https://gdsdata.blog.gov.uk/your-tax-account-service-assessment/

Your Tax Account – Service Assessment

The tax account brings together everything someone running a business needs to manage their business's tax affairs. From a personalised homepage, which provides an overview of all their tax records, showing a summary of their current liabilities, users will be able to: access via direct links the actions they need to take and transactions they need to complete; and access help, education and interactive tools.
https://www.gov.uk/transformation/business-tax-account

Department / Agency:
HMRC

Date of Assessment:
24/3/2014

Moving to:
Public Beta

Result:
Pass with conditions

Lead Assessor:
S. Edwards

Service Manager:
M. Cornford

Digital Leader:
M. Dearnley


Conditions met since assessment

Your Tax Account were given approval to move to Public Beta subject to meeting two conditions (see report below). Since the assessment, Your Tax Account have taken appropriate actions to address these conditions and GDS are satisfied that they can now move to Public Beta.


Assessment report

Your Tax Account is seeking permission to continue development as it moves from Private Beta to Public Beta.

Outcome of service assessment

After careful consideration GDS have concluded that Your Tax Account has shown sufficient progress and evidence of meeting the pre-April 2014 criteria. The service should proceed to Public Beta after meeting the specific conditions detailed below.

Reasons

All 26 points of the service standard were considered during the assessment. However, before April 2014 the primary considerations are:

  • does the service meet user needs?
  • can it be rapidly improved?
  • is it safe, i.e. are appropriate security and privacy protections in place?

The Your Tax Account team have shown that:

  • The service is meeting user needs and they have done extensive user testing with real users. The team explained a wide range of techniques they had used to research and understand the user needs for the service, and had used multiple techniques including card sorting, early prototyping, informal testing and extensive formal user research.
  • The service has been, and has the potential to continue, to be improved using agile methodologies on a very frequent basis based on user data (although see condition 1 below). GDS were very impressed by the team’s examples of where they had improved the product as a result of user research.
  • The service has undertaken a comprehensive IT health check and has taken appropriate action based on findings to ensure the service is safe.
  • The service has worked with a GDS content designer to ensure that the language in the service is as simple and concise as possible.
  • The service recognises the importance of learning from early failures and demonstrated how this had informed and improved the product development.

Conditions for approval

The service was reviewed against the pre-April 2014 criteria of the Service Standard and must meet the following conditions before proceeding to Public Beta.

Condition 1 - Rapid iteration of services and shared backlog

The assessment team have concerns that Your Tax Account will be unable to iterate or support the tool past the present point. Point 2 of the service standard requires: "[...] a multidisciplinary team that can design, build and operate the service, led by a suitably skilled and senior service manager with full authority and decision-making responsibility."

GDS understand that HMRC has now moved to a new operating model where user stories across the exemplars and all other digital projects are pooled into one single HMRC backlog. User stories are then prioritised across all HMRC projects, meaning it is difficult for the Your Tax Account Service Manager to maintain a multidisciplinary team and prioritise their own work within their own project.

From discussion in the assessment it was clear that there is a high contention for limited shared resources (developers, UX, and researchers) and these restrictions mean that it appears to us that the Service Manager, despite demonstrating to us a high level of knowledge and capability, is not 'empowered' to prioritise the Your Tax Account user stories against the competing priorities within HMRC.

The result of this is that the Service Manager is unable to access resources to iterate and develop their service, leading to blocked delivery and features that should have been built for the public beta, not being delivered. If a Service Manager is unable to iterate their service then it should not pass the service standard.

GDS are reluctant to be prescriptive about how HMRC use their resources and recognise that the operating model is for HMRC to decide. GDS also recognise the ambitious and exciting programme of reform that HMRC have for transforming their digital services. However, the operating model must ensure that the Service Manager is empowered to prioritise their own backlog and iterate their service through the development stages and, just as importantly, after the service has gone live.

Condition 2 - Rapid iteration of services

GDS are also concerned that the Service Manager appears restricted in their ability to iterate the service due to the internal HMRC change approvals process. We understand and accept the importance of such a process for the existing HMRC online services and any other business critical backend processing systems. We also recognise that there will be a balance to be made between the desire to rapidly iterate a new service and at the same time protect the integrity of any existing mission critical systems.

However, it appears that even deploying a minor change to the service that doesn't impact mission critical systems is a drawn out process, and we would like assurance that the change control process can distinguish between different types of change and enable the Service Manager to make rapid iterations without going through an overweight process that doesn't vary across types of change.

Other Recommendations

The lack of a log retention policy in Splunk, considering it contains personally identifiable data, is something to consider, and a plan to address that should be defined and scheduled before proceeding to public beta.

The Your Tax Account team should make plans to integrate reporting of the service into the Performance platform.

Next Steps

The assessment has shown that Your Tax Account does not fully meet the pre-April 2014 criteria of the Digital by Default Service Standard. Your Tax Account should meet the conditions and follow the recommendations made in this report and see the Government Service Design Manual for further guidance. In order for the service to proceed to Public Beta, GDS require written confirmation of the actions taken to meet the conditions above.

Summary

In summary GDS are very pleased to report that, subject to completing the above conditions, this service can proceed to Public Beta. Your Tax Account have made considerable progress with building an exemplar service at the core of HMRC’s digital transformation and with the appropriate support in place around this team they have every reason to continue along their previous trajectory of delivering well researched and proven solutions to meet user needs.