Kainos worked with BT and the NI Digital Transformation Service (DTS) and just completed delivery of a set of enhancements for the Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS) Inland Fisheries’ (IF) fishing rod licence and permit service, a citizen-facing service hosted on NI Direct. 

As it happens, this has coincided with The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (DEFRA) new online fishing rod licence service moving from private to public Beta.

Given the similar goals of the two services, now seems like a great time to talk about the NICS IF service delivered by Kainos.

The background

Kainos led a five-week Discovery with IF in partnership with the Northern Ireland Digital Transformation Service (DTS) and BT, working with them to transform their existing paper-based fishing rod licence & permit service as well as the associated manual back-office administrative practices. We then worked directly with IF to deliver the Alpha and Beta phases, with the service going live in April 2016.


Like their DEFRA counterparts, IF provides a service selling fishing rod licences. These licences allow you to fish in freshwater lakes, loughs and rivers in Northern Ireland. However, it gets a little bit more complex after that. IF is also responsible for the management of the Public Angling Estate (PAE), which consists of 60+ waterways providing affordable and sustainable fishing for the public. Their remit also covers enforcement of fishing related offences as well as education, outreach activities and the promotion of angling.

So, what was the problem?

It was complex. In addition to selling rod licences, IF also grant anglers permission to fish on PAE waters, which means selling permits and day tickets (not to mention endorsements). To put this complexity into perspective, there are 40+ possible options to consider when buying a licence, 70+ when buying a permit and 340+ when buying a day ticket for premium fishing on the River Bush. These are all inter-connected and formed part of a giant puzzle to solve!

It was manual. Although there was a limited existing online service, 90% of licences and permits were sold through distributors in tackle shops. These were all purchases of paper licences – forms manually completed by a distributor at point of sale on behalf of the angler, then returned to IF ‘some time before the end of the year’. IF had no real-time sales information, which made simple things like planning, or answering queries with 100% accuracy a solely manual task.

Our solution

As the primary goal of the service was to make it as simple as possible for people to go fishing, we had to think of ways to expose only the relevant information to the relevant users, hiding any complexity. We did this using some clever design and progressive disclosure. If you know your date of birth and just a few other pieces of information, it is now easy for you to buy a licence or permit online and you will always be presented with the least expensive option.

  • No more paper. Distributors play a valuable role in promoting fishing in Northern Ireland – staff in tackle shops provide anglers with local knowledge and guidance as well as licence and permits. It was important to maintain this channel and use their experience during design and development. The Distributors were IT hardware funds, trained and now provide assisted digital services to the angling community. The paper is gone!
  • Administration. The removal of paper-based licence and permits means that sales information is available immediately – there is no longer a requirement for administrative staff to manually input these records (40,000+ per year!). We built a suite of back-end administrative features allowing this information to be viewed and updated, along with functionality to allow management of waters, distributors and enforcement incidents.
  • Off-line mobile. Fisheries Protection Officers (FPOs) are responsible for enforcing and promoting good behaviour on Northern Ireland waters – it is vital that they have access to up-to-date licence and permit information. To add to the complexity, they also work in remote areas with little or no mobile connectivity. Using leading edge HTML5 technology and an ‘offline first’ design philosophy, Kainos was able to create a mobile application that was independent of continuous online connectivity, giving easy access to this information.

Live service

The way users interact with the service has completely changed over the last 12months. In that period, around 19,500 licences and permits have been sold online, 50% of 2017 sales have been purchased online whereas previously this was approx 10%, with 91% of users rating the service as good or very good. Administration resources for licensing has reduced by 20% with 55% reduction in public footfall to Inland Fishery offices and access to real-time data has completely changed the way administrative and enforcement staff go about their day-to-day working practices. A few award nominations have also been received along the way! (UKIT Awards 2016 – IT Project Team of the Year; The Techies 2017 – Innovative Team of the Year).

What’s next?

Continuous improvement! IF continue to gather feedback from a wide range of users and sources, and it’s clear there are areas we can improve and develop further – the backlog is healthy! In IF, we have a customer who is delighted with the way we work and the value we provide for both their staff and customers. We expect to pick up this conversation again later in the year.

(Addendum: Our latest set of enhancements went live at the end of last week – go fish !)