Blog archive

This is a static archive of my former blog from before 2017

Archived Post

What I mean when I say "digital transformation"

Changing the relationship between the citizen and the state. Digital transformation is a phrase that gets thrown about a lot in government circles at the moment. It means different things to different people. This makes it impossible for people to really understand what you mean when you say it. I’m not the first to write something about this. Simon recently wrote about how the phrase is misused. Matt has also written good things.
18 October 2016
Archived Post

Plenty done

A few weeks ago was my fifth anniversary at the Government Digital Service. I’ve had the opportunity to work on a huge number of important projects in various roles including software developer, technical lead, product owner, delivery manager, troubleshooter and technical architect. From building GOV.UK to travelling to DVLA in Swansea every week creating new digital services. From rebuilding a service that takes billions of pounds in payments in just a few weeks to bringing IT back in house after 30 years of outsourcing.
13 October 2016
Archived Post

Plenty more to do

It’s been a fortnight of big announcements. Mike has announced he’s leaving. Leisa is going home. Tom, Ben & Russell have decided to move on. We’ve also said goodbye to some others – Andy, Lindsey, Sam and Mark. There’s been lots of noise about what this means for GDS, for ongoing digital transformation, for the future of IT in government. If I said this hasn’t all been unnerving and concerning, I’d be lying.
16 August 2015
Archived Post

Spending time with users

Last week I spent a day in Manchester with my team’s user researcher. She’s visiting people all over the country to help us better understand how people interact with government services. Taking part in research like this gives you a great opportunity to meet people outside of your normal circle. As a civil servant, I spend most of my time with people who have an interest in and understanding of how government works.
14 June 2015
Archived Post

A busy start to 2015

January is usually a fairly quiet month. It normally takes people a while to get back into things following the Christmas break. This year however, everything seemed to have hit the ground running. Lots of projects have moved forward quickly and it looks like the first half of this year is going to be rather productive. This month the first phase of DVLA’s Vehicle Management service has moved to a public beta.
2 February 2015
Archived Post

Keeping motivated

When you’re deep in the day to day detail of projects, it’s quite easy to lose sight of the big picture. If you’re making lots of small, incremental changes, you can quickly forget what things were like when you started. I’m currently taking a couple of weeks away from my DVLA projects, partly because it’s long overdue, but partly because I’ve done just that. I’ve been feeling pretty demotivated and frustrated at the lack of progress in some parts.
9 September 2014
Archived Post

Week notes #49

View driving record – lots of my focus over the past few weeks has been assisting this team to get to their public beta. It’s been a bit of a testing-fest with load, penetration and data quality testing going on. As the data from the driving records goes though a pretty complicated process to get to us, the DVLA testing team have been working hard to make sure we’re receiving and interpreting the data in the correct way.
7 April 2014
Archived Post

Week notes #45

I started off the fortnight with 4 days in sunny Newcastle doing interviews for HMRC’s new digital centre. It’s always interesting sitting on the other side of an interview table, but these were somewhat unusual as we held them in hotel rooms. Luckily the hotel had replaced the beds with tables otherwise it could have been a bit awkward. We finished off the Newcastle trip with a meet-up in the Brewdog bar where a fair few developers (and others) came to hear about what GDS and HMRC are up-to and how government is changing.
10 March 2014
Archived Post

Week notes #43

Vehicle tax & SORN – the team spent last week tidying things up and running tests with DVLA staff. They then launched the public beta on Thursday last week. Early counts suggest that nearly 5,000 people have taxed/SORNd their cars over the first few days using the beta. The team are now looking at the feedback and data to see what improvements we can make. View driving record – a good couple of weeks for this project.
24 February 2014
Archived Post

Simpler, clearer and faster car tax online

This afternoon, one of the projects I’ve been working on in Swansea launched into public beta. For the past 3 months, I’ve been working with a small team at the DVLA to look at how we can make the process of buying tax for your car online simpler. Taxing a car online isn’t exactly new – the existing service launched in 2006 and 54% of cars are already taxed this way.
20 February 2014
Archived Post

