UK Department for Work and Pensions completes large-scale modernization project for nation's benefit systems

08/04/2021 minute read Rob Anderson

Advanced supports UK’s largest public service government department to move entire application estate off the VME platform to a modern, open systems platform

March 29, 2021 – The UK Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) has successfully completed a large-scale project to modernize its 40-year-old core legacy applications, making it the largest modernization project of its kind ever undertaken by a government department.

Working with Advanced’s application modernization practice, it has completed the last leg of its journey to successfully migrate 11 core legacy applications onto a new modern open systems (VME-R) platform. The applications support DWP’s benefit paying systems, which are fundamental to paying out £150 billion a year to more than 15 million UK citizens.

The migration of two significant services – Income Support (one the oldest VME services) and State Pensions Service (one of the biggest paying services) – were the last of the benefit applications within the program scope. Both were completed within two weeks of each other in February 2021, during the third national lockdown. The rehosting of the pensions system alone will safeguard the continuation of annual State Pensions payments to UK citizens of £98 billion 2019/20.

Two other benefit applications were also migrated during the global pandemic. In April 2020, DWP refactored and rehosted its largest multiservice application – the Jobseeker’s Allowance Payment System (JSAPS) – remotely and at pace, which went live in time to support the unemployment fallout of Covid-19 and without disruption. Introduced in the late 1990s, JSAPS was originally based on a benefit application IT code set designed in the 1960s, with further application code added over the years as new technical and policy requirements changed.

In August 2020, DWP completed the Disability Living Allowance System, which successfully incorporated the Scottish Devolution changes into the solution code.

Each of the benefit systems that DWP identified as part of the project provides a mission-critical service for citizens in the UK and, as such, has ‘National Critical Infrastructure’ status. Around 25 million lines of DWP application code needed to be refactored using an automated approach. All the code had to be successfully translated to a modern application code set and a modern integrated development environment. In total, over ten billion data rows were migrated, converted, loaded, and verified. Advanced provided the professional services expertise and software tooling to refactor the DWP application code and migrate all the DWP’s data from those systems from the IDMSX database to Oracle.

Mark Bell, VME-R Deputy Director at the Department for Work and Pensions, comments: “We had some of the biggest VME applications in the world, yet many were around 40 years’ old – based on old ICL mainframes and COBOL application code – and were proving difficult and expensive to maintain. They weren’t simple systems; they were highly bespoke, highly optimized, and adapted and fine-tuned over the years. We needed to modernize and move them, so they were more cost effective to maintain going forward.

“Completing this program, together with Advanced, significantly addresses the technical debt within our IT estate and provides us with a modern infrastructure we can be proud of. Now, we probably have the best performing batch infrastructure service in the world. Batch services for the JSAPS, for example, are up to 60% faster on our new services. In addition, we are able to develop, package and deploy benefit application code changes quicker than we could ever have imagined.

“It’s the largest application code and data migration, off VME, that’s ever been undertaken and there was zero disruption to all of our critical citizen payment services. This represents a large step forward in our department’s modernization agenda’.

Gordon Wilson, CEO at Advanced, says: “DWP made the sensible step and bold choice to undertake a radical platform change for the nation’s critical benefit systems. It’s always easier to consider buying a package or building something new. However, these approaches don’t always have the same functionality, can bring an element of risk and, more often than not, dramatically overrun on budget and original timelines. DWP has more than 50,000 end users, so it was critical the end-user experience remained the same. It’s why, through this program, DWP instead chose to retain and modernize its investment in existing applications built in-house which serve DWP effectively for years to come.”

Timeline of critical services in Advanced’s scope

  • Pre VME-R Program:
    • 2016: Winter Fuels Payment System
  • VME-R Program (new system go-live dates):
    • December 2018: Housing Benefit Computer System
    • February 2019: FAMIS Pay & Personnel
    • March 2019: War & Pensions Computer System
    • June 2019: Social Fund Computer System
    • March 2020: Industrial Injuries Computer System
    • April 2020: Job Seekers Allowance Payment System
    • 3rd August 2020: Disability Living Allowance Computer System
    • 11th January 2021: Income Support Computer System
    • 25th January 2021: Pension Service Computer System

The modernization of these critical services makes the program with DWP the biggest deal in Advanced’s history.

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