Will LLE systems be ready by 2025?

It doesn't look like systems development is going well at the Student Loans Company

David Kernohan is Deputy Editor of Wonkhe

In July 2023 the Student Loans Company board discussed the delivery of the Lifelong Learning Entitlement customer-facing platform.

The Westminster government’s flagship skills funding initiative requires substantial reconfiguration of existing SLC systems to support the new emphasis on individual accounts. Demand is uncertain, but there will clearly be questions to answer if the systems are not ready in time, or fall over at launch.

As seems to be standard with public sector IT projects, SLC are now using an agile approach – aiming to meet the 2025 launch target with a minimum viable product (MVP). On one level the decision to repurpose existing systems will support this goal, but (as anyone who has every used the back end of SLC systems will tell you), even with an upgrade there are likely to be ongoing issues (what the board papers neatly describe as “technical debt”).

As LLE is a more complex funding system that what we currently have, it would increase the costs and complexity of upgrading core systems when that glorious day finally comes.

If you are building on “sub-optimal core systems” (or “unsustainable technology”), as appears to be happening, that puts a pressure on cost controls – you don’t know what will go wrong, or how much it would cost to fix it. So the board were also concerned that there is an absence of costings in current plans, and – most alarmingly – that there is “a risk to launch in 2025”.

As the programme was still in “discovery” mode – if you don’t speak agile, that’s very early experimentation – as late as July of this year, and a “design board” (the equivalent of a business advocate in public sector agile) was only just being brought together it’s fair to say that if lights are not flashing red they are certainly flashing red-amber.

The development issues will return to SLC Board in November. I’ll be keeping an eye. Meanwhile it was fun to see UUK’s Vivienne Stern pop in for September’s meeting to ask some key questions on LLE readiness and data standards, and I note that the CEOs updated on LLE in October was redacted.

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