Week notes #41

Quite clearly I didn’t manage to keep up with my intention to publish my week notes regularly. As things became a little crazy before Christmas, these always ended up at the bottom of my prioritised list. I’m going to give them another go, but they’ll probably be shorter, but hopefully still interesting. So, recently… Vehicle tax & SORN – in my last set of notes I mentioned that we’d set up a team to look at making the tax disc buying process easier.
10 February 2014
Archived Post

Week notes #25-27

The last few weeks have involved lots of spinning plates. Two weeks ago GOV.UK reached one year old. We celebrated in the traditional way with blogs, cake and beer. Building out the new DVLA cloud infrastructure is ongoing. The View driving record team has started and completed the first stories focussed on Identity Assurance. There has also been conversations about network connectivity and the wider DVLA technical transformation plan. In addition to that, I’ve been involved in some conversations about paying for a tax disc by Direct Debit.
3 November 2013
Archived Post

365 days later

A year ago today two of the government’s biggest websites, Directgov and Business Link, were switched off and GOV.UK became the official site for information and services. The last 12 months have flown by. It’s interesting to see how much the site has changed over the year as it continues to develop. It’s now the home to 75 government departments and agencies who are publishing announcements, policies, publications, consultations, statistics and blogs on over 45 different topics.
17 October 2013
Archived Post

Week notes #22-24

The last couple of weeks have been dominated by one topic – infrastructure. As mentioned in my previous week notes, we’ve been designing and building out the production infrastructure for the View Driving Record service at DVLA. Lots of effort has gone into talking to suppliers, designing what we need and spinning it all up. We’ve been working closely with colleagues from GDS and HMRC who have used similar patterns and who are also in the process of spinning up their infrastructure services.
13 October 2013
Archived Post

Week notes #16-21

I’ve neglected my week notes for a little while so here is a condensed update covering week 16 to 21. Part of the reason for the lack of notes is that I took a couple of weeks off towards the end of August. I tried to avoid using my computer during these weeks and completely cut myself off from anything work related. This inevitably led to an insane amount of work prior to my time off and a crazy period of catching up upon my reassimilation.
23 September 2013
Archived Post

Week notes #14-15

It’s been another busy few weeks. Our big focus over these few weeks has been making sure absolutely everything we have to do before our public beta is included in our backlog. We’ve spent quite a bit of time with the dev team and lots of people at DVLA teasing out missing stories, converting ‘documents’ into stories and working out dependencies. It’s always amazing how many stories are hidden in documents and not fully visible.
12 August 2013
Archived Post

Week notes #12

Some belated notes from last week. The week started off with a very quiet few days in Swansea. Lots of people were away for various reasons so, for me, it was pretty unproductive. I did however get to spend some more time with the IT contract management team and see the latest show & tell from the view my driving record team. Wednesday was the biggest feature of the week with our Sprint Alpha event.
22 July 2013
Archived Post

Week notes #11

At the beginning of the week I took part in a workshop to look at abolishing the Counterpart Driving Licence (the piece of paper that comes with the plastic card). The counterpart contains additional information such as what you can drive (entitlements) and penalty points / disqualifications (endorsements). It’s seen to be a fairly important piece of paper. If you drive a van for work, you can use it to prove to your employer that you can drive that type of vehicle.
14 July 2013
Archived Post

Week notes #10

After a couple of very busy weeks things are starting to calm down and return to normal. I spent more time on Monday with some of the team working on the DVLA IT transformation. We’re looking at ways to strangle down the complex legacy IT estate to make it simpler to maintain and to make it easier build new services. Given how complex and tightly coupled the existing systems are, this isn’t going to be a simple process.
6 July 2013
Archived Post

