Monthly Archives: April 2014

Digitising divisions

How the clerks will record divisions in the Lords very soon.

How the clerks will record divisions in the Lords very soon.

As mentioned in my last post, we have been working on a new system for the Lords to record their divisions electronically, rather than via the current method of marking off against a printed list that’s been around in one form or another for, well, ever. I would like to share a quick overview of the development process that went into building this new system.

The project came along a little while back when we had a chat with the business development manager for the Lords who is very keen to look at ways of improving how the business of the house is done. He came to us with some simple wireframes that he had designed, asking us how easy would it be to create a system that would allow touch based capturing of a division which could plug into existing systems post capture so as to keep the rest of the workflow ticking along as it does now. We said “lets create you some prototypes!”.

So we did. We built out over the course of a two week sprint three simple HTML pages that presented the member list in different ways and gave it to our customer to try out with a group of stakeholders and let us know which of the options they would like to take forward. We did this because although it was fantastic to have the initial wireframe to start things off, it is often quite different when you come to the realities of using software in the real world and so it was a safer bet to create some quick “throwaway” prototypes than to build out a big old system that turned out to not be what people wanted.

Once the prototypes had been tried out and the decision of which one to use had been taken, we cracked on and turned it into a fully working system. Utilising data from the awesome Members Data Platform to generate the lists, we built the system for the division clerks using HTML5, CSS3 and trusty JavaScript with the back end services that receive, collate and push data into the existing systems built out using MVC5 and WebAPI.

Showcases were carried out every sprint, usually to just a couple of stakeholders, but as we finished the beta version of the system we ran a demo to all the clerks so they could all see what was coming their way. To make things a bit interactive we ran the demo as if a division were happening and they were Lords (each got a name badge) and the dev team were the clerks. The question on the table was “That marmite is a most tasty spread”. Sadly the motion was defeated, nevertheless it was a great way to show the users how things would work in the real world and we had a good Q&A session afterwards which immediately led to a few tweaks in the next sprint.

The system is now in UAT, has been well received, touch devices have been purchased for the division clerks to use to record the votes (the 17″ beast tablet was sadly not feasible but it was an awesome bit of kit!) and as I said earlier we hope to go live over the summer.

This sprint we have mostly been…

Over the last couple of weeks the team have been working primarily on two projects for colleagues in the House of Lords.

The first of these is a new system for the recording of divisions. Currently a paper based system is used by division clerks to record how members vote when a division is called. We have been asked to create a new electronic system that will allow the clerks to record votes on a touch screen device and submit their results to a central location (the table office for those familiar with parliamentary process). The clerks in the table office will then verify the division, add some metadata and submit the results into our internal systems, including the soon to be launched data.parliament platform so that records of how lords are voting, and what they are voting on will be available to any interested party as quickly as is possible. Plus it will save a ton of paper! We’ve been working on this system for a few sprints now and are hoping we will see it go live over the summer.

Next up we have begun development on a similar concept, the recording of attendance for members of the Lords. Peers get an allowance based on the days on which they are sitting in the house so ensuring this information can quickly and easily be captured is very important. Thanks to the work completed on the divisions project this piece of development is much easier than it otherwise would have been and we will be showing the first iteration to our customers at our fortnightly showcase tomorrow. Donuts are hoped for…