Waste management is becoming an increasingly important business issue. From the rising cost of landfill to growing interest from stakeholders into company policies for corporate sustainability, organisations are taking a new look at waste production and disposal.

The new web-based electronic duty of care (edoc) solution being developed for the Environment Agency and its partners by IPL, an IT services company specialising in business critical IT solutions and consultancy, is set to reduce the administrative burden of completing 25 million Waste Transfer Notes each year, minimise paper storage requirements and improve the quality of waste management information. The result will be cost saving of at least £12m per annum to UK businesses and £1 million per annum to the government.

Improving Waste Management

Under UK waste legislation, all businesses have a duty of care to ensure that once waste is produced it is stored, transported and disposed of without harming the environment. As part of this process, the business must complete Waste Transfer Notes (WTNs). These must be retained for at least two years – up to six years for landfill to meet tax obligations – this is in case they are required for inspection by the appropriate regulator.

The current WTN process is paper-based, with around 25 million WTNs produced each year, and an estimated 50 million pieces of paper being stored by UK businesses at any one time. In addition to the costs of storage, companies find it difficult to track waste to ensure it is disposed of properly. Regulators also lack an understanding of waste production and disposal because the information on WTNs is not routinely collected; WTNs are only inspected if there is a need to take enforcement action. Indeed, according to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), there is a lack of good-quality data for commercial and industrial waste, making it difficult to identify opportunities for recycling and recovery.

There are clear opportunities to improve this process, drive down costs for business and improve the quality of waste management information. The electronic duty of care (edoc) programme is set to transform the way in which waste data is collected in the UK and greatly enhance the ability of businesses, regulators and government to extract good quality data for businesses.

Due to go live in December 2014, edoc is being developed with the support of EU LIFE+ funding and will deliver a national, internet-based system to capture the waste journey from production to collection, transportation, treatment and disposal.

Chris Deed, edoc Project Manager at the Environment Agency, confirms, “The edoc programme provides an opportunity to achieve significant savings in resource efficiency and reduce the administrative burden for UK businesses. By improving data-gathering and quality, the system will provide an opportunity to gain greater insight into waste management and drive a reduction in illegal and inappropriate waste disposal.”

Agile Approach

However, the adoption of edoc will be voluntary – UK business can continue to create and store paper copies if preferred.  It is therefore essential both that the system truly reflects the needs of users – from waste producers to waste management companies and regulators – and that these individuals are highly engaged in the development process to help improve adoption figures.

The EA’s vision for edoc is to have a large document management system accessed via a web portal, with the provision of an application programming interface (API) to enable companies to integrate directly with their existing waste management systems. To verify the credibility of the solution, achieve a detailed requirements specification and build stakeholder commitment, the EA turned to software consultancy and system developer IPL.

“The Environment Agency was impressed with IPL’s bid for the edoc contract, especially with IPL’s proposed methodology for requirements gathering and stakeholder engagement,” Deed explains. “The company has broad experience in both the public and private sector; and in both traditional waterfall and agile developments. This provided the Environment Agency with confidence that the requirements definition would be both robust and achievable.”

Deed adds, “Edoc is a voluntary system, therefore it is essential that is delivers real benefits to UK businesses. The EA felt IPL’s proposed agile development and engagement approach would deliver a system that is compelling for businesses and will create the strong user base required to build a deep data resource.”

Deed continues, “Developing a very substantial database on this scale has inherent risks. The agile approach, and a developer with strong experience in this area, is key to helping reduce that risk.”

Requirements Gathering

With much of the system due to be developed this year, prior to testing and evaluation in 2013 and rollout in 2014, IPL had an exceptionally tight timeframe in which to complete the requirements validation exercise. The company embarked upon an immediate process of requirements gathering and stakeholder engagement, prioritise assess stakeholder requirements and recommend both the key features of the edoc system and order of development.

IPL ran a series of workshops across the country for stakeholders which raised a number of issues, not least concerns regarding the security of the WTN data that could expose commercially sensitive information.

