Discovering ways to deliver a digital service

Written by Joanne Gillies, Product Manager, DWP Digital

I recently joined DWP Digital as product manager on the ‘Apply for a National Insurance number’ (NINO) team. After being in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for over 20 years, it was daunting joining the government’s biggest organisation. But I’d been really impressed by the digital services I’d read about on the DWP Digital blog and I was keen to gain experience in delivering different outcomes for citizens in another government department.

The ‘Apply for a National Insurance number’ (NINO) service is looking at ways to deliver a digital service to improve the current manual, paper and face–to-face process of applying for a National Insurance number. People using the service must prove their business need for requesting one and prove their identity as part of the application.

My role as product manager is to balance all of the user needs against the internal challenges to deliver value for our service users and for DWP. I’m responsible for prioritising how to deliver that value and for developing a product roadmap that not only meets our user needs but is also practical to implement. So the first question I asked was:

“What are the real problems we’re trying to solve?”

One of the first things I did was to help the team understand the outcomes they were trying to achieve to improve the customer journey and the experience of colleagues working on the service. The team had already started to rethink their approach but there was still a sense of not knowing what the outcome would be. So together we worked with the stakeholders to agree the problem statement and the measureable outcomes to tackle those problems.

Quick wins and understanding the issues through discovery

In discovery, our user research found a number of issues affecting users including: the length of time it took to apply; accessing the service and differing views on why they needed to apply for a National Insurance number.

Our ‘quick win’ was to look at the website and make changes to improve it. The research showed we had a huge number of people landing on the GOV.UK web page, starting the application process and then calling our contact centre. However, our analysis showed that there were a significant number of calls that weren’t actually for our service. So our content designer worked with colleagues in operations and policy to update the web pages. They also added additional signposting for other services, and moved the telephone number further down the page to encourage users to read the information before calling. This had the positive impact of reducing the number of calls that weren’t meant for the service by around 21,000 a month.

Screen grab of the GOV.UK website Apply for a NINO page

In discovery, we were able to identify a number of issues for us to look at solving.

Our research uncovered that some users found the interview process intimidating. This is sometimes because the majority of our service users are foreign nationals with English as a second language, and this often causes language barriers and the need for translation services during the interview. For us, this was also causing data quality issues when collecting details over the phone or during the interview. This is something we’ll be considerate of when designing improvements to the service.

We also found there were a large group of users who had already proved their ID with the Home Office, yet our service was asking them to prove their ID again.

And, in discovery we realised some misconceptions with our users around why they need a National Insurance number and when they need one. Some non-government organisations ask people for it as a matter of course even when there is no business reason for it.

Finding solutions

I’m setting up a National Insurance number service community so we can explore how to join up the content and the user journey across government departments and make it clearer why or when a National Insurance number is needed.

We’re also working with policy colleagues to explore applying a risk based approach to users who have already proved their ID to the Home Office and what the options might be to reduce duplication of effort for these users. We’ve already tested a concept in alpha that we’ll iterate further into private beta.

Delivering a digital service

To deliver this customer facing service there are number of platforms already developed that we’re able to reuse components from to speed up our development, instead of building all the infrastructure to support deployment ourselves. We’re planning to reuse the hybrid cloud service internet gateway instead of building our own – which again will speed up our development. And, we’re reusing a citizen information strategic matching service so we can make searching for a user who already has a National Insurance number quicker and simpler – again speeding up our development time.

We’re aiming to move out of our alpha phase to start building the service by the end of this year. We’ll start inviting users to participate in private beta in spring 2020.

Originally posted here.

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