Adopting Agile to Digitalise the UK Ship Register

Overview of the project and the commercial benefits delivered


As part of the Maritime Coastguard Agency's goal to become the best performing and fastest growing international flag, they decided to digitalise the UK Ship Register to reduce internal administration and enhance the Customer Experience (CX). Catapult took an agile approach supported by Atlassian tools, to deliver a cloud first, microservices solution that enables 24/7, self-service vessel registration and management. The solution has hugely decreased time to registration and certification, eliminated manual errors and associated costs and enhanced the CX for all users. It is also currently a finalist in both the UK IT and Digital Technology Leaders awards, with final judging later this year.

Competition awards made to Catapult CXCompetition awards made to Catapult CX

The situation

The UK Ship Register (UKSR) is known for its high level of customer service and commitment to putting customers first. As part of this customer-centric approach, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency's goal was to deliver a fully digital customer experience by 2020.

The main challenge with the existing system was that it relied on paper forms and manual processing. This created a heavy administrative load for the Registrars with a high risk of human error negatively impacting data quality and incurring costs down the line. It also meant that registration and certification were very time consuming, whereas a fully digital process would enable the MCA to serve customers faster and more efficiently and grow the flag more quickly. 

To ensure the services provided by the UKSR would meet the high expectations of vessel owners, the MCA engaged Catapult as their partner to help them adopt a customer-first approach to the digitalisation, executed by following agile ways of working and a CI/CD delivery pipeline, supported by Atlassian tools Jira, Confluence and Bitbucket.

The solution

To support the UK Government’s commitment to digitalisation, the UKSR’s first project delivery was to modernise the Small Ships Register for vessel owners. This targeted 44,000 UK residents who already have boats registered on the UKSR. Once this was achieved, the digitalisation was rolled out across the entire Register for all global users.

By collecting feedback directly from the different Registry users including fishermen, pleasure boat owners, commercial owners, brokers, the Registrars and Port State Control personnel, Catapult included all of their requirements to redesign the entire process. 

To deliver optimum value, Catapult recommended the MCA should change its approach to building software by adopting agile and DevOps ways of working and a continuous delivery pipeline. Catapult dropped in their 'Parachutist Engineers'  to embed the end-to-end delivery process. These experts quickly identified that a technical solution with a microservices architecture, deployed in the cloud (using “infrastructure-as-code”), built with Site Reliability Engineering and incorporating observability was required to provide the required flexibility, scalability and enhanced customer experience.

The results

Catapult and partners Stance Global enabled the UKSR to launch the Part III Small Ships Register online within just 9 weeks of inception and then start to roll out the solution across the wider Registry. The system was tested remotely at the start of the Covid-19 lockdown. With the introduction of new ways of working, the entire UK Ship Registry has been future-proofed and can be scaled to all types of customer. Vessel owners, brokers and other users can access the system for registration and vessel management 24/7, from anywhere in the world.  

The new digital registration and vessel management services make the whole process more timely, efficient and cost effective, mitigating risk and freeing up the Registrars to focus on the MCA's overriding goal of growing the flag. For example digital uptake has increased from 28% to 60% and initial registration has been reduced from 90 to 20 minutes. For a complete overview of the value and commercial benefits delivered to the MCA, see the infographics at the top of this page. 



“The effective digitisation of the UK Ship Register is a central element to the creation of a new operating model for the service; fit for the 21st Century. The solution that has been developed is elegant in its design, thorough in its understanding of the customer and simple in its execution – leading users seamlessly through the process. It means that the registration services of the UK flag have the ability to be world leading, supporting the maritime sector and the wider UK economy.

The project team has collaborated effectively and engaged the teams across the MCA at the appropriate times. The delivery has been tested during the lockdown period at the start of the Covid19 pandemic, with all contact having to be conducted remotely. Both the system and teams stood up to the scrutiny and have delivered an exemplary platform that will be built upon and used by the MCA for many years.”

Dan Vivian - Commercial Director, MCA

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