Talk: Digital by Default at Civil Service Live 2013

Yesterday (3rd July 2013) I have a talk about Digital by Default at Civil Service Live (an annual conference for civil servants) in Bristol. There was quite a bit of interest in the talk (the venue we had was packed), so I thought it would be useful if I replicated the talk online and provide a bit of commentary. Hello I’m Dafydd Vaughan. I’m a Technical Architect at the Government Digital Service.
4 July 2013
Archived Post

Week notes #9

After the last few manic weeks, this week was a chance to slow down a bit and take stock of everything that has been going on. On Monday I and a bunch of technical colleagues met with the DVLA team leading on their ICT contract procurement (a piece of work to split up their existing IT estate). We took at look at the work their team is doing and made some suggestions on how to proceed.
30 June 2013
Archived Post

Week notes #8

A little late this week. On Monday I got to spend a day visiting the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) in Bristol. Amongst other things, VOSA look after the MOT service. They’ve got a small internal development team and some SMEs working on various internal tools and an alpha of a potential future MOT service. It’s fantastic to see this sort of thing happening in departments that are getting very little support from GDS.
24 June 2013
Archived Post

Week notes #7

Lots of progress this week. The Department for Transport Digital Strategy published in December last year contained three transformation projects at the DVLA in Swansea. We started the first – the Integrated Enquiries Platform (IEP) – back in January. The other two (vehicles online and personalised registrations) hadn’t been started yet. Until this week. On Monday and Tuesday we kicked off our ‘discovery‘ process for these two projects. We took over some space at the RLDC in Swansea, invited lots of people to talk to us and explain everything that might be related to the projects.
15 June 2013
Archived Post

Week notes #6

This has been a week filled with workshops. On Monday I spent the day at the Richard Ley Development Centre (RLDC) in Swansea. The RLDC is the DVLA’s conference and training centre. It’s perfect for workshops and planning sessions – there is lots of space, lots of whiteboards and Wifi! As part of the driving licence project I’ve been working on, we’ve been building a bunch of services to handle lots of queries against the DVLA’s driver databases.
9 June 2013
Archived Post

Week notes #3-5

The last couple of weeks have been pretty hectic. There’s been lots going on and I’ve been travelling to and from Swansea quite a bit. There’s also been a bank holiday, and a couple of days off. Work on the driving licence service has continued. We finished sprint 8 and started sprint 9. The end of sprint show and tell was really well attended by staff from across the organisation. We’ve been concentrating on the public facing elements of the service recently so we could start user testing.
2 June 2013
Archived Post

Week notes #2

Last week was a very short week with both a bank holiday and a day of annual leave. Despite this it was probably more productive than previous weeks. On Tuesday I attended a show and tell to see the work that’s been done over the last sprint. It’s great to see things starting to come together. We also had a general pre-sprint planning catch up and team retrospective. On Wednesday we started the first round of user testing the online service.
12 May 2013
Archived Post

Week notes #1

A number of people are starting to put together week notes about what they have been up to over the past 5 days of work. I want to give this a go too, partly so I can look back in a few months time and remind myself what has been achieved. I probably won’t get round to writing these every week, but hopefully often enough that it makes sense. So, here we go with Week #1 (29 Apr – 3 May 2013):
4 May 2013
Archived Post

The internet is fragile

At some point in the last few weeks a lot of the things I worked on back in Consumer Focus disappeared from the internet. The sites were turned off and the URLs redirected to the organisation homepage. There is no explanation or notice explaining why you end up on that homepage and you would be forgiven for thinking that the sites and tools never existed. Every link ever made to any of those things are now broken.
28 January 2013
Archived Post

Surviving long distance commuting

As many of my friends and colleagues will confirm, I spent a large portion of the last 18 months commuting to work. Initially from Cardiff to London, then from Abergavenny to London. Both journeys over 2 hours in each direction. It wasn’t really practical to do this on a daily basis, either from a time or cost perspective (4+ hours a day travelling in addition to a normal working day and a monthly season ticket of than £1000).
22 January 2013
Archived Post

