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Migrating the award-winning Tell Us Once service

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Cloud services, Infrastructure engineering, Tell Us Once
A tablet device displaying the Tell Us Once website, on a wooden floor
Tell Us Once can be accessed online

Tell Us Once (TUO) is a digital service managed by DWP Digital, which recently won a Digital Leaders 100 Award in recognition of the 100% coverage it now offers across England, Scotland and Wales.

Originally established over ten years ago, TUO provides citizens with the opportunity to inform multiple local and government departments of a bereavement, saving them a considerable amount of effort at what can be a stressful time. It also offers considerable savings for departments by halting incorrect payments of benefits, which is estimated at around £20m per year. You can read more about the service in this blog post from earlier this year.

However, earlier this year it became apparent that the infrastructure of the service was in need of an upgrade. Additional functionality and licensed components that had been built in over time were now causing instability, leading to considerable downtime for colleagues and users trying to access it.

The service connects with colleagues across departments such as HMRC, DVLA and HM Passport Service, so any downtime was impacting on these areas as well.

A temporary fix and a long-term solution

Our team initially did some work to stabilise the service such as fixing bugs and resolving individual issues, but these were always going to be temporary fixes. Long-term, the plan was to migrate the service to new SQL databases which would provide a more stable, faster service for users and ultimately improve their experience. This would also reduce licensing costs, which would obviously benefit the department.

Our engineers had been planning over a period of months to migrate the service to new infrastructure with minimal disruption to users. However, a further incident in early September brought Tell Us Once offline again, and at this point it was agreed to fast-track the migration in order to get it back online as soon as possible.

Migrating remotely

With this in mind, the team worked tirelessly to prepare for the migration, following the regimented pre-planned process they had put in place. This included a database backup, DNS changes and extensive testing which involved numerous teams across DWP. At the end of an intense 48-hour period, the migration had been successfully completed and Tell Us Once was back online.

This was all achieved by a core team of five who had never had the opportunity to meet in person, plus an additional ten who provided support. Instead they had worked remotely, through daily calls, a dedicated Slack channel and an always-on Teams chat to discuss any issues or problems.

It also involved significant collaboration with other departments, particularly HMRC who were heavily involved in the testing process before TUO was switched over.

A better service for users

The result of all that work is a service that is set up to be resilient and stable. The software is now at a supportable IT standard, with more cost-effective technology underpinning the service.

Cloud hosting also offers an extra layer of resilience by operating at a huge scale, meaning we are less reliant on individual systems.  From a user’s point of view, the service will now support the adoption of new accessibility standards, so that more people can use the service.

Overall, we’re really proud of how our team came together to deal with this challenge and deliver a successful result. It was only achieved through collaboration across DWP and other departments, and we want to thank everyone who contributed.

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