The Challenge

Design and build the UK’s new service to monitor ingredients in cosmetics and respond to safety concerns.

Cosmetics manufacturers must provide a list of all the ingredients in their products to the UK government’s Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS). This enables OPSS and other safety agencies to respond if concerns arise around particular ingredients.

This service was underpinned by EU tools, but ahead of the UK’s EU exit, OPSS required its own. This needed to include a public-facing portal for manufacturers to submit information, as well as a store of product data and a case-management facility for OPSS and its partners to raise and track safety issues and responses.

This had to be complete ahead of the then-Brexit date of 29th March 2019.

Our Solution

Working closely with government and industry, we built the UK’s new cosmetics safety management system and shaped the associated business processes.

Contingency plan for no-deal Brexit

Our preferred approach was to build a bespoke system, which would be cheaper to operate and offer a better quality of service. It would also enable us to save money by re-using proven designs, approaches and technologies from the OPSS Product Safety Database, which we were building in parallel. However, time constraints meant a bespoke solution wouldn’t be ready if the UK was to leave the EU with no deal on the 29th March 2019.

We therefore put forward a second technical solution, using off-the-shelf products. This could be delivered by the deadline, but would result in higher running costs.

Following detailed discussions with OPSS and wider government, it was decided to proceed with the bespoke build.

An easy-to-use system in line with GDS standards

We set out to ensure the new UK cosmetics service was easier to use than the legacy tools.

Extensive user research with cosmetics companies and other stakeholders enabled us to create an intuitive and helpful system to guide individuals through the process of submitting ingredient information.

Supporting the transition from EU systems

A key part of the process was to map out the transition from the EU tools to the new OPSS system. Regulations meant we couldn’t simply copy data across. Instead, we needed a workable way of getting all cosmetics manufacturers to re-enter their ingredient data. To make this as easy as possible, we did extensive technical analysis to ensure the data could be structured in the same way as it is in the EU systems. We also worked closely with manufacturers and trade bodies to prototype and test different approaches, before selecting and refining the preferred option.

We communicated the process to the teams looking after Brexit preparations, to ensure businesses could be given the right information to help get ready.

An added layer of complexity was the need to ensure our new process adhered to EU legislation, which would still be in force at the time the process would be used.

Shaping OPSS ways of working and upskilling its teams

With OPSS a relatively new organisation when we were involved, we helped it develop its business processes around the cosmetics safety monitoring and management service. In addition, we helped build up technical expertise within OPSS, so that it would be able to look after the cosmetics service in-house, following its delivery.

The Result

Our work ensured OPSS was ready for Brexit, and has the skills in-house to manage the digital tools we built.

While the UK’s EU exit deadline was pushed back beyond 29th March, we still needed to deliver at speed. Having passed the GDS alpha assessment, we proceeded to re-use components from the aforementioned Product Safety Database wherever appropriate, which accelerated certain aspects of delivery and kept costs down.

This enabled us to have the cosmetics management system ready to go ahead of the revised Brexit deadline. OPSS therefore had the tools and processes in place to fulfil its duties as soon as these were required.

The software is now being looked after by the in-house team at OPSS, which Softwire helped to upskill.

Technologies
Postgres, Okta, Keycloak, Gov.uk, PaaS

The project
Create the UK’s new cosmetics ingredient monitoring service ahead of the EU exit deadline.

The results
We delivered the digital tools and shaped the business processes that together meant the Office for Product Safety and Standards was ready for Brexit.