Public Services > Central Government

HMRC details post-Aspire contract benefits - and hunts top tech talent

David Bicknell Published 15 July 2017

Tax authority highlights use of APIs and cloud and says it has virtualised more than 60% of its IT estate in the last 18 months


HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) has outlined its key post-Aspire contract activities, highlighting its use of application programming interfaces (APIs) and cloud and virtualisation strategies.

Discussing HMRC’s typical public sector IT project progress, Pete Schofield, director of IT Development Testing & Operations argued HMRC was different in its approach, describing it as one of the most digital organisations in government. He also indicated HMRC was looking for more tech talent to join the organisation.

In a blog post , Schofield said, “When you think of HMRC do you think of civil service IT projects: months to gather requirements, years to build, and not a customer in sight? 

“The truth couldn’t be more different. HMRC is already one of the most digital organisations in the government and our plans are much bolder: by 2020 we will be one of the most digitally-advanced tax authorities in the world.”

Discussing HMRC’s API strategies, Schofield said, “We’ve talked in previous blogs about how HMRC is using APIs to transform the tax and business software market. By releasing richer ones, developers can build new commercial products that can interact with HMRC systems in a far more sophisticated way.

“We certainly have some of the brightest and best working for us at HMRC, but that doesn’t mean we have a monopoly on innovation. Opening up our software through APIs is allowing developers to innovate in ways that just isn’t possible for an organisation as big as HMRC. We’re working closely with more than 40 developer organisations in our current pilots, have released 18 new production APIs, and there are 23 software products already using them.”

Discussing cloud and virtualisation, Schofield said, “Our aim is to run most of our IT applications on cloud architectures and virtualised infrastructure so we’re not dependent on our own physical data centres.

“Over the last 18 months, we’ve virtualised more than 60% of our IT estate – from a starting point of just 7%! This has so many benefits: we can scale things up quickly to handle peaks in demand, improving customer experience and the platform’s stability, and then scale down when demand isn’t so high so we don’t pay for resources that aren’t in use.

“We’ve recently virtualised our huge SAP estate, refining our approach as we went along which we’ll now use as the template for how we tackle the remainder of our estate. Moving away from an outsourced IT contract means taking charge of our own destiny as an organisation, and we’re proud to have driven all of this work ourselves within HMRC. Customer data remains secure through virtualisation, and we’re also very proud of some world firsts with tokenisation and encryption to make it even more secure.”

Discussing HMRC’s cloud adoption strategy, Schofield said, “We have developed the ability to move work and traffic dynamically between cloud providers (yes brokering!), so if one cloud service fails we can quickly switch to an alternative with virtually no disruption to services. The next stage of our journey will include increasingly exploiting the benefits of a commercial hyperscale cloud, which we expect will be able to handle our future data storage and compute requirements even more cost-effectively.”

A third plank of HMRC’s strategy is creating what it calls “the biggest virtual contact centre on the planet,” a change brought about by HMRC’s exit from the Aspire contract.

Schofield explained, “Having a huge amount of scope to flex our resource to meet demand, bringing more advisers online in various locations as and when we need them, means we can manage our peak activities like tax credits renewals or the Self Assessment deadline far better than in the past. In other words we move the work to our people rather than move our people around to where the work is.

“It also means we’ve been able to introduce new ways for customers to get the help they need from us. For the increasing numbers of customers choosing our digital services, they can get help through our webchat service, from our increasingly sophisticated virtual assistant, and even through Twitter and Facebook.

“And for those who do still need or would prefer to call us, we’ve introduced voice ID to make it simpler for them to confirm their identity, while at the same time enhancing security.”

In a call for more tech talent to consider joining the organisation, Schofield said, “The size and scale of what we’re doing to transform HMRC is unprecedented. Without doubt, we have some of the most exciting digital projects anywhere, and a bunch of amazing and dedicated people delivering them.

“If you’re looking for a tech job where you can really make a difference and have fun, then get in touch. We would love to hear from you.”

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