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Provider Digital Service - Service Assessment

The Skills Funding Agency (SFA) fund skills training for further education (FE) in England. The service will enable education and training providers to manage their contracts with the SFA. This will offer a single place where education and training providers can manage their online funding relationship with the SFA to find information to: plan, register and bid for skills funding; agree, vary and grow their contracts; get help to recruit and enrol learners and make data returns to receive payments and measure performance. The service will support approximately 1,000 education and skills providers as follows: 500 training organisations, 320 colleges and universities, 135 Local Authorities and 60 employers. The SFA currently host a number of digital portals to services. The service will complement and replace some of these existing skills funding services, in particular a service for submission of contracts and a document exchange portal.

Department / Agency:

Date of Assessment:

Assessment stage:

Result of Assessment:

Lead Assessor:
A. Graham

Service Manager:
D. Williams

Digital Leader:
T. Knighton

Assessment Report

The Provider Digital Service has been reviewed against the 18 points of the Digital Service Standard at the end of the alpha development.

Outcome of service assessment

The assessment panel have concluded that the service is on track to meet the service standard at this stage of development and should proceed to beta.


A good multi-disciplinary team is in place, led by a competent and enthusiastic service manager, who showed a strong understanding of the service standard.

  • User research showed evidence of a clear understanding of the design principles underpinning the service standard. Evidence of regular research using a variety of techniques was heard. Feedback of user research happens during sprints and has enabled the alpha service to be tested and iterated on a frequent basis.
  • The team have re-used elements of the SFA exemplar project to support technology decisions identifying technical risks at an early stage and mitigating risks – an issue that has been identified regarding challenges to attract the correct skills for some technologies has influenced decisions indicating flexibility of approach to ensure that the team is capable of delivering.
  • A strong understanding of privacy requirements and security and evidence of engagement with the wider BIS family to understand the SFA role within the government grants ecosystem.
  • The team have made use of the design tool kits available and are aware of the prototyping kit on GitHub.
  • Analytics have been implemented at an early stage and engagement with the Performance Platform is evident.


Understand user needs

The user base for the service is clearly defined and understood and we heard that evidence of an assisted digital need has been actively sought and not identified. The panel recommend that the service must continue to research assisted digital (AD) requirements throughout the duration of the beta to continually validate the working assumption. In addition we recommend that the team should be able to show that they have a plan for how they would rapidly provide the capability to support AD should the need arise.

Build the service using agile methods

The service manager had a good understanding of the velocity of sprints. In beta we recommend work should be undertaken to understand user story cycle time to evaluate team performance.

Build a service consistent with the user experience of the rest of GOV.UK

The alpha includes elements of content currently hosted on GOV.UK. The panel heard that feedback had shown that users want some of this content within the transactional service. We recommend that the service team should continue engagement regarding the content element of the service with GOV.UK looking at how and where it is presented.

Build a service consistent with the user experience of the rest of GOV.UK

As the alpha has worked upon a part of the larger digital presence of Skills Funding Agency there are a number of elements of the user journey that are outside of the scope of this work, for example a legacy identity assurance system. These will form part of the user journey for this service, but also support a number of other services. The panel recommend that work should be undertaken to visualise a clear end-to-end user journey, including these inconsistent elements, to fully identify issues with the fact that these elements are not consistent with the user experience the rest of the service will deliver. While the panel acknowledge that the team may not be in a position to change the legacy dependencies, understanding the effect on the user journey will offer a clearer view of what needs to be done and support the need for change if it has a detrimental impact.

Put in place a sustainable multidisciplinary team

The team recently lost resource of a visual designer. As the team has a content designer who has skills in this area this was not considered a significant concern but consideration should be given to how peer review will be conducted when both roles are fulfilled by one person. During beta this approach should be reviewed to ensure that the stated aim to make changes on the fly during research can be supported when both roles are being fulfilled by the same team member.

Evaluate what tools will be used and how to procure them

The panel understand the reasons for the choices of tools made for the service and the service manager was confident in presenting the rationale. A number of these choices have been influenced by previous work undertaken by the SFA in their exemplar project and technology capabilities within the department. The panel felt that they would have liked more assurance that the choices were not driven too much by current capability and that open source software was considered on a level playing field given its limited adoption in the alpha. We recommend that the service manager reviews the choices to assure himself (perhaps with guidance from GDS) that platform choices have not been limited by capabilities to the detriment of the service and that the current proposal will deliver a service that meets the user need.

Evaluate what tools will be used and how to procure them

The service manager demonstrated a sound knowledge of Verify and the limitations in relation to identity assurance of corporate identities which are required by the Skills Funding Agency. The panel agree with the approach taken given no citizen identity is required, but recommend that the SFA should assess their ability to decouple the identity and access elements of the legacy service to avoid lock-in should the Verify solution offer suitable identity management and assurance in future iterations.

The panel recommend that the team understand the implications of an exit strategy to off-board from the current platform from a cost and technical complexity perspective. This should assure the service manager that there are not any unpalatable barriers to exit, thus avoiding single vendor lock-in. Conducting this early in beta will provide an opportunity to consider ways of de-risking anything identified.

We recommend that the team should prioritise the implementation of the shared continuous integration environment to enable end-to-end testing in beta.

Make all new source code open and reusable

The team explained that they would look to publish source code under the appropriate license where it would be useful. The panel are assured that the SFA fully support the principle of open source code but recommend that the team should aim to publish all source code and should not attempt to evaluate usefulness. By doing this the SFA can allow other departments and users to determine whether the code is useful.

We recommend confirming the availability of and adding a GitHub plugin to the existing source code repository early in beta to support the publishing of open source code as soon as possible.

Encourage all users to use the digital service alongside an appropriate plan to phase out non-digital channels and services

The service manager was able to demonstrate that good planning was already underway supporting channel shift. During the assessment it was mentioned that consideration was being given to forcing users to use the new digital service by removing all other options. The panel recommends that this should be carefully considered bearing in mind that the guiding principle for new services is to build 'digital services so good people prefer to use them'. If the new service is allowed to run in parallel with existing channels for at least a small amount of time to allow a tipping point to be realised it will be easier for the service manager to evaluate the success of the new service in conjunction with other KPI measurements.

General comment

During the beta the panel recommends work should continue to review the name of the service with users, as it was felt that the current working title may not be appropriate.

Digital Service Standard criteria

Criteria Passed Criteria Passed
1 Yes 2 Yes
3 Yes 4 Yes
5 Yes 6 Yes
7 Yes 8 Yes
9 Yes 10 No
11 Yes 12 Yes
13 Yes 14 Yes
15 Yes 16 Yes
17 Yes 18 N/A