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Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs’ (DEFRA) evolutionary approach to digital services

Cloud & Platforms

Ways of working

Public Services

4 min read

The Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) is the UK Government department responsible for safeguarding our natural environment, supporting our world-leading food and farming industry, and sustaining a thriving rural economy. DEFRA is a ministerial department that is supported by, and works collaboratively with, over 30 public bodies.

DEFRA’s digital and data transformation strategy aims to improve the standard of their integrated services whilst allowing customers seamless and easy access. Part of bringing the above strategy to life was to create an evolutionary platform without lengthily lead times, complexity and high costs to digital services across DEFRA and its armed length bodies (ALBs). The central focus for the project was to implement a collection of guidance, tools, technologies and practices intended to accelerate delivery, assure quality and simplify the running of digital services.

DEFRA tech stack

Partnering for success

esynergy partnered with DEFRA to modernise its infrastructure and build a new Core Delivery Platform (CDP). esynergy’s previous experience of delivering HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC’s) Multi-channel Digital Tax Platform (MDTP) meant the teams could bring direct experience and insights into the areas of complexity and risk to create another long-standing developer platform.

Our collaborative, value-driven approach focuses on improving communication between siloed teams, removing duplication of efforts across programmes, improving automation visibility, and simplifying governance.

The CDP replaced DEFRA’s dependency on multiple teams for its infrastructure and DevOps operations across its service delivery lifecycle. It would act as an internal development accelerator developed to support DEFRA’s digital delivery teams who deliver digital services and applications to internal and external users. The new CDP provides standardised toolchains, pipelines, workflows and operability to allow autonomous delivery and management of their digital services and applications.

Defra environments

Our approach

We focused on delivering core platform functionality first then progressing to additional patterns. Applying modern development processes and approaches, transparency and consistent communication with key stakeholders was exercised throughout the engagement along with were incremental planning, regular reviews and frequent feedback cycles.

The collaborative effort resulted in a revolutionary platform being built with best-of-breed software engineering practices. Some of the core outcomes are listed below;


A primary focus on core platform services – building a robust and scalable footing before offering more varied patterns and tools

Regular feedback and input from stakeholders, platform tenants and tailoring the backlog to match demand

• Multi-tenant environments and automated deploy and build pipelines, reducing the initial technical barrier of entry to teams that want to start building their services

Infrastructure-as-Code (IaC) throughout – no click-ops

Recycle cycle

Regular dialogue and feedback cycles with tenants and potential future tenants – identifying user needs and tailoring the backlog to match

By accelerating the move to automation and abstracting the complexity away from the digital service teams, the CDP allows its users to focus on solving its customer challenges to create the rationalism and sustainability DEFRA has been looking for.

Impact and value delivered

Defra outcomes

"DEFRA's partnership with esynergy has been transformative for our digital services. By modernising our infrastructure and implementing the Core Delivery Platform, we've achieved cost savings through reusable patterns and automated deployment mechanisms, our delivery times have shortened, compliance standards have improved, and feedback loops have become faster, all contributing to a more efficient and innovative digital ecosystem."

- Tim Howard, Deputy Director, Major Projects, Cross-Cutting Technical Services

Ongoing innovation

The platform’s initial development focused on creating a MVP (Minimum Viable Product) comprising reusable patterns and tools. These resources empower development teams to swiftly deliver digital services. Now, as the user base grows, the team is shifting its focus to broaden and deepen the range of tools and patterns available to meet the increased demand. Now introducing an API gateway to facilitate the sharing of data held by services with third parties via APIs. This enhancement enables seamless data access and sharing across departments and with external users.

A primary goal of the platform is to streamline the teams’ focus on service delivery without worrying about the underlying infrastructure. This allows them to concentrate on what makes their service unique rather than dealing with foundational elements. To accomplish this, the CDP platform automates routine tasks and offers self-service options wherever possible. We’ve established a centralised portal for deploying, monitoring, and managing services, addressing common needs efficiently. Based on user feedback, we’re enhancing the portal with features that improve accessibility, streamline troubleshooting, and integrate seamlessly with logging and metrics functions.

Our ongoing commitment is to continually enhance user experience and facilitate smoother operations for our platform users.

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