DVLA backs south Wales technology startups and talent

The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) is in talks with startups and universities in south Wales to encourage technology talent in the region

The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) is in talks with startups and universities in south Wales to encourage technology talent in the region.

As part of its digitisation programme, the agency, based in Swansea, is collaborating with local universities, TechHub and the Software Alliance Wales.

Part of the Department for Transport (DfT), the agency is building several digital online services including full licence renewal, provisional licence registration and tax disc renewal, which is now in public testing.

Although the DVLA received some help from the Government Digital Service (GDS), its digital services are all built in-house by its 340-strong IT department in Swansea. And the unit is now being seen as an exemplar department throughout government for its efforts providing digital services.

But the DVLA has realised its need for more talent and partnerships within the south Wales area.

“We need a vibrant employment market of technologists,” said Oliver Morley, chief executive and digital leader of the DVLA.

Iain Patterson, director of technology at DVLA, said the agency wants to put DVLA technologies into universities so students can use them for their courses. This means they are ready to work in government, he said.

The DVLA is also hoping to mentor startup technology companies in Swansea’s new TechHub community.

“Swansea is a great place, it’s a great lifestyle and the universities run good courses,” said Patterson. “There are lots of talented people coming out of those universities, wanting to stay in that area and grow their own businesses – but there’s no environment for them to do that.”

Additionally, these partnerships will also help the DVLA itself to find agile companies to work with. Morley also added it is much easier to have companies close by rather than having to travel unnecessarily to London.

“It means you can work really closely and you don’t have to have people trundling up to London to have a discussion about what you’d like to do, when [in Swansea] everyone gets together for half an hour to talk about it.”

“We are also looking to go further up the M4 corridor in Wales,” Patterson added.  

While the government is encouraging the use of SMEs, wanting to hit a goal of 25% of central government expenditure on SMEs by 2015, Patterson said the DVLA’s push towards startups is their own initiative.

“It hasn’t been mandated from government, we just feel it’s the most logical step to take,” he said. “It’s reinvesting into the area and actually it’s good for us.”

Meanwhile, the Welsh Assembly is also interested in the project, and the agency has started to engage with them around supporting a digital Swansea as well as the local employment market.

The benefits of startups

Morley said SMEs stand out from established suppliers because the delivery of their product “really matters to them – that’s why they’re so great,” he said.

“They have so much skin in the game, so much concern, and as a customer you really want that. You can have an incredible constructive relationship and they really work at pace.”

But Patterson has noticed the larger more traditional suppliers starting to take inspiration from the startup way of working, by become more agile in their approach to customer needs.

“The larger players are starting to perform in the same way, which is really good,” he said. “They’re all learning from each other, and we’re learning from it.”

The DVLA’s internal IT estate is currently provided through an IBM contract, which runs out in 2015/16, but Patterson said the agency will not be renewing with a single supplier, but looking to multiple suppliers through frameworks such as G-Cloud to buy in the future.

Patterson said the DVLA has already used the framework for SME services successfully, and he noted how quick it was to use compared to the old process.

New SME legislation

Commenting on the new SME procurement legislation the government is hoping to implement this year to make selling services easier for smaller companies, Patterson said he was “absolutely comfortable” with the new rules.

The changes include breaking contracts down into smaller lots, and allowing companies to bid as long as their annual revenue is twice the value of the deal in question – previously these thresholds were much higher. Another piece of legislation will require late payers to publish cases where they fail to pay within 30 days.

But the DVLA need not to worry about payments, as 94.5% of the agency’s suppliers are paid within five working days.

“It’s fair to say if you’re a small organisation wanting to grow, you expect quick payment, as we expect quick payment for our services,” said Patterson.  

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