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How the DVLA looked in-house when boosting cloud initiatives

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When the UK’s Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) was ramping up their cloud initiatives, the agency wanted to be in the driver’s seat.

To do that, they needed the skills and expertise that would allow them to successfully transform their infrastructure and evolve their services to make it simpler for customers to do business with them online.

The Chief Architect of the DVLA, Matt Lewis, who sets the agency’s technical direction and guides their solutions to ensure they can operate across all their data sets, realised that, to meet their objective ‘to make a positive difference to the lives of every household in the UK’, they were going to need to build out their in-house cloud fluency and proficiency.

“Our biggest challenge was how to reduce our reliance on suppliers and grow our skills in-house to put us in control of our own destiny,” said Lewis. “Recruiting talent remained difficult. We ran numerous schemes with little success. So, we focused on developing and increasing our in-house capability, building high-performing teams, and a culture of coaching, not just output, to become a centre of digital excellence.”

Upskilling in-house 

Lewis had earned his AWS Certified Solutions Architect – Professional and AWS Certified Security – Specialist certifications, as well as the AWS Data Hero honour. As such, he was familiar with all the possibilities that proper cloud training and certification could unlock. He saw the potential that upskilling and certification could bring to their efforts to put their cloud-first principle into practice.

The DVLA had already been using Amazon Web Services (AWS) for over five years and were able to take advantage of the elasticity of the cloud and on-demand self-service models to support their operations, which are ultimately responsible for managing over 49 million driver records and 40 million vehicle records, providing 81 services, and collecting over £6 billion in revenue annually.

To keep moving forward, Lewis explained that they were actively targeting cloud certification for employees. “We’ve given people time and access to training, exam vouchers, and study groups. We set out to make learning fun. We’ve run events, such as hackathons and GameDays, both in person and online. We’ve even rewarded people with trips to cloud events around the world.”

According to Lewis, the efforts have paid off. “We now have over half of our entire cloud-engineering capability certified to at least an Associate level, with many now going down Professional and Specialty paths. As a result, we’ve been able to bring this capability entirely in-house, which we estimate will save us over £16 million in operating costs over the next 10 years.”

Lewis continued: “Growing our skills through training and certification has resulted in less rework to the services we develop today, because we’re making better, well-informed decisions the first time. It has also given us the confidence to learn and try out new services as they’re released.”

Reaping the benefits

Employees agree. One DVLA training participant, Thomas Hinton, noted, “I started here with no knowledge of computer science and I’m currently receiving a professional-level certification, which will make me employable in any cloud role.”

“As we’ve learned, we’ve begun automating best practices,” Lewis elaborated. “We’ve baked features such as monitoring, metrics, and alerting into our platform. We’ve built vulnerability scanning, integration, and acceptance testing and zero downtime deployments into our pipeline, which also checks for conformance against internal dev code standards. This has allowed us to react with speed and agility and release more and new services over the past 12 months than ever before.”

In addition, they’ve seen savings. Lewis said, “We’ve taken around 75% of all compute costs out of our container platform as we evolved from on-demand to reserved and then spot instances.” 

What’s next? “We’ve just launched our Cloud Academy, which fits around the current certification programmes we’re using, to develop a pipeline of talent as we grow the next generation of cloud engineers.”

The two-year programme, with an initial 12-week boot camp, has already attracted 300 applicants. Lewis reported that from that pool, “We interviewed 55 candidates and selected 10 for the Cloud Academy programme.”

Lewis’s advice for others? “If you’re thinking about your journey to the cloud or you want to enhance your existing knowledge, go online and check out the free training and resources that are available, watch sessions online, and set yourself the goal of becoming certified by a recognised cloud provider.”

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