Making trade policy into operational data

Department of International Trade

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The Department of International Trade (DIT) is a UK government department formed by Prime Minister Theresa May in 2016 following the UK’s vote to leave the European Union (also referred to as Brexit). It is responsible for negotiating and securing trade agreements between the UK and foreign countries and for encouraging foreign investment and export trade. They also help overseas companies locate and grow in the UK as well as championing free trade.

The challenge

The United Kingdom was set to leave the European Union on the 1st January 2021. This meant that the UK needed to form a new independent trade policy and have all the systems in place to store it, manage it and transmit it successfully to various border systems and traders by this deadline.

DIT needed a way to store and manage this new independent trade policy along with all of the data associated with it and to enable individual traders in the UK and abroad, trade experts and other governments to access it.

This meant that the new system needed to be intuitive and easy to use by non-technical domain experts and to contain all of the data representing the UK trade policy by the 1st January 2021. It also needed to follow the existing, rigid European data standard and to add to the challenge, the new independent trade policy was in constant flux and was still being agreed right up until the deadline, with a last minute signing of a UK-EU trade agreement on Christmas Eve 2021.

What we did

Register Dynamics were brought in to lead a team of 10-14 researchers, designers and developers to build and deliver the new system to handle all the data associated with the new independent trade policy. Our leadership approach focused on setting direction, making prioritisation decisions and defining agile sprints.

We developed both the technical and data architecture for the new system, called the Tariff Management Tool, working to understand and evolve a legacy EU defined data model to ensure that it met the needs of the UK and allowed for efficient digital journeys for the users. We implemented and expanded upon the strategic vision for the system and evolved the data architecture much further beyond the initial brief.

Our work involved us engaging closely with many policy stakeholders across the Department and wider Government. We developed excellent relationships with them and carefully ensured that their requirements were always well understood and that they were a part of the agile process. We also took on board what reporting needs they each had and made sure that these were embedded into the data management tool too.

As well as developing the Tariff Management Tool, it was also important to find a way to migrate all of the data representing the new trade policies of 30 policy teams across 11 UK government departments into it. This was a major data migration operation and we were pleased to have successfully completed this, which involved migrating over 400,000 data records, before the Tariff Management Tool had reached full operational maturity.

As part of our work we recognised that the UK Tariff data product we had created had significant value to a wide set of users. To support this, DIT decided to release the data as an open data set under an open licence and provided a manual of explanatory guidance to help users get the most out of the data and the service.

We also designed and implemented a training programme to help up-skill team members in-house and to explain the complexities of the legacy data model. This included creating many hours of video content, which each new team member now views, and uses as a key part of their onboarding.

The result

The Tariff Management Tool was delivered with the UK Tariff data on time for the 1st January 2021. This included the complete migration of more than 400k records into the new data management system.

The UK Global Tariff service, which helps users find and compare the tariffs, was launched in May and ran throughout 2021. It offered the UK Global Tariff data as an open data set that is available in both spreadsheet format and as an API. This was well received and led to further research and development on the data and its users, resulting in the release of the full UK Tariff data set.

The full UK Tariff data set is now live and in active use. It includes commodity codes, more items of reference data, legislated preferential rates and many more components not available previously.

We continue to support all of the new services that have gone live and have done so for more than 18 months already.

We have also been asked to continue with our pioneering user research and explorations on different ways to further utilise the data. This includes establishing new ways to make the data more user-friendly and accessible, as well as developing further content to support better understanding of the concepts behind the data in detail.