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Meet Tony, DWP Technology Principal Solution Architect

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As a Technology Architect in DWP, it is impossible to write about a typical day as every day is different. I’m a Principal Solution Architect and it’s my job to take requirements from the business and design a system that meets those needs. It’s a varied and interesting role – not least because of the massive welfare reform transformation going on in government right now.

Tony Nicol

To put this in context, I'm working on more than a dozen IT projects in our Data and Analytics function. Ranging from migrating the Department’s huge data warehouse into a new data centre, to developing a data lake to provide the DWP and external organisations with access to data in new ways.

It’s a good time to be in the DWP as we introduce new technologies and deliver projects in agile ways. The greater and more efficient access to data will help us to: make better predictions about which parts of our community need help; create pension forecasts based on trends over time; detect fraud to protect the tax payer and much, much more.

We’re bringing our services online, improving efficiency and making them more convenient. So we need to be even more conscious of creating systems that are intuitive, simple and user-friendly. We also need to deliver securely to a variety of platforms, ranging from PCs to mobile phones, using a range of web browsers and supporting accessible technologies.

To implement these systems, I attend a lot of workshops with colleagues from across the business so that I can understand what's needed to meet the needs of system users and, ultimately, our claimants. It’s down to me to ensure we come up with a technical solution that is realistic, cost effective and fits with the DWP and wider government IT strategy.

Requirements include both functional (what should it do) and non-functional (how responsive should it be, security, operational hours) features. So, as an architect, one of the challenges I have is being able to communicate complex technical concepts in terms that people can understand. I then need to be able to draw up an initial solution architecture from the high-level requirements. If it’s a big complex system, then I'll lead a team of senior solution architects to jointly create the design. It’s exciting stuff – we are transforming public services in the UK’s biggest government department – and we spend lots of time going through various approaches and ideas to get it right.

When I’m putting together a solution, I’m taking into account our Department’s IT strategy and I work closely with domain architects who look at new products and technologies. They provide recommendations to solution architects on technologies and architectural patterns using an online digital blueprint. A domain architect tends to focus on a single area such as networking, integration (connecting systems together), security, hosting, desktop and data.

Architects also need to be commercially aware as hosting and licensing costs can influence the solution.  For example, is a software licence processor-based, core-based, server-based, user-based, transaction-based or whatever? I’m often involved in impassioned negotiations with our commercial colleagues.

Once the project moves into detailed design, I’ll call upon my software engineering skills to work with code developers and testers to explain what is required and how they will implement the solution within the designed architecture.

My job is something I’m passionate about and I want to share my knowledge with others so that they can build their capability. So I've designed and delivered training courses in computer networking and web development (HTML, CSS, Javascript, JSON / REST API etc.). I currently run a code club twice a week to support people wanting to learn digital skills and programming. On a philosophical note, my view has always been ‘the more you learn, the more you realise how little you know’, so I’m keen to encourage continuous learning, for others and myself.

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  1. Comment by Ruth Calladine posted on

    Thanks Tony
    Really interesting stuff and good to learn about your role and a useful reminder of the requirements/NFRs definition!

  2. Comment by Amanda Mills posted on

    Well written & informative blog