How a “Cloud First” approach helped one agency deliver benefits to its citizens

Designed with the people of Scotland, a new agency establishes a modern, secured and flexible platform with a user-centered approach to help meet the needs of citizens.

By | 3 minute read | March 12, 2021

Graphic depicting the Scottish Government delivering benefits to citizens.

In 2016, the United Kingdom Government began to transition the responsibility for delivering benefits for low-income Scottish citizens to The Scottish Government. It was one of the most significant devolution of powers to Scotland in more than two decades.

The Scottish Government embarked on an ambitious initiative to establish a new agency to manage social security benefits for the people of Scotland in just two years. The effort centered around the core principle of treating everyone with dignity, fairness and respect and delivering benefits (once fully operational) to the 1.8 million people who rely on them.1

Working with IBM to help drive a user-centered agile transformation

From the outset, The Scottish Government focused on the needs of citizens as it defined the new agency, processes and technology. It was imperative to be able to move quickly and create a system that could support future growth.

The Scottish Government set out a “cloud first” approach with desire to embrace cloud adoption from the outset and lead the way in the Scottish Public Sector. Following a thorough technical evaluation they chose to create this new platform using AWS Cloud with an automated “Infrastructure as Code” principle. This was done to embrace the latest standards, automate wherever possible and reduce recovery times in the event of service interruptions or difficulties. To meet the deadlines required for delivery of the hosting platform, Social Security Scotland chose to partner with IBM. This allowed them to create a hosting platform which will scale and expand with future demand.

Sharing knowledge, the teams engaged with users and stakeholder groups at every stage of development of the services. More than 2,400 people participated as experienced panel members, including individual citizens, agency advisors and diverse stakeholder groups, such as survivors of domestic abuse, minority and ethnic groups, young parents and users with disabilities. The teams held hundreds of sessions in more than 40 locations to help identify the needs of diverse groups and test concepts with different communities across all areas of Scotland.

Through this collaboration, the Scottish Government established the new Executive Agency, Social Security Scotland. Between 2018 and 2019, it successfully launched seven benefits, including money to help parents at key stages in their child’s life, funeral support payments and young carer’s (support for teens caring for anyone receiving a disability benefit).

Social Security Scotland sees early signs of success, earns recognition

In the first phase of launching its modern, flexible platform to deliver benefits, Social Security Scotland has paid out more than £190 million to nearly 100,000 households and earned recognition in the Management Consultancy Awards for “Change and transformation in the Public sector.”2

According to a Social Security Scotland news release, the agency credits the significant take-up of the new benefits in the first three months to designing the service for people who will use it, noting the simplified application process and multiple ways to apply.3

Advantages of using a “Cloud First” approach

In my experience, technology implementations are more successful when they are one component of a strategic, comprehensive vision. In this case, The Scottish Government aimed to create a single case management platform for all benefits, delivering a common user experience for the agency and reducing siloes and the need for customer training on the system across benefits.

To help accomplish this vision, The Scottish Government developed a self-described “Cloud First” approach and built an open, flexible health and human services platform that it designed to accommodate several technologies. This hybrid cloud approach can also enable growth with the flexibility to replace some initial platforms with more strategic solutions over time.

I believe The Scottish Government’s journey to the cloud to deliver benefits to its citizens is a great example of applying design thinking principles for user-centered digital transformation. With more than 25 years of experience in working with health and human services organizations, the IBM Social Program Management team and platform will continue to help clients realize their vision for better experiences for the people they serve.