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HMRC Chief Digital and Information Officer Mike Potter on digital transformation of UK tax authority

Thomas Macaulay | Aug. 2, 2017
HMRC Chief Digital and Information Officer Mike Potter says department has recently launched digital personal tax accounts and voice biometrics and is starting AI trials.

Potter refused to reveal what exactly the AI trials would explore but mentioned early automation use cases including directing queries to the right places without human intervention, augmenting decision-making on casework and self-service support for customers.

"It's about taking the grunt out of people's jobs and focusing them on high-value," says Potter. "If they don't believe in it they won't participate and it won't work."


Digital challenges at HMRC

Potter was named interim Chief Digtal and Information Officer at HMRC in August 2016, after predecessor Mark Dearnley left for a role in the private sector.

He was previously the department's digital transformation director for almost two years, and spent five years prior to that in business transformation services at NHS Blood and Transplant.

The digital infrastructure he is now responsible has to support an immense operation encompassing 60,000 staff collecting more than £500 billion in revenue and two billion transactions from 45 million individual customers and 5 million business customers.

Potter says that for every seven days of work that is done at the Post Office, one of them is dedicated for serving HMRC.

The Whitehall department also has one of the largest IT estates in Europe, with 600 separate systems, 500 terabytes of data, 5,000 servers and 24/7 operations. HMRC is finally taking full control of its estate with the phased replacement of the £10 billion 'Aspire' outsourcing contract for IT services which has underpinned its services for the last decade.

"We're going to design and deliver fundamentally different and better technology services and new customer experiences," said Potter.

"We're also changing the market and the relationship with the technology providers, because the one we had served us well, but it isn't fit for the future, we need a new one."



HMRC has an ever-growing stock of APIs, which allows third party software, businesses and individuals to use to interact with HMRC and improve tax-related digital services.

They're currently working with a community of developers to develop tax management products and have already released 18 production APIs, which 23 products are currently using.

"We have 700 registered software developers, and many of them now are building products using the initial set of interfaces. We're going to have over 400 interfaces.

"So anything you can do as a customer, you've got to do through your accounting software directly with HMRC. It's a complete transformation in the way business work with us."

The HMRC tech team has scaled at such a speed that the civil service recruits have had to be augmented by external contractors. To make staffing more sustainable in future, Potter wants to recruit 400 digital technology apprentices by the end of this year, the culmination of an ambition that began with 20 apprentices just two years ago.


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