Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) is the tax authority for the United Kingdom, which collects over £650 billion a year in tax, administers welfare benefits, and more recently has supported the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is one of the largest Whitehall departments and we at diginomica have documented over the years how HMRC has attempted to modernize its critical infrastructure, offer more sophisticated digital services, as well as build up its digital capability internally.
This week we got some more insight into how the department is improving the experience for its employees dealing with citizens needing support with their tax affairs, which is consequently improving the experience for its external ‘customers' too.
Sarah McMann, CIO of Customer Services at HMRC, was speaking at Pega's iNspire event this week, where she described how the organization over the past year has consolidated a number of applications onto Pega's case management platform, simplifying the end user journey. Commenting on the complexity facing HMRC advisors prior to the project began, McMann said:
As is the case with many organizations, a lot of our infrastructure, for want of a better term, is legacy. And that has really impacted us to some extent, and is debilitating our ambition to make life easy and make taxation easy - for both our customers and for our employees.
Up until recently, a frontline advisor would have to open up to 14 or 15 applications just to deal with a simple customer query. And often they weren't even furnished with the information that we've presented to the customer. So that really wasn't a great experience from both a customer or from an advisor perspective.
And expectations have changed, she added:
We also have a very heavy channel presence for telephony and mail, yet more and more people are expecting much more digital interaction, or for organisations to remove the need for any interaction whatsoever. So a lot of our challenges have been around the perception that that legacy infrastructure stops some of the advancements that we would like to make to improve the customer and employee experience.
A fresh opportunity
Approximately two years ago, given this situation, McMann said that HMRC decided to take stock and look at how the organization was engaging with citizens. It conducted a full six month review, which included assessing over 80 million rows of data to get a "real understanding" of why customers were contacting the department, as well to understand what trigger was driving that contact. For example, had the citizen been contacted through information or literature that had been sent out to them that they didn't understand? McMann explained:
We then were able to map what that customer journey looked like - so what channel did they start on? What channel did they end up on? And then from an advisor perspective: what systems they had to navigate from the simplest to the most complex of queries.
That then gave us a real richness in terms of where the pain points were and what opportunities we had to address to improve the experiences. [It also gave us an understanding of] the sequencing of the technology and capability that we brought in, as well as the organizational changes around policy processes that we would need to make to address that transformation.
McMann noted that the objective for HMRC was to improve the customer experience, but also to make HMRC a great place to work. She added:
The frontline advisor role is not an easy role, tax is a very emotive subject as it is, and all the frontline adviser wants to do is assist the customer as quickly and as efficiently as they possibly can. But we didn't make it easy. It's tough to use 15 applications. They have to update lots of systems too, and it really did detract from them having that rich conversation with the customer while they were navigating important notes on accounts.
So it was really important for us to actually bring all of the customer information into one single user interface, remove some of the menial tasks that the advisor had to conduct, such as putting notes on the account through automation, and Pega were really instrumental in delivering that record speed and bringing in all of the experiences that Pega has had in deployments elsewhere to help HMRC accelerate its ambition.
McMann said that she is pleased that HMRC, including with this project, is moving to PaaS and SaaS models for operations. There has been a misconception, she added, that having a legacy backend infrastructure means that you can't improve the customer or employee experience. This isn't true, she said:
I think with PaaS and SaaS, we've been able to evidence really quickly upfront that you can make fundamental, significant changes to that, in record speeds by using some of this technology.
This in part has been aided by HMRC moving to agile ways of working and rapidly iterating across its development process. McMann added:
I think what we did with Pega is not only drive the transformation from a technical perspective, but also in our ways of working. So we did true agile, for probably the first time, whereby we worked within the organization. So the scrum teams were working alongside early adopters, so that we were making sure that the designs were designed by the end user.
We were able to make quick iterations based on user feedback, so that when we deployed we knew that we'd got it right. It was really important to us to have a partner who also had an ecosystem that could help us not only look at how we optimize the technology, but actually how we design the solutions that are fit for purpose.
HMRC built the first prototype with Pega within eight weeks, which McMann said was "record breaking" for the department. This gave the project momentum, she added, as it showed many senior stakeholders in the organization what the art of the possible was. This built real excitement across teams, which meant that people wanted to be involved. McMann said:
We then built and deployed over about eight months, and that deployment we actually did during the pandemic - across 16,000 agents. But we knew that we'd got the solution right and we were willing to take the risk, because we'd spent so much time upfront, doing the iterations and making sure that it met the end users requirements. Another great thing as well is that we didn't have to make massive upfront investments, normally associated with integration into the back end system, because we were able to use robotic process automation to prove the capability, to make sure that we've got the data pulls and feeds correct, before we made massive investments and built timely solutions.
McMann and her team are now rolling out the single adviser user interface to other parts of the organization, as there is now real appetite. She said that she is actually trying to "curtail people's desires at the moment", in order to keep up. Going forward, however, HMRC is looking at how it can make more use of AI tools to personalize the user experience further. McMann said:
Next for us, is very much how we utilize more of the artificial intelligence, machine learning capability, to start to personalize communications, but also be a lot more predictive and proactive - so that customers don't need to contact us.
So that we can use multiple channels based on their channel of choice, to inform them, to update them, so that more and more people get their tax affairs right, because organizationally we're tailoring that to them as an individual.