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Transforming SEPA


A while ago a few of us from our permitting service mapped out the applications process. Breaking the process into small chunks and speaking to staff about their gripes, we got an understanding of the key problem areas and areas that definitely needed fixing.

This was important because, essentially, permitting underpins almost everything that that SEPA does. Without permits our customers don’t have ownership, defence, or an understanding of their responsibilities. We don’t have control, can’t regulate, can’t work with operators to make improvements. If we make the application process unattractive, unfamiliar and complicated, we’re adding a blocker to this relationship.

We have a requirement, under our Annual Operating Plan, to deliver three online applications by the end of March next year.

This could be done relatively quickly if we took a short term view and just built individual products. Solid products that are appropriate for that specific application that would require developer input from start to finish each time.

What is better is a product – a service – that can easily be manipulated, configured and compatible with other applications. One that follows a common service pattern and made of individual components.

If we were to build these individual components and linkages between them, we could easily add and remove sections as required.

About a year ago we got together with our Scottish Government colleagues and developed a prototype that could do just that. Looking at the application process for registering a septic tank, we could see it followed most areas of the common service pattern.

Using the common service pattern and being introduced to the digital first service standards did make us consider common functionality more closely.

Working on the application for septic tanks we’re always thinking of reusability, configurability – how our service will function for all future applications. This is crucial.

So what we have is a service whereby the following components of the common service pattern have been met, and I’ll walk through these.

There’s a guidance page that explains what this is all about – what it costs, why it’s required, what happens after an application has been made. There’s even an opportunity to ask us to search for an existing registration.

The ‘apply now’ button takes the user to the application form itself. This comprises just two simple screening questions plus an explanation what happens if the applicant is screened out. When it comes to inputting the addresses of the properties that use the tank we’ve connected to a common postcode lookup.

With all information collected, there’s a summary so the applicant can check before making a payment. This payment is taken through the common platform of Gov.UK Pay. This was chosen after encouragement from our Government colleagues and would provide the user with a familiar looking service.

Once that’s been made there’s a confirmation that the application is received. The information is passed through the CRM to our corporate systems where the registration itself and the application summary are generated. These are emailed to the applicants and our Registry department for upload to the pubic register.

Now, everyone loves an analogy…

We can think of the application as though it’s a house made of lego bricks. The septic tank application is a nice semi-detached. It has most features common to other houses. If we wanted to build a bungalow using the same bricks we could, quite easily. The little connectors are already in place and each brick will fit with any other.

We could build a less complicated application – for a notification that doesn’t require payment, for example – and all the components are there. We don’t need as much in the way of development to make it work.

If we wanted to pull in a more complex application – one that requires more assessment or advertising, for example – we could use the same bricks used in our semi-detached, then add a few more to create this extension. We could build a mansion if we wanted.

That time we worked on mapping out the application process was a real highlight in my time at SEPA. A few of us worked closely for a relatively short period of time. We had a common goal and were self-managed, spoke directly to people involved, gathered insights and plotted them.

It was through working with our Government colleagues that we were introduced to the digital service standards and a focus of our work to date has been to meet these and prove our compatibility. Indeed, we passed 21 of the 22 criteria at our assessment in February and will work again towards this success once our Beta product has been delivered.

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