The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has revealed it is taking advantage of the digital services framework contract for a private beta version of Universal Credit (UC).
As one of the government’s 25 ‘exemplar’ services being delivered digital-by-default, the UC Digital Transformation project aims to use digital services to overhaul the welfare system and DWP’s business, merging six benefits into one.
From summer 2013, DWP had been working with the Government Digital Service (GDS) to explore the use of the latest digital technologies and agile methodology for the design of the digital UC, after it was found that the original system had a number of problems with security and scaling up beyond the scope of the pilots. However, it was revealed in January that GDS was backing away from the project, and taking its digital savvy IT team with it.
DWP now aims to work without GDS input to release a private beta to a “small subset of claimants and agents in a Jobcentre” later this year.
In a 'call-off' notice highlighting DWP’s intentions to use services from the digital services framework, the department said: "GDS has helped DWP in the development of a Proof of Concept for UC, and DWP is now working to deliver a Beta – private version of a new digital service which will eventually be available on line to all customers, supplemented by face to face and telephony channels."
DWP is using the contract for software development and software engineering testing, ongoing support and front-end design (lot 1), web operations system administration and web operations (lot 2) and product management agile delivery management or product development and service design (lot 3), according to the notice.
The department said that the private beta phase - which will require "limited" integration with legacy systems - will allow DWP to test core processes and allow for feedback and learning that will inform the next stages of development.
"DWP will then iteratively grow the service through 2015, increasing functional, volumetric and user access elements, based on further agent and claimant behaviours and feedback," it said.
The private beta will be followed by a public beta focusing on integration "to ensure that we are ready to move to the live phase and start to scale the service," DWP said.
It said: "It will be important that the final UC service has the ability to successfully integrate with and work alongside other systems, particularly in the DWP IT legacy estate."
More skills needed
Meanwhile, the department recognised its need to recruit "new and additional" skills for the UC delivery, especially given GDS's withdrawal from the project and the fact that, as revealed in January, just three DWP IT employees were supporting the department’s enhanced digital system for UC, out of 50 IT staff working on UC as a whole.
In the contract notice, DWP said that the private beta will be delivered by a team consisting of the suppliers for the digital services from the framework, digital service development experts and a DWP team of managers, subject matter experts and business analysts.
"DWP’s future development approach will be based on previous ways of working with GDS colleagues," the department said.
"DWP want to continue with development activity driven by a genuinely multidisciplinary team, working collaboratively in a single location - Westminster."
Chancellor George Osborne recently created further confusion around the ever-moving UC completion date by saying that the new system would be “fully available” across the UK by 2016 in his latest Budget document.
DWP has previously said that the national Universal Credit rollout will not be complete until an unspecified time after its original 2017 deadline.