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“I think you’ve managed something quietly remarkable”

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Customer Data Service, Data, Projects

4 individuals having a discussion around a table, with a laptop and notepadsThe SFA’s Customer Data Service (CDS), which was launched last November, allows us to transfer data in near real time between the multiple contractors who deliver the National Careers Service.

CDS was a significant project, and collaboration between the SFA and the contractor organisations was key. We thought it would be good to hear from people in one of the contractor organisations who worked closely with us on the project.

“CDS is already making life easier for advisers and customers”

Karen Bennett - Systems and MI Manager at Economic Solutions

Working on the CDS project has been interesting and challenging.  It was a stimulating opportunity to work alongside a professional team who managed project expectations, development, testing, and go live with expertise. Things were run in an amicable manner - everyone was able to discuss issues, raise concerns or simply ask questions if things got too technical or too intense.  All organisations worked collaboratively, taking on board the many complex scenarios and discussions that evolved over the project.

Although it’s still in its infancy, CDS is already making life easier for advisers and customers. When a customer is transferred to us, all their data is also transferred into our system. Validation ensures that any incorrect or missing information is instantly highlighted.

The data transfer means customers don’t have to spend time answering questions they’ve already answered elsewhere and our advisors don’t have to spend as much time inputting data. All our time with a customer can now be focused on discussing their needs and next steps.

Being able to see activity on customers’ Lifelong Learning Accounts (LLAs) means advisers find it easier to track customers’ progress.  The action plans within the LLAs also improve the customers’ experience.  They can now view their adviser-generated action plan within their LLA (paperless!) and update actions. Where applicable this information can also be shared with the National Contact Centre and other contractor organisations.

One of the major advantages of CDS is the ability to share data across organisations, whilst forcing data quality and logic (eg funding rules) across the SFA, Prime Contractors, the National Contact Centre and Lifelong Learning Accounts.

“I know that our suggestions have been understood and acted upon”

Steve Pineger - Development Lead at Economic Solutions

The CDS Project had a difficult start and the initial months (October-December 2014) of the new National Careers Service contract were perhaps trial enough for everyone involved without the additional work of a large multiple-party integration. By January-February 2015 there was a far clearer plan for progression with an SFA team who were able to provide definite objectives.

The initial sprints went well, and relationships which, whilst always friendly, had been intermittent in nature, were cemented by frequent short "stand up" telephone conferences.

There was a learning curve on both sides and it became clear by the third sprint that other organisations involved in the project were struggling to keep pace with the SFA’s large, dedicated team. A new plan was agreed in a very cooperative and friendly manner and we really felt that the SFA were going the extra mile to keep everyone on board.

Through the progression of the CDS specification in this period, a useful process of formalising some business rules emerged. Where rule descriptions in the contract were sometimes felt to be ambiguous, developing a specification required firm answers to difficult questions. This is perhaps a lesson for all future contracts - formalising the Data Services specification will always force rapid cementing of business rules.

The System Testing phase arrived at a point where the Agency's own systems were not quite ready. We were also lagging behind by a couple of weeks which left this process somewhat rushed on our part. The first Business Acceptance Testing (BAT) phase however, allowed a far more cooperative approach on the testing. The excellent planning by the SFA’s team meant that all parties were able to pick up and fix multiple issues and retest relatively rapidly. At times this process was difficult for all concerned, but the project was remarkable in the good humour and patience that was maintained throughout.

A final phase of BAT testing was necessary in September 2015 to ensure the last round of fixes were cleared up. After this the go live plan was agreed. After some small delays we were able to turn on our integration and check our work in the live environment. The results have been very pleasing and useful for Advisers, giving them a real connection to the customer's Lifelong Learning Account and an automated feed of warm and cold transfers from the National Call Centre.

Towards the end of the project the level of mutual appreciation between the teams led to a better understanding of the issues presented by such a diverse integration of services. Discussions have moved on to improving the service and making it more robust, and I know that our concerns and suggestions have been understood and acted upon.

It’s been a fantastic opportunity to be involved in the successful systems integration of contracted government services. Thanks to the SFA team for your support throughout the CDS process, I think you’ve managed something quietly remarkable.

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This post is part of a series on the Customer Data Service:

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