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HMRC aims to be 'digital by default'



Departmental plan and IT strategy lay out priorities for investment of £1.3 billion from Spending Review

HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) has said it plans to make itself a 'digital by default' organisation in the course of this parliament.

It has stated the ambition as one of the major features of its single departmental plan, citing programmes to create digital tax accounts and ensure that third party software for businesses can link securely to its systems.

This follows the provision of £1.3 billion for the department's digital investment in last November's Government Spending Review. Priorities for the spending have been outlined in HMRC's long term IT strategy, which was published days before the departmental plan.

In an accompanying blogpost, the head of IT strategy Kristian Miller says the emphasis is on creating an environment for real time updates to support online services.

“We want to use the substantial amounts of data we hold to gain more customer insight to help us maximise compliance, increase efficiency and improve the experience of our customers,” Miller says.

Accounts and data

Among the ambitions highlighted in the departmental plan are to give customers access to digital tax accounts by the end of 2016, make better use of data to improve compliance and personalise services, and modernise IT systems to reduce maintenance costs and provide tools for staff.

It signals an intention to comply with the standards set by the Government Digital Service and make use of cross-government platforms, with a caveat for the latter that this would be wherever one shows it is the best value-for-money solution.

There are also plans in other areas that will influence the approach to IT, notably in creating regional centres over the next five years and developing 'government hubs' with other departments as part of rationalising government's property estate.

The IT strategy document emphasises the intention to run applications on virtualised infrastructure with as much as possible hosted on commodity cloud services. This will provide the scope for modifying approaches to running applications and databases as the market develops, rather than lagging behind.


The plan involves three core tax administration platforms: the Individuals Tax Management Platform (ITMP) based on National Insurance and PAYE services; the Enterprise Tax Management Platform (ETMP) based on SAP for business taxes and duties; and Customs Declarations Services (CDS), replacing Customs Handling of Import and Export Freight.

These will be accompanied by five cross-cutting platforms for case management, data and risk analytics, debt management, finance and HR. The data and risk analytics platform will make use of an Enterprise Data Hub linking digital services and analytics, and involve consolidating existing data warehouses into one that can be updated in real time.

'IT architecture blueprints' have been developed for each of the platforms, with a focus on services that could be reusable throughout HMRC.

The digital blueprint involves a platform to support the rapid development of digital services for customers, and a move towards infrastructure as a service and open source technology.

Identity assurance will initially make use of the existing Government Gateway, but as GOV.UK Verify – which is due to go live for some central government services in April – matures users will be migrated to the service.

Smaller group

Despite the emphasis on increasing digital capabilities, HMRC plans to make its Chief Digital and Information Officer (CDIO) Group smaller. The document claims the group will be more efficient and spread across a number of regional centres and specialist sites – reflecting the department's future location strategy for its workforce – but it also acknowledges a risk that it may struggle to find staff with the skills to deliver the IT strategy.

“Operational risks are managed by the relevant departmental, project and programme boards, and the CDIO Group will work to mitigate these risks on behalf of the department,” it says.

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