5 mins read
Alan Hartwell, Chief Technology Officer, Capita Software, shares some of our latest work – and why it’s important.
In 1843, Ada, Countess of Lovelace and the daughter of the poet Lord Byron, published what is regarded by many as the world’s first computer program. At the time, she was one of the few people who speculated that programmable machines might have a role that extended beyond number crunching1.
Now, almost 180 years later, software is central to how people connect with others, get things done and enjoy their lives. For government, software powers the delivery of services to citizens and everything from defence to education. And for business, software is at the heart of how companies create value for their customers, differentiate themselves from their competitors and capture their share of the rewards.
Software is powering advances in government, health, design, engineering, manufacturing, retail, marketing, finance, transport and customer service. In the UK, it’s estimated that the software industry adds more than £170bn to the economy every year2.
The growth of digitisation, automation and cloud computing have been driving this trend, and the Covid-19 crisis has given it new impetus. Computer hardware is advancing in tandem, resulting in machines that can run ever more sophisticated algorithms and crunch larger datasets, faster. These forces have by no means played out and we’ll continue to see software’s value and impact grow.
Given the importance of software, it’s unfortunate that software projects have an average cost overrun of 66% and 17% don’t produce the benefits they promised3.
So how can we improve the process of software design and development, and how software is rolled out and maintained? How can we ensure that software projects deliver the benefits we would like to see for end users, at a cost that’s sustainable and delivers returns to businesses?
At Capita, we’ve addressed these issues with several initiatives. We’ve developed a unified lifecycle methodology that guides our software teams through every stage of development through to deployment, maintenance and even contract management. This ensures that every team across the business works to the same standards and that every customer can expect the same high quality and meticulous service.
We’re also using innovative approaches such as running Pocathons (a way of quickly bringing an idea to the proof of concept stage). This allows us to iterate rapidly and collaboratively with our customers, preventing misalignment and delivering faster results.
By creating a visible, trusted process with a clear minimum viable product, we’ve been able to reconcile agile development principles with our clients’ commercial needs. We don’t just sell a one-off product and walk away. We sell an ongoing service that allows our clients to gain incremental improvements and features without going through a new contracting process. The results? Faster delivery of software that really solves business needs, transforms organisations and improves the lives of the end users who matter most.
To increase our focus and quality assurance, we’ve also created a centre of excellence, the Capita Digital Development Centre (DDC), where we’ve brought together more than 1,100 software experts to work collaboratively with teams across our organisation.
The Capita DDC has recently been recognised for these initiatives with Maturity Level 5 on the Capability Maturity Model® Integration for our services and development capabilities. The award was based on an appraisal of our agile, DevOps and digital capabilities, and it places us in the elite group of companies that have achieved this level for both functions. Maturity Level 5 is the highest level of award that an organisation can achieve, indicating that it’s performing at an ‘optimising’ level, and is validation of our approach and capabilities as a transformation engine to future-proof our clients in a time of rapid change.
One interesting example of the DDC’s recent work is an attendance tool for UK schools to help to safeguard society’s most vulnerable children. This solution came out of an idea raised in a May 2020 Pocathon. Within just 13 weeks, the Capita One Education team validated the idea, developed the product collaboratively with customers and had it in production. The tool is already live and being used by Staffordshire, Wirral and Devon county councils.
Where previously a full-time resource was dedicated to tracking absences and recording on spreadsheets, this tool frees it up to alert Local Education Authority key workers to children who need support or intervention.
Other examples of the DDC's recent work were several internal projects that have extensive applications for our clients. One was a new platform, SHAPE (Safety and Health Automated platform for Employees), which we use to assess employees’ homeworking set-up, ensuring that their environment is safe and provide further support if they need it.
Another is the Space app, which manages desk bookings. Office space management has become a priority for organisations as they look to return employees back to physical locations safely and effectively. And another is the Wellness Aid health check-up assistant, a progressive web application that runs on both mobile and desktop. Once users have answered a series of questions, they are provided with information based on the symptoms they’ve described.
So, what’s next for software development at Capita? Security is the biggest concern for responsible and forward-thinking providers and users of enterprise software today, and it has become a major focus area for us.
At one time, security was all about firewalls and it was seen as a very different function to product development. Now you must design security into the software itself security for both the user and the system by carefully managing what data you make available at what point.
In response to this need, we’ve consolidated our Infosec operations into the software development team. Because we have a consolidated development team and unified methodology, we’ve been able to roll out a standard approach, using a single code-checking tool (Veracode) to ensure security.
This once again validates our approach to software development and ensures the consistency and quality of all our software services, whether they’re for internal or external use and whether they’re new builds or maintenance work on existing systems.
We hope that our methodology will continue to increase software development success rates for our clients and software’s positive impact on society. I wonder what Ada would think?
Chief Operating and Technology Officer, Capita Software
Alan has worked in Software and IT as a developer, designer, project manager and in senior roles creating and managing software products. He ran the Technology Channel Partner Business for Oracle in the UK and led software product lines mainly for Engineered/Converged Software Defined Systems and Security and Identity software products.