Scotland waves £15m around to tempt low-code partner to help with social security overhaul as technical debt mounts

Though that might not be the workaround it needs


The Scottish government is sizing up the market for suppliers to develop on its low-code technology platform and support its social security overhaul.

Having selected low-code platform OutSystems to help modernise IT services from its executive agency Social Security Scotland, the Scottish government is now looking for a "strategic partner" to help develop solutions on the platform. These might include case management, web portals, and mobile applications, for example.

According to a prior information notice designed to gauge the market interest, the deal could be worth £15m.

The Scotland Act 2016 gave the Scottish Parliament the powers to administer a benefits system devolved from the UK government, while the Social Security (Scotland) Act 2018 provides for types of assistance that will be created using those powers. The government said it required a technology platform to build a technical solution to get the benefits of devolution.

In January last year, the government contracted OutSystems, a low-code technology platform, to administer Scottish citizens applications for welfare benefits in a £1.6m deal via reseller Softcat.

In May, it awarded consultancy giant Deloitte a £9.1m contract to "configure the technology platform to meet the... design requirements" including the "scope to reuse the technology platform" to meet the needs of different services.

The current procurement goes further, looking for an ongoing "strategic" partner or partners, rather than "configuration partner", which is Deloitte's role.

According to a report from public spending watchdog Audit Scotland, Social Security Scotland has not "fully developed longer-term planning for key areas such as finance, workforce, estates and IT which will be critical to the success of the Scottish social security system".

James Wallace, Social Security Scotland's deputy director of finance and corporate services, told the audit body that the agency would, by 1 April 2021, appoint a chief digital officer who would "start to develop our longer term IT plans", but the organisation was still "heavily reliant" on the separate Social Security Directorate's programme for developing its systems.

The auditors found that the directorate programme uses agile development to launch minimum viable products which "may lead to a significant volume of technical debt and workarounds in the interim".

"There is currently a backlog of digital work that is outstanding for Social Security Scotland systems, with this new technical debt adding to it," the audit said.

It's fair to note, then, that the agency may be hoping a low-code approach, with some outside help, might reduce technical debt. But without a longer-term plan, it could be hard to tell if it is heading in the right direction. ®


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