How partnership makes an impact

19 September 2023

A joint Opencast/DWP Digital event this summer focused on the impact – both business and social – of key partnership projects. Speakers at the TechNExt session included DWP Digital head of integration Jacqui Leggetter alongside Opencast’s Dan Davies Brackett, Liam Lagay and Sam Manson.

Our partnering journey

Sam Manson: “At Opencast we believe in unlocking the potential of people – that means our people, our clients, and citizens. We do that by listening and seeking to understand how people are feeling, then we look at what they need. We then turn that into deliverable outcomes that have both business and social impact.

“Opencast’s DWP Digital partnering journey started some years ago with two DevOps working in integrations. That’s grown to working in rainbow or blended teams. We are now effectively working across 25 different services in five key areas of DWP Digital.”

Opencast client experience director Sam Manson

New ways of working

Jacqui Leggetter: “We’ve been on a journey over the last five to six years, reducing our dependency on suppliers – moving away from outsourcing our services, taking ownership, owning not only the IPR but the designs, the patterns and the services themselves. We've brought pretty much all of our services in house.

“That doesn't mean we don't work with suppliers – it just means we work with suppliers in a different way. We forge new partnerships with a wider range of suppliers. Changing the way that we work and changing the services we buy has really opened up a new world for us in terms of partnerships.

“We still buy services, but we also buy a lot of resources. Our new ways of working are very much based on buying services or resources where suppliers help us deliver rather than delivering on our behalf.

“As we try to embed supplier resource into DWP Digital teams, we think about the digital hubs we have in Newcastle, Leeds, Sheffield, Blackpool, Manchester, Birmingham, and London. Working in this new way has enabled us to work a lot more with small to medium enterprise organisations – and we have built on those partnerships.

“When we think about the services that we build for citizens, we want those services to be representative of the citizens who will use them. That means we want to bring in people working on those services from a wide and diverse background.”

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DWP Digital integration head Jacqui Leggetter

Open and honest partnership

Jacqui Leggetter: “We have both benefited from nurturing our partnership. We’ve never pulled out and quoted a contract because we just don't do that. We build partnerships, we build strategic relationships, we talk openly and honestly. If something doesn't work, we have a really open and honest conversation. We deal with it and move on.

“Even if we're not looking to buy something but are in the early exploration stage, it is important our suppliers are comfortable to step in and offer advice, coaching and their experience in a specific field. That's all part of the partnership. It's about the wider value add and bringing in wider experience– that's what makes a partnership rather than a contractual arrangement.

“Working locally where we can, we bring people into our digital hubs so they can become part of the team. Through close partnering and successful deliveries, we have grown”.

“Working with Opencast has been really flexible. You've been really good at stepping in and helping build skills and help us build learning paths.

“In the last 12 months on the integration services alone, you've been involved in most of these - we've won nine awards, some of those international awards.

“When I think about some of the projects, and it's not just in engineering, but product managers, architects, tech, QA testers, DevOps – all sorts of roles.”

Colour photo of two men and a woman sitting on sofa at event
Panel focus: partnership for social impact

Saving the NHS £240 million a year

Jacqui Leggetter: “I want to call out the work on NHS prescription charge exemptions. We had a really clunky cross-government process where somebody went into a pharmacy, ticked the box saying they wanted a free prescription. But we had no means of checking that.

“Three months later somebody would do a check and see that they weren't entitled. It's taxpayers’ money so we have to recover £9.65 for a prescription”.

“We brought in a product owner to help us design a new service that would enable us to check the validity of a free prescription at the point of dispensing the medication. We've connected an API up to the NHS service.

“Now, if you go into any pharmacy in England or online pharmacy at the point where they’re about to dispense medication, if you tick the box it's free, they will do a real-time check. That’s really impactful on the citizens because they get the right answer there and then. That saves the NHS £240 million a year.”

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Jacqui Leggetter: real-time checks were key

Impact presentation 1: strategic reference architecture

Dan Davies Brackett, senior technical architect, Opencast: “Strategic reference architecture (SRA) is DWP's target architecture for the operation of DWP Digital and DWP as a whole. It’s a transformation and modernisation plan that Opencast is happy to have worked on.

“Its aims are to transform business capabilities and build reusable components that can be brought together into services that reduce the cost of change, improve data sharing inside DWP and with DWP's partners. And to get processes and systems working together so data and people work together effectively to deliver on the department's critical mission for society. That means making all of the things that DWP does easier and better and more effective.

“Whenever Opencast colleagues join or form a team, coming on as a partner for DWP Digital, it's on us to learn and to take on our client organisation's goals as our own. That's meant getting on board with and understanding the SRA.

“After a discovery phase, we act on our knowledge and get stuck in to help achieve the goals as we understand them. As we build, we learn, and we share our experience and understanding.

