Sopra Steria sets out how it developed a platform for benefit applications

The way people apply for their benefits is simpler and quicker thanks to a high-profile project undertaken by Sopra Steria.

The consulting, digital services and software development company carried out a successful discovery phase with the client, before going on to develop a scalable platform, delivering digital application forms for two of the client’s most complex benefits services.

Now citizens can, for the first time, apply for these benefits online, simplifying the data sharing process and reducing the lead time for applications.

The three-year programme covers Alpha and Beta development phases for both benefit services. A full pilot has successfully launched and the rollout is well underway. The benefits services had previously been delivered using cumbersome paper forms that were hard to understand and complete.

The application process also lacked speed and a digital audit trail. There were concerns about the
accessibility of the form for many of the citizens in the target cohort, and there was potential to exclude many citizens who needed further support and guidance.

To digitalise the service fully, the team at Sopra Steria needed to get a clear understanding of the range of users that would need access to the application form. Just one of the services included an incredible 700 user stories.

The application was lengthy and complex, consisting of a 38-page questionnaire with a further 22 pages of accompanying guidance. To support users throughout the application process, just one section of the form contained 60 possible completion routes.

During the Alpha phase, Sopra Steria’s user research-led process validated and elaborated on the
user needs found in the discovery. An Agile approach identified the highest priority and most complex sections of the application.

A prototype of these sections was created and iteratively worked on by the service design, user experience and user research teams. Regular checks ensured the designs were grounded in policy,
technical and security considerations.

To ensure the user research embodied the programme’s approach of putting citizens at the heart of the service, the team at Sopra Steria worked collaboratively with business process owners to transform the
application form into an intuitive, easy-to-digest and simplified process.

The digital service needed to offer inclusivity and deliver the ability to process large volumes of applications, ensuring citizens are paid accurately and on time.

The key Beta deliverable was the digital portal for benefits applications, designed based on the client’s agreed standards and templates. In addition, Sopra Steria produced technical design papers for review by the programme’s architecture review board, regular governance updates reviewing progress, dependencies and time to completion.

The digital portal was extensively and successfully tested with citizens with a wide array of use cases and benefit-specific parameters.

The revolutionary portal enables citizens to apply for these benefits online for the first time in the UK. During the pilot phase, the majority of applications were being made on a mobile device. Being a digital form, the agency is now able to receive data from the citizen in stages, so that the agency can start processing applications while the citizen completes the remainder of the form.

This key innovation significantly reduces the overall time from application start to decision.
In addition, the portal incorporated logic and question branching so that citizens only saw questions
relevant to them, shortening the application process and making the form much less overwhelming.

The form design addressed key user needs that the old paper form did not. It gave alternative ways of
asking for required information that citizens found easier to understand and to respond to. Sopra Steria and the client worked very closely together as one team, which included other suppliers involved in the integration.

This joint skilled team identified risks, dependencies and unknowns early, and came up with practical solutions and approaches for mitigation.

Despite Covid and the challenge of remote working, this close relationship enabled Sopra Steria and the client to deliver the digital portal in line with committed dates.