SEPA embrace digital transformation one application at a time

Guest blog by Simon Pattullo, Product Owner at Scottish Environment Protection Agency

If you haven’t heard of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), we are Scotland’s principal environmental regulator tasked with protecting and improving Scotland’s environment.

One key tool we use is Permitting and as such, our service needs to be efficient, so we’re constantly working to improve it. We have always been largely paper based, but this is changing. The progress we have made so far within our Permitting department has even won us an award. Read on to find out more…

Believe it or not, each year we receive around 2,000 applications to register private sewage treatment systems such as septic tanks. We’re given 30 days to determine these applications. By bringing this service online, the whole process now takes just 5 minutes. Bear in mind that this is just one of roughly 200 types of application we receive.

The SEPA team with their award.

Essentially, we’re building separate, reusable parts within our services. This means we can satisfy very simple or more complex types of application.

For example, we have one that connects to a common payment portal, one that transfers data to our existing systems, and one is a postcode lookup. This postcode lookup system incorporates the Europa addressing service that utilises OS AddressBase. It is brilliant for our service as it automatically generates a unique reference including easting and northing without the user having to collect that information.

We built this component in our online registration service for private sewage treatment and reused it for the next services – radioactive substances and waste management exemption applications. These are just the first services we’ve built ready for release and there may be many more to follow, all of which will be consistent and familiar with a user-focus.

We enlisted training and support from our Scottish Government digital colleagues and experienced contractors. We adopted Agile methodologies and began building our reusable platform in house. The whole team knows what it’s building and why. We work collaboratively and are focused with no background noise. We’re concentrating on building the right product.

In the office, the walls are now peppered with post-its and user journeys, thoughts and targets. There’s a real buzz about the place as we’re on our feet, negotiating, discussing. It’s totally dynamic and we can see the benefits already.

Picking up the Information Communication Technology award at this year’s Connect ICT event was a great recognition of what we have achieved. The blurb on the day advised that we had “demonstrated outstanding performance, from technology support to improving operational efficiency and driving innovation and change”.

Whilst the first service we overhauled took 18 months, the next 4 took only 60 days. The services we’re building now are being developed at an even quicker rate, and we’re constantly evolving.

We can’t know everything, and that’s why we carry out user research first. We roll out usability and accessibility testing and when we have released the service, we constantly absorb feedback. This is why we can easily adapt and make changes.

Our services are in plain English, easy to use, and ask only for the information we need. This will save customers time as well as us so we can concentrate efforts to protect and improve the environment.

By enabling the sharing of systems, developing skills and knowledge, we’re creating familiar and reusable services. By doing so we’ll create efficiencies and provide greater security and transparency. By overhauling our antiquated applications, we are embracing digital transformation one application at a time. Now, permitting is just one department in one organisation, so who knows where this can lead? Take a look at our website for more information on our application forms.

OS partnered with SEPA on OS MasterMap Water Network too – find out more.

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