Exploring local government services online

2019 update: LocalDirectgov and the underlying datasets have now been replaced. This means the tool was getting out of date and inaccurate, so I’ve switched it off. Back in February I wrote about how GOV.UK helps people get from a central government website to services provided in their local area. For each of these services, from paying council tax to reporting a dangerous building, we try and direct the user to the most useful place on their local council website.
14 November 2012
Archived Post

Hello GOV.UK

Last week we finally launched GOV.UK. On Tuesday afternoon I got to issue the pull request to remove all the beta messages from the site, then a team worked through the early hours of Wednesday morning to redirect as many Directgov and Business Link URLs to GOV.UK as possible1. On Wednesday, the site received over 1 million visits and regularly had over 10 thousand people using it at the same time.
22 October 2012
Archived Post

Working towards launch of GOV.UK

As the launch of GOV.UK draws nearer, it would be a mistake to assume that the beta is in it’s final state. The development and content teams are continuing to make tweaks and changes to the site based on feedback and testing. This will continue both up to and after it becomes the official site for government services on 17 October. This past week, we’ve released (and written about) the new homepage design, updated browse categories and the removal of the search ‘auto suggest‘ feature.
7 October 2012
Archived Post

Brushing off the cobwebs

Just over a year ago, I blogged that I was taking a break from CF Labs and joining a project to create a new website for government. Since then lots of things have happened, and many things have changed. Here is a quick summary: The Government Digital Service (GDS) was created to bring together many bits of government that were working on similar things, including the project to create the new website We released a public beta of our proposed new website for citizens (to replace Directgov).
29 September 2012
Archived Post

Helping to build a single domain for government

Just under two and a half years ago I joined CF Labs – a new team based within Consumer Focus with a remit to build useful online tools and make data more useful and accessible. Over that time, we’ve worked to make product recall information more useful and helped to make it easier to reduce cold calls and junk mail. I’ve been able to work with Consumer Focus’ energy team to publish complaints data on energy suppliers, the Wales team to publish performance data for the Royal Mail, and Passenger Focus to help open up rail performance information.
5 September 2011
Archived Post

An update on the EU cookie law

2019 update: This e-book doesn’t seem to exist anymore, so I’ve removed the link The law was meant to protect the privacy of people using the Internet. To accomplish this, the EU made over 90% of websites illegal EU Cookie Law, the definitive guide. Oliver Emberton, Silktide. Back in May I wrote about the new EU law on cookies that came into effect this year and will be enforced from May 2012.
27 July 2011
Archived Post

Opening up rail performance data

I admit it; I’m a bit of a train buff. I don’t stand around at the end of platforms recording the numbers of trains, but I do like to know what is going on and how everything works. I’ve been a regular user of trains for nearly 10 years. When I was in college, I had to use the train to get to classes. Before I moved to Cardiff in December, I commuted to work by train every day.
12 July 2011
Archived Post

Using website cookies in the EU

Later this week a new law comes into effect – the Privacy & Electronic Communications (EC Directive) (Amendment) Regulations 2011. This law requires all website operators in the EU to gain consent from visitors before storing or retrieving information from a visitors computer. Essentially, this law blocks the use of cookies until a user has been asked for (and has given) informed consent. Francis Davey, the fantastic tech legal expert has written an in-depth blog about the changes.
24 May 2011
Archived Post

The last half of 2010

Whenever there has been an extended gap in my blogging I try and find something to get it going again. It usually involves some kind of recap of the missing months to try and fill in the gap. This time is different only in the sheer amount of things that have happened. Over the last six months I’ve moved house, worked on (and launched) five major projects for CF Labs, begun work on three more and my employer has been abolished.
17 January 2011
Archived Post

Attack on @baskers and the public sector

Disclaimer: These are my own personal thoughts and not those of my employer. I’m disappointed. Over the past few months a concerted media campaign against public sector workers has been building. We are continually portrayed as being lazy and overpaid, not only by the ‘old’ media (by which I mean the traditional print media in general) but also by MPs and our ‘bosses’ in Government. An image has been created of thousands of staff sat around twiddling their thumbs while earning footballer-style fat salaries, not to mention huge benefits, fabulous working conditions and cushy pensions to boot – all at the taxpayer’s expense.
14 November 2010
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Costs of government websites

