HM Revenue & Customs has virtualised more than 60 per cent of its IT estate in the last 18 months, according to the department's director of IT development testing and operations, Pete Schofield.
The organisation is in the middle of a major transformation programme as it tries to shift from its £10bn Aspire contract, with the ambition of becoming one of the most digitally advanced tax authorities in the world by 2020. It plans to do this using new technologies and processes, including the now-postponed Making Tax Digital programme.
In a blog post, Schofield suggested that unlike other civil service IT projects, which take months to gather requirements, years to build and don't focus on the customer, HMRC's transformation project is very different.
He then went on to talk about three of the key projects HMRC is currently working on: an API strategy, virtualising its SAP estate and creating what it believes is the biggest virtual contact centre in the world.
On the API strategy he said: "By releasing richer [APIs], developers can build new commercial products that can interact with HMRC systems in a far more sophisticated way. It puts the customer at the heart of the experience, because developers are able to build software that their customers and clients want to use, based on real data, in real time."
He added that by opening up its software through APIs, developers could innovate in ways that just aren't possible for an organisation as big as HMRC.
"We're working closely with more than 40 developer organisations in our current pilots, have released 18 new production APIs, and there are 23 software products already using them," he said.
Cloud and virtualisation
Schofield added that HMRC aims to run most of its IT applications on cloud architectures and virtualised infrastructure so that it is not dependent on its own physical datacentres. Over the past 18 months, he claimed that the organisation had gone from just seven per cent of its IT estate being virtualised to more than 60 per cent.
"This has so many benefits: we can scale things up quickly to handle peaks in demand, improving customer experience and the platform's stability, and then scale down when demand isn't so high so we don't pay for resources that aren't in use," he said.
In addition, the company has virtualised its SAP system estate. Schofield said that moving away from an outsourced IT contract meant taking charge of HMRC's own destiny. "We're proud to have driven all this work ourselves within HMRC," he said.
HMRC has also been moving services to the cloud, and can now move workloads and traffic between cloud providers, so if one cloud service fails it can switch to an alternative "with virtually no disruption to services".
Schofield stated that the next stage of its journey will include benefiting from a commercial ‘hyperscale cloud' which would manage the organisation's future data storage and compute requirements more cost-effectively.
Finally, Schofield touched on what HMRC believes is the biggest virtual contact centre on the planet.
As part of its phased exit from Aspire, HMRC has created a contact centre that can bring more advisers online in various locations, as and when it needs them. This means that peak activities, such as tax credits renewals or the self-assessment tax deadline, should be better managed in future.
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