Ahead of Government ICT, we spoke to Matthew Lewis, Chief Architect, DVLA about how they are encouraging innovation amongs their staff.
Matt is responsible for setting technology direction, which includes horizon scanning and overseeing an Emerging Technology Lab, as well as driving forward a learning culture in the agency. This has included exciting projects such as delivering the first custom voice skills in central government on Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, and the rollout of chatbots in the contact centre.
How would you describe the evolution of the Scalextric Challenge and what spurred its creation?
The idea of the ‘Scalextric Challenge’ was to explore opportunities that new technology will offer the future of motoring services. We know that modern vehicles capture more data in a single journey than DVLA capture over the life of the vehicle. We wanted to get people to think about connected and autonomous vehicles, and how it may change the way that we interact with vehicles and drivers and collect data in the future. We fitted sensors to Scalextric cars, and challenged people to race them around a track, whilst building imaginative and innovative software using the live streaming data. We wanted it to be fun and collaborative, allowing people to try something different to the day job, whilst learning new skills.
It proved so popular, that we have already run a sequel, which was a 2 day ‘Botathon’ in November. This brought together public and private sector organisations to find new and engaging ways to use bot technology within a public service. Our aim was to improve public facing digital services and inspire people in those organisations to provide a better service for customers.
How do you encourage staff to develop innovative software solutions?
A huge part is about providing a supportive environment. Working at DVLA is all about delivering the right outcome working as a team, and with modern tooling there is always someone on hand to help. We also recognise that technology evolves quickly, and it is hard to stay up to date. We provide everyone working in IT with access to leading online training providers, give them access to sandpit accounts, and build in learning as part of the job. We hold monthly engineering community events, where we bring in guest speakers as well as showcase what the different squads have been working on. Last year we also set up an Emerging Tech Lab. This team looks at new and emerging technologies to solve real-world problems set by the business.
You were recently elected an AWS Hero – what is a Hero’s role within the technical community?
The AWS Hero program recognises a small worldwide group of AWS experts who are seen to have a real impact within the technical community. I am part of the Data category in which there are currently 9 in the world. When I first moved to Swansea there was no active technology scene, and now there are a number of thriving meet-ups. I run a free AWS user group that has grown to over 700 members. This meets every two months where we bring and connect people together from all over South Wales, expand our network, listen to amazing talks, and help give people access to training. DVLA are heavily committed to growing digital skills in the region. As part of this, I work as a STEM ambassador, and help teach college students to build Alexa skills as a way of introducing them to cloud computing. I am also active on various forums, publish blogs, and give talks at events.
Are you involved in any community events, and if so, what are their aims?
ServerlessDays is a community led single track, single day conference focusing on serverless technologies and platforms. I passionately believe this is the way the industry is heading, with growing support from all the major cloud providers. I was involved in bringing the conference to Wales for the first time ever last year, which sold out and was a huge success. Off the back of it, we have set up a Serverless South Wales meetup group to grow the community. We are about to run the second ever ServerlessDays Cardiff (https://cardiff.serverlessdays.io) on Thu 13th March which includes hands-on workshops the day before.