Payments Project – Introducing the Payments Project
by Hugh Wallace
In September 2018, the Scottish Government set up a small team to take a closer look at how we make and receive payments. This includes people from across the organisation to ensure we have the right skills and knowledge in the team.
This is part of a much wider programme of public service reform, which aims to make our organisation better equipped to deal with changing circumstances. We don’t know what the future holds, but there are lots of things we can do to make sure we’re able to adapt to it when it comes.
Payments is just one aspect of that. If you use mobile banking on your phone or laptop, you’re probably very comfortable with paying bills and sending money to people with just a few taps or clicks – simple, intuitive, user friendly.
But at government level, payments can get very complicated. We don’t just have to handle payments from one bank account to another, we also have to do a great deal of detailed accounting, reconciling and budget-aligning. It’s not trivial.
Over many years, different teams and services that take payments have set up their own systems for handling those payments.
These different systems do what they were set up to do, but they weren’t necessarily designed with user needs first. They don’t share common standards. They’re not ready to handle the demands we think the future will bring. So we think we need to do something else, and that’s what this new team was set up to work out.
A platform approach
Rather than re-design every one of those different payments systems, we want to think about payments as a platform.
That means building something centrally that is easy for service teams to plug in to and re-use, without additional procurement. That saves them time, money and hassle.
Building a single platform also means we can establish standards that will work across government. That will cut down on bureaucracy and needless repetition of work.
Finally, a platform will make things better for public servants and for citizens. It will be quicker for us to set up new services, or retire old ones. When new payment technologies emerge, we’ll be able to securely add them to the platform once, for the benefit of everyone.
So far, the team has been doing vital research and preparation, making sure we understand the context and the task ahead. It’s no small task, either: this is a substantial piece of work involving lots of different parts of government.
Using the information we have gathered through this on-going research, to fully understand business processes and the needs of users, we’re working on a business case to outline options for a future payments service. This process is how we will ensure that the project makes sense for the organisation.
We’re also building a proof of concept to ensure we can develop the more complicated parts of the service and support the business case. We’re working with Scott Logic, a company that specialises in working in the Financial sector, to help us do that.
Starting small and iterating from there
Rather than setting out everything we think we need up front, building to a precise specification, and hoping that it works, we’re taking an agile approach.
That means we’re starting small, and designing a proof of concept. We’ll show our work to users, and see what they do with it and what they say about it. We use that feedback to develop it further and the cycle repeats.
This method will be familiar to many colleagues working in government here in Scotland and elsewhere, and reflects the Scottish Approach to Service Design.
We’re making things open
Another aspect of this way of working is openness: documenting our progress and processes as we go along. This blog post is the first of many.
We want to tell our story as it unfolds. We don’t know exactly what we’ll be saying, and when. Most of that will come from what we learn from users with every new step.
When we do learn something, we’ll share it here. We’re going to show the thing as much as possible, with lots of photos, sketches and screenshots.
To start us off, here’s the first thing we can show: some of the team. These are the people who are doing the research, building the proof of concept and talking to users. We’ll post some more news from them soon.
As well as blogging here, you can follow our progress on Twitter by searching #SGPayments