One of the biggest financial transitions since decimalisation, the move to pay benefits directly into claimants' bank accounts, was a complex process that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) entrusted to Atos Consulting.
A vital plank in the Government's welfare reform agenda, getting rid of paper-based payments, was on the prime minister's list of 20 most wanted programmes - it would give claimants more choice, reduce admin costs and help to eradicate fraud.
Atos, together with outsourcing specialist Vertex, was chosen in 2002 to set up and run the process through a specially built customer conversion centre and information line - and ensure that 85% of DWP customers had been converted to direct payment by the end of 2005. Failure, the consultants were told, was not an option.
Conversion had to be achieved without compulsion, incentives or penalties, even though many claimants were wary of banks and other financial institutions. The complexity of DWP's multiple legacy systems presented further challenges. Atos and Vertex designed a sophisticated operational environment to provide the necessary interfaces between systems.
Because of the high-profile nature of the programme, the consultants had to report regularly to the Secretary of State and other key stakeholders.
The consultants decided to operate initially with low volumes to ensure that all processes and systems were fine-tuned before expanding to full-scale operations. Atos kicked off a number of initiatives, which included re-engineering key processes and using third-party data to target particular customer groups.
In the end, the project's objectives were met a year early. More than 97% of DWP's benefits and pensions claimants are now paid directly, and the Department has reduced its operating costs, on target to save more than £1bn over five years. 'The bulk of this saving was as a direct result of the work done in the customer conversion centre, which converted more than 10 million customers,' reports Christine Goodfellow, programme director at the DWP.
Thanks to Atos, the DWP now provides a flexible and secure method of payment for claimants, 97% of whom are now paid directly.
- Strong management is essential when working with large programme teams.
- Stay flexible to meet changes in policy, demand and deadlines.
- Play to the strengths of each business partner on the programme.
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