At the start of this year nobody could have predicted how our digital priorities would shift when the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic hit in March. As a result, our focus for the remainder of the year changed direction, to concentrate on supporting the most vulnerable people in society and ensuring our customers had access to our services at this critical time. In 2020 our role had never been more important.
Our response to COVID-19
In DWP Digital, our main objective was to support DWPs critical services, as Simon McKinnon wrote about in his May blogpost.
The demand for digital services such as Universal Credit grew in a sudden and unanticipated way, but our colleagues were quick to rise to the challenge as many of them volunteered for redeployment to critical services.
Oliver, who normally works in digital recruitment and advertising campaigns, was redeployed to Universal Credit processing. Speaking about his experiences, Oliver said:
“Universal Credit has the user at its heart, it’s so simple and can all be done online. I had 5 days of intensive learning and then put into action processing. I felt that I was doing something which had a real sense of purpose.”
Coronavirus may have changed our priorities for a while, but it also gave us an opportunity to accelerate some of the work that was already planned to take place. For example, DWP Digital ensured that DWP’s services remained secure, stable and maintained for the department’s 20 million customers. This included making over 10,000 rapid IT changes, deploying more than 40,000 devices to DWP colleagues working at home, rapidly upscaling VPN capacity and accelerating the digitisation of several services. Crucially, DWP Digital’s hybrid cloud hosting approach to the Universal Credit digital service enabled the department to deal with more than 10 times the usual number of claims.
The introduction of our Confirm Your Identity service helps Universal Credit customers to prove their identity online during the application process. The service, which was accelerated as part of the response to COVID-19, works by enabling citizens to reuse an existing HMRC Government Gateway account, or create a new one, as part of their Universal Credit application.
Online applications for Pension Credit were also accelerated as we looked to provide digital services for our most vulnerable citizens, while New Style Jobseeker’s Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance were rolled out at the start of the pandemic to offer further support.
And, our integration team worked hard on enabling process automation and better sharing of information across DWP and other government departments. Jacqui Leggetter, Head of Integration, explains how our silent ‘API army’ has helped DWP’s COVID-19 response.
We’re moving away from building services which are focused on specific benefits towards services which are focused on the user, their journeys and their needs. DWP Digital’s ambition is to provide a seamless customer experience across government, allowing people to access support without needing to know what part of the department (or even government) provides it.
Collaboration across our department and across government is central to these aims, which were in place before the pandemic had such a strong impact. In February we collaborated with GDS to share stories about how we work in content and service design during GDS Services Week. We’re looking forward to further collaboration in 2021.
In August we shared the story of how user centred service design and content design improved a live pension service for users. Gavin Elliott, Design Lead, Shared Channels Experience Directorate, wrote about 7 tips for transforming service journeys and what we’ve learned about user-centred design.
And, we’re committed to making the services we design accessible for everyone to use, as Craig Abbott, Head of Accessibility outlined in his blogpost about understanding accessibility in May.
Inclusive online events
Although the majority of us had to get used to new ways of working from home, in lots of ways it provided an opportunity to work with more inclusivity. Online events allowed more people to attend, with less disruption to their normal working day and time away from home.
For example, Craig Eblett, Direct of Digital Delivery for Shared platforms was Talking Covid-19 and business change with fellow digital leaders at the techUK virtual conference and we had speakers at lots of online events including Digital Leaders Week where we shared what we we’re doing in the areas of APIs, identity and trust and innovation.
The pandemic has led to an increased requirement for specialist digital skills and there’s never been a better time to join us. We’re looking to recruit around 750 further people by March 2021 as we continue to deliver our ambitious ‘Digital With Purpose’ campaign. Our campaign reflects our Employer Value Proposition (EVP) and brand values developed as a result of research and audience insight. And, we’re delighted to have won the Gold award for the Best Employer Brand at the recent In-house Recruitment Awards.
We’ve adapted our recruitment process to make it easier for tech specialists to join us. For example, we’re using video interviewing instead of face-to-face, to keep people safe. We provide new colleagues with the tech to work from home, including laptops and mobile phones. And we’ve introduced new technologies to support remote collaboration such as Microsoft Teams. In our blogpost Starting a new role in lockdown new starter Danek, said:
“It’s been refreshing to come into an organisation that’s a big supporter of wellbeing, where open questions are being asked to ensure colleagues are coping in the current situation.”
And, in August we launched our Digital Apprenticeships programme, a rare opportunity to join DWP Digital at a junior level and secure specialist skills to build a successful digital career.
Championing women as role models
Our work on gender parity has gone from strength to strength. We’ve had a place in The Times Top 50 Employers of Women for 2 years running - the UK’s list of employers leading the way on workplace gender equality.
In March, we celebrated International Women’s Day, and our Gender Lead Ozma Iqbal blogged about how we’re supporting women in their careers.
We’re signed up to the Tech Talent Charter, pledging to reflect the diversity of the population in our tech workforce. And we have a wide range of initiatives to help support women in tech, including our award-winning Digital Voices programme, which helps women develop their skills, knowledge and confidence in order to create more visible role models in the workplace.
After a brief pause in March, our Digital Voices activity continued despite the pandemic. Online events, virtual support groups and a digital event bringing everyone together in October for a day of virtual learning and reflection have helped to keep the sense of community strong during lockdown. Although our work, home, social spaces and the world may have changed, our goals and aspirations towards equality have not.
And finally, we were thrilled to be voted Best Public Sector Employer in the Women in Tech Employer Awards. The judges commented that as an organisation, we are “going above and beyond and investing in this space significantly”. This award really recognised our investment in gender parity.
As the year comes to a close we’re looking ahead. Our key priorities for 2021 will be shaped by the lessons we’ve learned from the last 10 months and the challenges it continues to bring. Director Helen Roberts recently summarised her thoughts on the work we’ve done, and the work we’re continuing to do, as we aim to be a department that is truly Digital With Purpose. These challenges will help us to deliver a truly modern department that is focused on our users and their needs.
To find out more about DWP Digital subscribe to our email newsletter.