On Friday, the Government announced that it is intending to close up to 75% of the 820 public sector websites it has identified. The announcement coincided with a report from the Central Office of Information (COI) outlining statistics for central government websites. These figures show that 47 websites have cost taxpayers over £127 million in the last financial year. If you dig a little deeper into the figures you can see that central government has spent £14m on Strategy & Planning, £15.
28 June 2010
Archived Post

Helping you to Stay Private

On Thursday, CF Labs launched their latest project – Stay Private – into public beta. This site is designed to make it easier to sign up for the various marketing opt-out services that exist in the UK. There are lots of different opt-out services that exist, all of which have separate sign-up forms and require you to fill out the same details (such as name, address, email address), over and over again.
13 June 2010
Archived Post

The new government on the web

We are nearly two weeks into the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat and there seems to be a lot of work going on behind the scenes to prepare for the start of the new legislative programme tomorrow (Tuesday). Of course, with a new government brings a new direction. Steph Gray, a former civil servant working in the technology arena has written a fantastic overview of what might happen to public sector IT over the next parliament.
24 May 2010
Archived Post

A brief moment of silence

Unless it escaped your attention, Gordon Brown called the much anticipated UK General Election yesterday. It will take place on May 6th 2010. In line with guidelines for civil service and other public sector employees, I will be curtailing my blogging and tweeting activities until after the election. If I do post anything, it won’t be about work. You can view copies of the guidelines on the Cabinet Office website.
7 April 2010
Archived Post

CF Labs one year on

Just over a year ago I joined CF Labs as one of the developers working on innovation and making data publicly available. When I started, Consumer Focus was a pretty new organisation still getting to grips with its role and getting everything into place so it could undertake its duties properly. In the middle of all of this fun, the three man CF Labs team was put together to experiment with a new way of doing things.
23 March 2010
Archived Post

A quick note on MP expenses

As some of you may remember, a few months ago I waded in on the MP expenses controversy with a crowd-sourcing website for putting together a list of what they all claimed. The Guardian (and others) produced their own websites that did a similar job and generally worked better. Since then, there have been further developments including the Legg report and further detail released (twice). This means that the data added to WhatTheyClaimed.
6 February 2010
Archived Post

Hacks and Hackers working together

Most people will be aware of the concept of a hack day – a number of designers and/or developers getting together for a day to build “cool stuff”. These sorts of days happen on a regular basis and quite a few interesting projects have come out of them. On Friday, Charlie and I attended a hack day with a difference. The ScraperWiki Hack and Hackers Hack Day was designed to bring designers, developers (hackers) and journalists (hacks) together to see what they could do.
31 January 2010
Archived Post

Communications in a crisis

The past 36 hours haven’t been the best for those travelling with Eurostar. Five trains were stranded for hours in the Channel Tunnel without power, light, food, drink, heating or information. A further train became stuck near Ebbsfleet yesterday evening. The focus today is on the cause of the incident and the safety procedures. However the issue that concerns me is how public service companies like Eurostar handle communication in such emergencies.
20 December 2009
Archived Post

Open government and open data

It has been exactly nine months since I started my job at Consumer Focus Labs. In this time, we’ve published our Recalled Products website, some data on the Digital Switchover in Wales, been contributing to a blog following our attempts to get data out of Tesco and are producing our new StayPrivate website. Sometimes I come away from the office and struggle to see what we have actually achieved. When you are stuck into day to day work, it is quite easy to lose sight of the bigger picture.
15 December 2009
Archived Post

Opening up community information

When you move into a new area, how do you find out about the community you are going to be living in. How do you find out about the community groups, the local services, the bus times. Some of the more technology savvy amongst us might look towards the web in the hope that the information is available. Others might wander around and talk to neighbours, a few people just won’t care.
27 October 2009
Archived Post

