How Architecture is Pushing our Transformation Forward

Arnold Cleasby, solutions architect at DWP Digital provides an insight into the architecture practice and how they’re using technology to transform and improve government services that millions of people count on.

I’m a solutions architect in the Citizen Information product delivery unit. Our main objective is to provide the design architecture to enable a more seamless experience for customers accessing government services, while also ensuring maximum reuse of common capabilities within digital services, and modernising our systems to a completely micro-service and event-based ecosystem.

I’m responsible for providing architectural oversight to 2 agile teams. The first team is looking at enabling easy integration for DWP’s transformed benefit systems. This is to understand a citizen’s footprint within DWP legacy systems and across other government departments’ services. That team is building a set of components that are experts on citizen benefits.

And the other team is focused on mastering discrete business processes and data around a citizen’s relationships. For example, someone in receipt of benefits might have an Appointee or Power of Attorney relationship that we need to know about, or they may be a joint claimant. That team is building a component that is an expert on citizen relationships. So it’s a bit like a tabloid agony aunt, but written in Java!

Establishing an architectural blueprint

With such a large change programme, it’s important to set out standards and patterns that we all work to across teams, not just architecturally but also for implementation. This enables delivery colleagues to implement new digital products in a consistent way, which will in turn improve our users’ experiences and journeys across DWP’s services and beyond. It also makes life easier for service delivery colleagues, as they have access to secure, resilient and familiar interfaces that seamlessly enable customer-colleague interaction.

I’ve been very keen to drive standardising where possible, helping flesh out design patterns but also encouraging development of a common set of internal Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) headers, a common API versioning strategy and metadata standards. It’s a lot of fun to be able to bring groups of experienced and talented people together and shape future standards. No, honestly, it really is!

Moving to an events-based architecture

The use of events-based technology like Kafka, and the change to ‘events’ thinking is both exciting and daunting. It’s not something we have experience of at this scale in DWP yet, but is how we see the future of our architecture. It forms the backbone of a new way of looking at data and goes hand-in-hand with the increased importance of metadata, to know the provenance and veracity of the data change being communicated.

The detailed thinking and design that needs to be put in place to ensure that transformation and modernisation of systems does not threaten the integrity of DWP data across our legacy estate, is something that I’m particularly interested in. There are many facets to that whole problem – and though it’s an energising subject academically, it’s also one that I am certain will lead to concrete implementation changes, which is encouraging on many levels.

Collaboration is key

I’ve recently been involved with the design and implementation of single sign-on for citizens accessing transformed DWP benefit systems.  An array of different people including architects, engineers and security experts, came together from different teams across DWP Digital to work on how and where security controls are enforced to facilitate single sign-on across multiple different front and back-end services. It was so good to see that everybody had a voice and an opportunity to contribute in these meetings as we walked through specific scenarios, trying to find weaknesses, nuances and enhancements within the designs, at the same time as trying to simplify as much as possible.

More regular collaboration also occurs locally with the Citizen Information architects meeting twice a week for a quick catch-up, and additionally once a week we spend a bit longer digging into things that are ‘hot’, such as a current problem that need solving.  Surprisingly there is usually a lot to talk about!

A commitment to wellbeing and development

When I think about work-life balance at DWP Digital I am just very thankful.   Even when the work I’ve been doing has been demanding, my team and managers have been extremely helpful and flexible.

It’s especially true that within the period people refer to as ‘the pandemic’, there has been a committed and caring focus on keeping employees as healthy and happy as possible.

Building my career

I also appreciate the freedom and autonomy to build my career within DWP Digital. The amount and breadth of work happening right now is quite astonishing, so there’s a high chance that something of real interest can be found for everyone.

The architect role has a huge amount of scope to get involved with the areas that you find most exciting or fulfilling. I’ve been involved in the migration and modernisation of one of DWP’s most fundamental systems – a feat that was years in the making, with meticulous planning, testing, re-testing and then testing some more. The ‘go live’ process lasted several intense weeks and was probably the scariest and most thrilling time of my working life. To have played a key part in that was really satisfying.  To be honest I have never experienced that level of team work and camaraderie across any organisation before, and I am so glad that I was a part of it!

The current programme of transformation is even more far-reaching with hundreds working towards the goal of maximising both usability and value for citizens accessing benefits by emphasising re-use, resilience and intelligent use of technology.  It’s ambitious and daunting, but never ambivalent or dull!

If this sounds like the type of work that you’d find challenging and rewarding, take a look at the architecture roles we currently have available on our careers website. You can also subscribe to DWP Digital newsletter to keep up to date with the latest, roles and content.

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