“My work in the integration delivery unit is about connection, partnership and bringing data together. It's also about bringing teams together from DWP Digital, across government and in the wider world.

“I work on two integrations systems: the event platform and the external change notification service (ECNS). Both are back-of-house systems: they don't have web interfaces. But they are important for citizens - the impact of them is real.

“The event platform is one way SRA services in DWP communicate with one another. As a shared technology service, it's about making connections. We bring expertise to the blended team. It's been lovely to work with people who are interested in learning new things and have enthusiasm for the underlying technology.”

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Opencast technical architect Dan Davies Brackett

Impact presentation 2: personal independence payment

Liam Lagay, senior software developer, Opencast: “I've been helping DWP Digital introduce a digital channel for personal independence payment (PIP). PIP is a welfare benefit to help working-age adults with the extra costs of living with a health condition or disability.

“Historically, PIP was claimed via telephone or via paper claiming forms. The citizen would contact an agent to complete what's known as a PIP 1, gathering basic information. They would then wait for the paper PIP 2, gathering much more detail on your health. The citizen has 30 days to fill in that health information, then collect relevant support and evidence, send the PIP 2 back. A decision on benefit is made from there.

“Opencast was asked to help with an online identity check for a private beta, allowing them to look at new functionality, and us to understand the user journey in more depth, then iterate and improve going forward.

“Our first challenge was time. Some time commitments had been being cascaded up to senior management, so I had to adapt to quickly.

“The second challenge was that we needed to understand back-end functionality in more detail. We needed to make it as visual and simple as we could, so we created a wall of work, which included nice visuals and allowed us to identify tasks from the front and back end, DevOps tasks.

“This was a key bit of the partnership: we were able to be open and honest speaking to DWP Digital. It was from the wall of work that we concluded we needed extra help to achieve what we needed. It was from that that the true strength of the partnership came to life.

“I've been a software engineer for 15 years, and it was without doubt the best collaboration effort I've seen.”

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Opencast software developer Liam Lagay

Faster feedback loops

Tom Lawson (Opencast chief executive): “Jacqui you talked about the importance of fast feedback loops. Historically, getting that within between digital and wider business colleagues has perhaps been more difficult. Do you feel that you've been able to make headway on that now?"

JL: “I think we're getting better at it. Delivering through the SRA, you have to collaborate and have to have those quicker feedback loops because you're working across an ecosystem. If one part of that ecosystem doesn't work your blast radius can be significant, so you have to think about that. So we're having to think in a different way – collaboration is really key.”

Cate Kalson (Opencast chief people officer): “It sounds to me like DWP Digital is very much at the forefront of a lot of government thinking on this and that whatever that's the practical application. How does the rest of government interact with you in trying to learn?"

JL: “Historically, we've all battened down the hatches and done our own thing. There's a huge drive across government for us to share more and be more open.

“And we've been building out shared infrastructure across the event platform on how we share events, cross government and how we can consume events, cross government, and also in our API ecosystem we've been feeding into a cross-government API catalogue.

“So we're certainly showcasing, championing, rallying round, and almost showing off a little bit, about some of the stuff that we're doing in DWP Digital. But equally, we're listening to other government departments that are also doing some cutting-edge things that we can learn from. I think we've got probably the best opportunity and most supportive environment for that cross collaboration than we've ever had.

"With the introduction of AI - you can't go on any meeting without talking about AI can you - some of some of the guidelines that are coming out, some of the best practices, and where they've been running real trials around AI in places like the NHS and within the Department of Science and Technology itself, I think will forge even closer partnerships across government and technology itself.”

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Opencast chief exec Tom Lawson questions Jacqui

Sharing success stories

Projects like PIP Apply are great examples of partnership working. What more can partners working on projects like this do to explain their positive social impact?

LL: “In terms of when you're working together, share your successes. I think some of the milestones that you reach, some of the positive collaboration between teams when you've made a breakthrough, celebrate it and knowledge share as well. It's key to knowledge share what you've learned.”

JL: “It’s really important to tell the story. Don't just deliver what needs to be delivered, don't just drive your project plan: think about the outcome. Tell the story, sell it within your organisation, tell it jointly through our digital engagement teams, and make sure that we get good news stories out there. You'll see lots of articles on LinkedIn from DWP Digital, and you see us nominating ourselves for loads of awards. Sell it back in your organisation too.”

This is an edited version of a joint Opencast/DWP Digital ‘partnership for impact’ discussion, which took place as part of TechNExt 2023 on 19 June 2023. Watch the full session video.

All photos by Thomas Jackson at Tynesight Photography

Colour photo of woman sitting talking into microphone
Opencast chief people officer Cate Kalson

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