme is about much more than contracts. Between now and 2025, we will create the IT organisation we need for the future, helping ensure HMRC can meet its objectives and Charter commitments. This includes making our services accessible and easy and quick to use, and protecting the customer information we hold.
After several years of meeting the demands of Brexit and coronavirus response, does 2022 and beyond represent a chance to pursue longer-term transformation objectives?
I’m very proud of the way HMRC has risen to the challenges it has faced. We’ve all had to work in different ways and there’s lots we’ve learnt in the process. As the UK emerges from the pandemic, we have a renewed focus on our core purpose and on our vision of a trusted, modern tax and customs department.
One of the key ways we’ll transform our digital services is through Single Customer Accounts – a single point through which taxpayers will interact with HMRC online. It will make it easier for taxpayers to view and manage their tax and benefits, reduce unnecessary contact, and improve compliance.
We’re also transforming our systems and the way we work so that businesses, individuals and agents can use the tax system more easily and in real time. I am passionate about moving HMRC towards a low code/no code future, where we can give our operational colleagues the tools to fully configure new services reducing the need for expert IT help.
After nearly 18 months, how has the level of digital expertise and technology innovation in HMRC – and the civil service more widely – compared with your experiences in the private sector?
Our IT deliveries during 2020 and 2021 were critical to the nation, including the solutions for the chancellor’s Covid-19 relief schemes and work done to support Brexit transition. I’m still struck by the levels of talent I see around me and how much passion colleagues have for making things better for customers.
There’s also much from these high-profile successes we can build on, particularly around configuring change and looking at new ways of operating effectively. We need to modernise some very old technology on our IT estate and move to modern, capable platforms, while not only keeping the lights on but continuing to improve the customer experience. We’re not alone in grappling with that challenge, but it’s one I’m having to focus hard on.
At the same time, I’m really excited about the opportunities for technologies like artificial intelligence to change how we work in far more fundamental ways, helping us build a truly digital tax system. The more diverse supplier base we’re creating through our Technology Sourcing Programme will help us innovate in ways we haven’t been able to before.
Daljit Rehal will be joined at PublicTechnology Live by a range of top speakers, including Government Digital Service chief executive Tom Read, Department for Work and Pensions CDIO Simon McKinnon, Lisa Emery, CIO of the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, and Sonia Pawson, head of emerging talent for the civil service Fast Stream programme.
Attendance at the one-day conference, at the Business Design Centre on 29 March, is free for public sector representatives.