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The secret behind correct and timely payment of the Growth Package: DevSecOps and agile application development

Leo van Loo, Managing Director VUTG

Industry: Social & Government


Since 2019, Flemish families with children no longer receive child benefit but a ‘Growth Package’ (Groeipakket in Dutch) for each child. What was a minor change for the Flemish, required a real tour de force from the responsible Flemish government department: in barely eighteen months’ time, together with a large Cegeka team (up to 86 FTEs!), they developed a brand-new application to calculate and pay out the allowances.  

Cegeka has been working on software for child benefit and social security since the 1970s on behalf of the Belgian government. When the Flemish government was given responsibility for child benefit, it called in Cegeka to develop a new application - because of its years of experience and expertise in the field. Cegeka joined forces with Kind en Gezin, which was responsible for developing the Growth Package. In 2019, VUTG (the Growth Package Payment Agency) took over the implementation. 

One set of sources, 5 different payers 

We could rely on the knowledge we had built up within the federal government, but this was a different matter, says programme manager Jos Verrelst, who had been involved in government projects for decades. After all, the Growth Package includes many more allowances than child benefit. Moreover, the software was not only used to pay the allowances but also to automatically determine who was entitled to which allowance. This means that the application screens every Flemish family, based on information from various sources. Last but not least, payment is made by five different organisations. This also creates additional complexity. 

“The software annually screens the information from 2.1 million tax notices, 1.2 million property entries (KI) and 1.6 million school entries."

- Jos Verrelst, programme manager at Cegeka 

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Regulations are still under development

And thats not all. The details of the Growth Package were not yet fully defined when Cegeka started the project. At the end of 2017, we started to define the scope together with Kind en Gezin, but it was not until March 2018 that we knew which organisations would pay out the amounts. Moreover, the regulations were still under construction. So, we had to develop software while we did not yet know how the Growth Package would work. That was actually the biggest challenge, says Jos Verrelst, programme manager at Cegeka.  

 

Flexibility through DevSecOps and agile application development

How do you do that? Using DevSecOps and agile development methodologies. Jos Verrelst: “Of course there was a scoping document that described the high-level functionalities of the software. Based on this, we determined the tasks of the various scrum teams. After each two-week dash, we gave a demo to the group of future users. If something was not right or if the scope or priorities had changed in the meantime, we could make adjustments quickly. 

By applying DevSecOps, we were able to roll out certain parts of the application very quickly, while security remained top priority. This flexibility was really necessary because there were a lot of changes as the legislation evolved. Our approach kept everything manageable and allowed us to focus on the essential.”  

Thanks to the scrum approach, everything remained manageable, and we were able to focus on what was essential."

- Jos Verrelst, programme manager at Cegeka 

Modular = flexible architecture 

The software architecture was also crucial in maintaining flexibility. The Growth Package application was built as a set of disconnected - but closely cooperating - microservices, each taking care of a piece of functionality. The use of microservices ensures that the modules remain strictly separated from each other and can therefore be developed and maintained in parallel. This allowed several teams to develop the application in parallel.

The Growth Package has a large amount of sensitive data. This requires customised measures to ensure the security of this data. In a private cloud environment, one is responsible for setting up, managing, and monitoring data security. You have insight into the disruptions and manage the actions and timeline of adjustments yourself. Public cloud does not offer this flexibility, where standardised security solutions are used. By using the Cegeka cloud, VUTG has full data sovereignty and therefore more control and privacy. An additional advantage is that the Cegeka cloud offers the flexibility to easily scale up if necessary, and it also provides the necessary managed services to keep all the underlying infrastructure components, such as the Container Platform, up and running 24x7.  

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In really close cooperation 

At the peak of the project, a team of almost 100 employees were working on the Growth Package software: 10 people from Kind en Gezin and 86 from Cegeka. The customers employees even worked a few days a week in the Cegeka Digital Factory in Leuven. I had put together an internal project team with people from different departments, says Leo Van Loo, delegated Managing Director of VUTG and responsible for the entire project. They worked very closely with the Cegeka team. Because the IT specifications changed frequently, this was really crucial. We noticed very quickly that Cegeka delivered and kept their promises. Of course, there were sometimes delays or misjudgements. This was inevitable with such a large, complex project that also involved enormous time pressure. But we have always communicated very openly and transparently. 

 "We noticed very quickly that Cegeka delivered and kept their promises."

- Leo van Loo, delegated Managing Director VUTG 

Paid on time and correctly 

The Growth Package software was ready at the beginning of 2019. The five organisations that pay the allowances all used the same application to calculate and process everything correctly, on time and as automatically as possible. Both the screening and the payments went very smoothly, Leo Van Loo continues. 1,619,799 Flemish children already received their Growth Package: in February, Flanders paid the family allowances and nursery allowances, and shortly afterwards also the childcare allowances. In August and September, the school bonus and school allowances followed. Moreover, we know that everything is paid out with 99.9% accuracy. That is excellent. Of course, we are continuing to work on getting that last 0.1% error margin out. 

Continuous investment 

In recent years, we have also seen that the pay-outs are running smoothly and the software for the Growth Package has won a few prizes. Cegeka - albeit in a slimmed-down version - and VUTG continue to optimise the software. At the start of this project we had defined four criteria: we had to pay the Growth Package correctly, completely, on time and traceable. We had already crossed off the essentials in 2019; now we are developing at a slower pace. We are now further developing traceability, for example. You simply have to keep optimising and adapting such a large software project, otherwise you may have to start all over again in five years time, Leo Van Loo says. 

Would he do things differently in hindsight? Hardly at all. I have decades of experience with IT projects, and this is one of the projects where the delivery went smoothest - thanks to the close cooperation. DevSecOps and agile development also played a key role. With a classic waterfall system, this project would never have succeeded.  

I have decades of experience with IT projects, and this is one of the projects where the delivery went smoothest- thanks to close cooperation and DevSecOps agile development. 

- Leo van Loo, delegated Managing Director VUTG 

About the Growth Package 

The origins of the Growth Package go back to October 2011, when the sixth state reform was approved. One of the many decisions: transferring the child benefit from the federal government to the communities and regions. Instead of child benefits, Flanders decided to pay a Growth Package that combines child benefits with other family allowances, including the former school allowances. The Flemish government appointed 4 private and one public payer to pay out the Growth Package. As of 2019, the Growth Package Payment Agency (VUTG) coordinates the payers and is responsible for the implementation of the Growth Package. 

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"An extremely complex application, a scope that changes along the way and a tight deadline: the development of the Growth Package software for the Flemish government was quite a challenge. Thanks to agile software development and close cooperation, the project was a success."


Challenges

  • Complex calculation of individual allowances 
  • Complex organisational and data landscape with numerous stakeholders 
  • Changing regulations that are also constantly evolving 
  • Short time span to develop the application
  • Control of data security 

Results

  • Payment of the Growth Package to Flemish households: correct, complete, timely and traceable 
  • Automated calculation of allowances 
  • Application that can be easily expanded and optimised 

Solutions




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