The Welsh Revenue Authority is taking a step in the right direction when it comes to managing taxes efficiently. The organisation is working on a cloud-based system and is keeping up with the pace of innovation on behalf of the Welsh government. Anthony Pritchard, Head of Digital and Technology for the Welsh Revenue Authority, tells us more.
Kainos Group plc (KNOS), a leading provider of digital services and platforms, has announced that six months after the successful launch of a cloud-based revenue collection and management system for the Welsh Revenue Authority (WRA), the solution has seen 97% of all tax returns being completed online.
Established by Welsh Government, the WRA is the first fully cloud-based civil service organisation in Wales. The tax authority for Wales was created to manage and collect two devolved Welsh taxes: Land Transaction Tax and Landfill Disposal Tax, which replaced Stamp Duty Land Tax and Landfill Tax from April 1, 2018.
As a result of a procurement exercise, a contract was awarded to Kainos to build a bespoke, scalable, bilingual digital tax collection and management system. The WRA was working to an immovable, government-mandated deadline to administer taxes by April 1, 2018. Kainos delivered the new system based on the Microsoft Azure Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), within a challenging nine-month time frame, enabling the WRA to administer the first specifically Welsh taxes for the first time in 800 years.
The implementation of the digital project has been a success to date, with 99.9999% availability and customer satisfaction scores of 85% in the first six months, based on around 5,370 service users. The WRA recently published its latest official data with 30,000 Land Transaction Tax transactions reported.
It is estimated that the WRA will administer approximately £1 billion in taxes over a four-year period, and the project is already an award-winning one, with Kainos and WRA taking the ‘Best Use of Cloud Services’ trophy home from the 2018 UK IT Awards.
Anthony Pritchard, Head of Digital and Technology for the WRA, commented: “Delivering this project is part of a wider historic milestone, as these are two taxes that have been made in Wales for the first time in hundreds of years. The revenue raised will be reinvested in supporting Welsh public services.
“Within the first six months of operations, we have seen many benefits from the system Kainos has developed, in particular, the ability to focus on user needs.
“By building on the Microsoft Azure Platform-as-a-Service solution, we feel confident that we not only have a system for today, but one that has the potential and flexibility to support the growth of any future services we may support. Kainos’ expertise and experience of working on Azure has been invaluable.”
Leading the charge
“Creating a new organisation where everything needed to be built from scratch with only a small team, presented both an opportunity and a challenge,” commented Russell Sloan, Digital Services Director for Kainos. “Building the new system on Microsoft Azure PaaS allowed us to embed security from the ground up to ensure the solution met the Welsh Government’s Governance, Risk and Compliance (GRC) requirements.”
The Kainos solution gave the WRA the flexibility to customise the system to its needs. “Together with Kainos and Welsh Government digital and ICT teams, we’ve created a blueprint for a cloud-first approach for other public bodies considering Digital Transformation.”
“It has also highlighted how this system can help support a wider Welsh Government target to have 1 million Welsh speakers by 2050. The system encourages greater use of the Welsh language by enabling users to switch between Welsh and English while completing forms. As a bilingual organisation, this is a relatively unique offering we’re pleased to have introduced for our service users.”
A bespoke, flexible and scalable solution for the future
Kainos needed to ensure that the platform was future-proofed to accommodate any future services that might be added. “Flexibility within both the delivery methodology and the platform itself was essential to accommodate the inevitable changes that would come as the organisation and technology plan was formed, staff recruited and business processes put in place,” Sloan said.
Azure PaaS supported the agile approach being taken to the project, providing out-of-the-box functionality and easy integration with other SaaS services such as Dynamics 365 which provides the WRA with Corporate Finance, Tax Managements Finance and HR services. Delivered by SA Global, another Microsoft Partner, the finance system was a critical part of the system as it needs to account for all the tax revenues collected.
Pritchard commented: “This was a very challenging project as there was no blueprint in place and there were so many moving parts. For example, the finance system implemented by SA Global was a critical element of the service as it needs to receive and confirm every tax return has been submitted and paid.
“This complex integration had to be completed within a three-month window. This could only be achieved using a cloud approach to integrate the new SaaS finance system with the PaaS solution. Working with SA Global, Kainos was able to navigate these operational and technical hurdles effectively; they really are experts when it comes to Azure, with an agile and innovative approach to problem solving.”
Sloan added: “We are very proud to be Microsoft’s UK Country Partner of the Year and this project really allowed us to stretch the capabilities of Azure and build our understanding of just how powerful the platform can be. We look forward to working with WRA to further develop and innovate on the platform.”
We caught up with Pritchard to ask some further questions about the solution:
How does the Welsh Revenue Authority rely on technology to operate its system?
Essentially, we are a complete digital organisation which means we don’t have any digital infrastructure, so all of our systems are in the cloud. We use a number of different services from the cloud: a platform service which we’ve created for the tax system in conjunction with Kainos; Microsoft Platform-as-a-Service; and then we also use a lot of Software-as-a-Service in Microsoft Azure so things like Office 365, Dynamic SharePoint. Additionally, everybody uses Skype for Business so again, we’ve got no physical network at all – everything is cloud-based. The whole network is built on technology and on the assumption that it is digital-first. An example of that is 97% of our online transactions are digital and we have had only 3% paper since day one. The premise is that the default of everything we do is electronic and we only use non-electronic by exception and so everything is designed that way.
What are the main benefits you’ve seen since implementing the Kainos solution?
The main benefit for us is flexibility. As a new organisation, it’s very difficult to predict initially what the demand for services are, how busy we’re going to be and how to size the service. What the cloud allows is for you to deploy whatever size system you need at that point in time. Our systems are able to flex up and down – we’re able to make them very resilient without putting too much effort into it ourselves. If demand suddenly doubles tomorrow, it will auto-adjust to the service. Whereas traditionally, when building your own infrastructure, you have to guess as to how big your system’s going to be and hope it’s big enough. The cloud allows you the flexibility to scale to the demand of the customer.
How will the success of the implementation allow you to invest in Welsh public services?
The money that we collect as the Welsh Revenue Authority goes directly into supporting public services within Wales so over the next four years, the WRA will raise an estimated £1 billion that will go towards funding public services i.e. some education and health services. Our ability to collect that will go towards those services. Also, to make Wales more accountable as a government because we are now collecting the taxes that we’re spending so it gives us more responsibility as a government about the ways we spend our taxes.