Capita Software Rules the UK’s eGovernment Market with Actian X Database
Dealing with local government agencies can be a frustrating experience for anyone—but with the help of Actian X, Capita Software Services has made it a lot easier for constituents throughout the United Kingdom. By using Actian X to build cost-effective, easy-to-maintain eGovernment applications for hundreds of local councils across the UK, Capita has made the full menu of government services available online. These leading-edge solutions have not only transformed the way citizens can interact with government agencies—they’ve also made Capita a leader in the UK’s eGovernment market.
The road to leadership began with Capita’s decision to respond to a challenge issued by the government of the UK: make the entire menu of local council services—from housing and street lighting to schools and emergency planning—available electronically. While many local councils had already been exploring ways in which information technology (IT) could facilitate working smarter and more efficiently, the national challenge and its tight deadlines brought increased urgency and focus to the project. The scope of the eGovernment agenda made it inevitable and desirable for private companies to play a major role—and Capita was determined to make the most of the opportunity.
Already active in the local authority arena, Capita was well-positioned to contend for the coming wave of contracts. Still, the requirements posed a considerable challenge: Capita would have to build and deploy a new suite of robust eGovernment applications—some of which would involve the migration of legacy data—while working against a tight timeline and budget. The applications had to be simple to use and cost-effective to manage; they also needed to enable local authorities to deliver a higher level of service, at lower cost, than ever before.
For Capita, choosing an underlying database technology that would both facilitate app development and prove simple for local authorities to manage was not difficult. Capita had long relied on the Actian X database and OpenROAD development tools to power the products it had been developing for local government contracts and nothing about the parameters of the new nationwide project suggested any reason to change course. Capita developers had deep respect for the power of Actian X and full confidence in the ability of the database to deliver the services that local councils throughout the UK needed.
“From the developer’s viewpoint, the combination of the Actian X database and the OpenROAD development tools is a boon,” says Alex Cutler, technical director of Capita Software Services. “The focus on the Actian X database being an excellent, powerful production quality SQL database rather than a whole operating system gives Actian X a unique clarity which our developers find very easy to pick up and write good code for. OpenROAD has an unusually short learning curve for developers, and as a dedicated database language is a highly efficient tool for database-heavy applications.”
Capita’s three platforms of choice are Microsoft Windows, Sun Solaris, and Linux, and Cutler says that Actian OpenROAD makes it easier to deliver a solution for both UNIX and Windows that is totally focused on the database. The environment also supports the rapid conversion of legacy systems from any database—hierarchical, relational, object, or even flat file—for use in Capita applications.
“Actian X has consistently given us a lead on the competition,” says Cutler, “and it makes it easy for us to design applications that do not require dedicated system administrators to be resident on customer sites. That means we’re able to show a real cost-of-ownership advantage.”
Actian X has enabled Capita to rapidly expand its eGovernment market share with new solutions for revenues, benefits, payment management, and integrated housing management systems. And the impact of these new Actian X based applications is not slight. Consider its market-leading Academy Benefits application, which is now in use at many of the largest local authorities in the UK. Academy Benefits automates the calculation, distribution, and administration of public funds to citizens who need assistance with rent and other essentials. Written in OpenROAD, the solution supports both public Web access and middle-tier transactions to CRM systems and provides a highly comprehensive business application that enables councils to accelerate the delivery of services. Actian X has enabled Capita to build system administration wholly into the application itself, allowing non-technical council staff to take direct control of their process.
Or consider how the solution has helped the Elmbridge Borough Council cope with the forced retirement of a legacy system used to handle the administration and collection of local taxes. Capita installed its Academy suite on newer systems, integrating it with the council’s finance systems. An extensive data mapping exercise then transferred live mid-year and historical data to Actian X database using OpenROAD. High-quality data conversion accelerated time-to-market, and Elmbridge Borough Council users were soon discovering how much more powerful and easy to use the new Windows-based applications from Capita were. Reporting proved a major benefit, as the new Capita application eliminated a cumbersome batch-processing step (and the accompanying need for ongoing IT staff involvement) and enabled users to define and print new reports on demand. With the Capita’s Actian based solution in place, the council has reduced operational costs, simplified support arrangements, and accelerated achievement of eGovernment project goals.
To date, Capita boasts more than 160 installations of its Actian X-based applications in local UK government and housing associations. Says Cutler of Capita’s decision to use Actian X technologies: “It’s a decision that has helped us move from fifth place in the market during 1994 to the number one supplier today, so it’s never given us cause for regret. Our customers’ primary concern is whether we can give them a reliable product or service. Because we have vast experience with Actian X and a long history of reliability and demonstrable quality, we have always been confident that we’d be able to deliver on our promises.”