Setting the postcode free

The Royal Mail is well known in the UK for being an outdated organisation that is struggling to modernise, is regularly hit by crippling strikes and always seems to be losing money (despite the fact they made a profit recently?!). However yesterday they took on a new tact: they appear to have decided to bring the rest of the UK down with them. The issue surrounds a small piece of text – the Post Code.
6 October 2009
Archived Post

A look at the new Birmingham City Council website

Hello? Is that Birmingham City Council? This is 2001, we’d like our website back! There has been a lot of talk on Twitter today about the launch of the new Birmingham City Council website. Without a doubt, Birmingham have successfully launched one of the most delayed and expensive websites of the last few years. After being delayed for 6 months (original launch date was expected to be March 2009), and going significantly over budget (costing a total of £2.
8 September 2009
Archived Post

Why Government needed a Twitter strategy

Last week, Neil Williams from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) published his draft Government Twitter Strategy. I think its about time someone sat down and produced a document like this. Some people have responded to the document negatively (as expected), some positively, and some have completely missed the point. I wanted to spell out why I’m pleased Neil has written this document. There is a lot of skepticism about new media in Government.
28 July 2009
Archived Post - a lesson in crowdsourcing

Yesterday, Richard Pope and I launched, a site aimed at digitising and collating all of the data from MPs expenses. The website is based upon a system I built a few weeks ago to monitor our own expenses at Consumer Focus Labs . The site was designed to match the processes at Consumer Focus, but when Richard and I realised that MPs expenses were being published, we realised we could make use of the same codebase with a few minor changes.
19 June 2009
Archived Post

Time for a change

I’ve been a part of the team at VSI for the best part of nine years, originally as a summer job, but more recently as a full time developer. During this time I’ve seen significant changes in the way the internet works, from new technologies and new standards in design, to new ways of communicating and ways of thinking. The internet landscape is completely different now compared to when I first started out in the industry.
23 March 2009
Archived Post

Talking about website accessibility

Earlier today at the Future of Web Apps conference in Dublin, Robin Christopherson from UK charity AbilityNet gave a talk on website accessibility. I’ve seen quite a few different talks and sessions on website accessibility and understand how important this topic is. This talk however really hit home – Robin is blind and gave the whole presentation & demonstration while using a screen reader. I understand how screen readers work and have tried out some myself, but seeing someone use one in a real situation was really humbling.
6 March 2009
Archived Post

CllrTweeps - the directory of UK councillors on twitter

2014 update: The Local Government Association funded and launched their own version of this service called TweetyHall. Our version has now been turned off. A quick update this week! Last weekend I was pleased to launch CllrTweeps. The new site, inspired by TweetMinster, aims to list every local councillor in the UK who is on Twitter. After our first week online, we have already tracked down and verified the first 100 councillors using the service.
15 February 2009
Archived Post

School closure information

Unless you’ve been in a cave (or outside of the UK) for the last few days, you’ll know that we’ve been experiencing the fun of a ‘severe snow event’. The exact definition of a severe snow event remains unanswered, and I’ll leave the debate over whether what we’ve been experiencing is severe to another time. What is important, however, is that a large number of schools have been closed because of the snow.
3 February 2009
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Cinema-style content ratings for websites

Recently, the UK Secretary of State for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Andy Burnham did an interview with The Telegraph. During the interview he confirmed that the government was looking into a cinema-style rating system for websites. As a web developer, hosting provider and internet user, I do not understand how such a scheme would be possible. There are a number of issues that need to be considered before anything like this is implemented in this (or any other) country.
29 December 2008
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A look at government branding

A few days ago I came across an article about the branding of the Dutch Government. It appears that they are fed up of having different brand for each of their 200(ish) departments and ministries. Instead, they are developing a single ‘Government’ brand that will be used for everything the government does, irrespective of the government. This strikes me as a great idea – not only could it save money by just having one brand instead of 200, but it could help people recognise the work that government does.
20 November 2008