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Escaping from legacy world

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: DVLA Digital Services

I spoke recently at the Public Sector Show about culture change and how it can transform an organisation. When I got the invite from the organisers, I didn’t hesitate in agreeing. 

It’s a subject that not only strikes a chord with me because of its importance, but also because it’s really, really hard!

My first two years at DVLA have been all about creating an environment for culture change. I’ve blogged previously about the reorganisation and the focus on ownership and empowerment. This has been critical but it’s not something that happens overnight. These are behaviours we need to keep reinforcing. We were effectively an assurance function during our old outsourced IT contract, so the move to planning, building, and running our own IT has been a difficult one. We’ve also had to merge two different cultures and behaviours into a 500+ strong in-house IT team.

It’s all in the planning

We’ve been doing a huge piece of planning work recently, so we can understand what transforming our business really means. To do this we needed input from across DVLA and now we now have a huge map of the technical work required for our entire transformation programme. This map includes:

  • 720+ features
  • 1800+ dependencies
  • 300,000+ man days
  • 2,500+ sprints

Getting to this level of detail has taken up a lot of our time, but it’s been essential. We now have a plan which reinforces what we already knew, that we need to start changing things at a much faster pace. However, to do this we also need stable services. In my last blog, I talked about our service performance. It’s no accident that last year we achieved service availability of 99.9% across our 58 services.

Some might argue that you shouldn’t be investing in your legacy estate but that’s exactly what we’ve been doing. Why? Technical change always brings the risk of instability. If we have more change, then we need a more stable starting position to ensure our excellent digital services remain that way.

We want to be spending time on the changes in hand. If we are constantly firefighting, customer confidence could be affected and our progress could be hampered.

Improving the way we work

I talked in one of my previous blogs about encouraging independence and freedom amongst staff. By taking the shackles off and trusting people to make decisions, they’re now delivering as much functionality in two weeks as they were delivering in six months previously.

We’re also seeing the green shoots of innovation, of people not being afraid to try their hand at new things. One of our teams recently put one of our legacy applications onto our new target technology stack (Kubernetes and Docker). They did this in their own time as they were so keen to learn and progress. This is a great example of how the increase in the pace of our change and improved service resilience is making DVLA a less risk-averse organisation.

It takes time!

We’re a long way off where we want to be - if you don’t believe me, come and see the plan! But what we have done, which is no mean feat, is lay the foundations to bring change at the pace required to migrate away from our legacy technology.

Over the next 12 months, as well as completing work on the ‘Register a Vehicle’ service, our focus will be on trailer registration, tachograph transformation and both drivers and vehicles enquiries.

Not only will this deliver some of our Business Plan commitments, but it will allow us to build some of the essential common components that will provide the foundation for the transformation of Drivers and Vehicles services in the future.

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  1. Comment by Steven Collins posted on

    Well done, Dave, for recognising the need to stabilise before growing. Well done to the entire team for being so engaged in their work as to freely give their spare time. What the DVLA are doing is inspirational and should be commended.

  2. Comment by Ian Weeks posted on

    I have to say I'm extremely impressed with the DVLA online service, which is constantly improving. The online help is comprehensive and very helpful.
    An example is the registration number retention service, which I recently used. What used to be a long-winded process taking up to two weeks, and a visit to a local office, to conclude, is now completed in minutes, with the minimum of effort.
    Very well done, this website that should be used as an example to all Government services.

  3. Comment by sanjiv bussooa posted on