Digital Innovation during a Pandemic – Supporting Welsh Businesses

Darllenwch y dudalen hon yn Gymraeg

The covid-19 pandemic has been devastating in many ways and has prompted the need for us, and others, to deliver digital public services at pace and based around user needs.  An example is the work of the Business Wales Digital team, who provide support to businesses across Wales in relation to financial support, training, marketing and much more.  In this blog, Rhys Morris, Operational Delivery Manager in Business Wales, explains how he and his team used agile and fast delivery approaches to put in place much needed support for Welsh businesses.

The ask

In response to the negative effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on the Welsh economy, the Welsh Government agreed to provide new funding to support Welsh businesses in addition to the finance schemes available from the UK Government.

My team and I, who were already working from home, needed to find a digital way to deliver this funding to eligible businesses and provide ongoing online support and advice to them through the crisis and this all needed to be done yesterday!  The pressure was on to deliver a solution quickly so that we could support Welsh businesses who were in need. 

I knew we needed to provide a system that was easy to use, secure, reliable and capable of handling large volumes. We knew businesses were really struggling and it was vital that our new service had the minimum amount of lag between businesses submitting an application and receiving payment.

The user journey

We started by establishing the user journey for the service to make sure we understood the steps an applicant would need to take to apply for the grant.  We recognised it was crucial that potential applicants were told upfront about the eligibility criteria before they invested time in completing an application form.  This also helped us, as we were able to focus our efforts on the businesses who were going to get the money.  

We identified that businesses started their search for support on our Business Wales Covid-19 website, so this is where the grant Eligibility Checker was positioned. The Eligibility Checker takes the user through a series of questions to

determine what support is available and direct them to the right grant and  application form.  We realised that not all businesses would be eligible so we also created an information page with other sources of potential support and funding.

Knowing that this is a very stressful time, an important part of the user journey was to include notifications about the progress of applications to make sure that applicants were kept up to date throughout.

The internal journey

In developing the service, it was also important to consider how staff who processed applications were going to use it.   We also needed to make sure the service integrated with other business support services that we had in place already.

We already have a Business Account System (BAS) to manage our business support service, which also provides a compliant way of managing other Business Wales grants. Integrating the new service with this and other existing services helped reduce time, complexity and multiple data entry for customers and for staff.  

To simplify the process for applicants and staff we used existing data collected by Companies House to perform automated pre-processing and validate the data we received.  For example, we were able to check that Company Registration Number (CRN) and VAT registration number matched the applicant’s details.

Finally, to make sure our internal staff were equipped to use this new service, we provided virtual training to 250 of them so that they were ready from Day 1 to process applications.

The service (so far)

From start to go live my team and I, along with our external delivery partner, developed and delivered Welsh Government’s Economic Resilience Fund (ERF) online grant application and management system in just 6 weeks.  That’s pretty good even if I say so myself! We’ve also learnt lots along the way and plan to share the lessons we have learnt with colleagues in UK Government.

Rhys Morris, Operational Delivery Manager in Business Wales

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