Following this 12-week project, IPL produced a series of documents for the tender process which defined the processes required to develop the edoc solution, including the definition of a security framework to impose strict control over information access. Following a lengthy and detailed tender process the company’s technology-agnostic model validated the EA’s vision of an online portal with an API while also building up a strong awareness of the edoc vision amongst stakeholders.

Deed says, “IPL worked closely with the Environment Agency throughout this requirements gathering exercise, integrating closely with the edoc team.  The agility and flexibility IPL brought to the edoc project, combined with an ability to handle unknowns without embarking upon expensive, time-consuming traditional change control processes, created an open relationship that supported relevant discussions about what could be delivered within the agreed cost and time parameters.”

“By engaging so many businesses in the requirements-gathering process, IPL has helped the Environment Agency to build very strong stakeholder group which will be key to ensuring the edoc system gains the user levels required to achieve the objectives of reduced cost and improved information resources.”

Relevant Solution

Following the successful requirements-gathering process, the EA has awarded IPL the contract to build and develop edoc. The IPL solution is based on a public SOAP API, a robust internal API and an online front-end that uses the API directly, producing a predictable and engineered flow-through for each operation. The same approach is used for administrative functionality, such as uploading data from the Business Directory database or Defra users generating reports.

Based on the findings from the requirements-gathering process, the edoc system will deliver the central requirements for data access and capture; with the EA looking for third parties to develop add-on features, such as photo storage, carbon use assessment and other apps.

Deed adds, “The adoption of a public API-based web application will ensure that third parties can easily develop additional apps that can be integrated into edoc and deliver added value.”  In addition, this model will enable large waste management companies to integrate edoc into any existing waste management IT infrastructure.

Secure future proof Design

Critically, edoc must deliver high levels of scalability, security and the EA’s specification for 99.95% uptime. The IPL hosting solution will be built on a resilient infrastructure with no single point of failure within the datacentre and a fail-over site to  provide cover if the main data centre fails.

Deed says, “Security is hugely important with edoc because businesses are providing information that could be commercially sensitive. IPL’s security solution is key to ensuring UK organisations can confidently exploit the benefits of edoc.”

The scalability of the solution is also important. With voluntary adoption, the number of businesses using edoc could reach five million, while each of the major generators of WTNs will create a considerable load on their own. The IPL solution therefore allows the system as a whole to work at all usage levels without re-design.

Critically, the system must be flexible. “It is essential that the EA does not produce a system that is out of date in six months. IPL’s experience with the iterative agile development model will ensure that we can adapt to any changes in the project – from changes to WTN fields to new requests for functionality or services from business users,” Deed says. “IPL’s brief is to deliver a system that is innately flexible for the long term.”

He adds, “Agile development is relatively new to the EA and the public sector in general. However, with huge numbers of stakeholders and many unknowns, agile is the only way to develop a solution such as edoc and ensure it meets the needs of both business and government.

Quantifiable Value

When edoc goes live in 2014, the EA is hoping that 80% of WTNs will be completed online rather than on paper. For governments, the information from edoc will provide unprecedented information into the volumes and types of waste materials being produced. Currently, the only insight is provided via annual waste surveys, topped up by information collated by regional planning authorities and, on occasion, government bodies in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. At an estimated cost of £1 million per survey, replacing this activity with detailed, accurate, real-time information from edoc provides clear benefits and an immediate return on investment.

For UK businesses, the system will improve data-capture and quality, provide reports to audit compliance and map waste movements and reduce administration costs. Real-time access to WTNs via edoc will also make it easier for waste management companies to answer queries about waste disposal from both clients and the regulator. 

It will ease the process for larger waste providers to deliver detailed reports to clients regarding their waste, to inform the on-going waste management strategy. Marks and Spencer, for example, has announced plans to adopt edoc in a bid to make the process of recording its waste movements easier.

Deed adds, “Companies are taking greater responsibility over waste handling, rather than simply opting for the cheapest disposal service available. By consolidating waste information, edoc will provide these organisations with in-depth information about their waste production and enable the identification of intelligent ways to drive down costs by segregating waste, reducing landfill and disposing of that waste via different outlets.”

He concludes, “In addition to reducing the administrative burden for UK business and getting better access to waste information, improving the quality of WTN information should enable EA to drive down waste crime and drive up compliance.”