Case Study: How the Irish Government uses Naked Objects to administer social benefit programmes worth over €5bn a year

The Department of Social and Family Affairs (DSFA) is the part of the Irish Government responsible for administering more than 40 social benefit schemes, including state pensions, child benefit, and unemployment benefit.

As part of a far-reaching Service Delivery Modernisation (SDM) programme, aimed at improving customer service, productivity and enabling e-government initiatives, the DSFA recognised that it needed a new generation of enterprise business systems. Each of new applications had to deliver specific business benefits. But there was also an over-arching requirement: improved agility. This was articulated in three forms:

Achieving these objectives would require a combination of a new enterprise architecture and the adoption of agile development techniques. The DSFA were persuaded that the single most important factor in achieving this agility was a commitment to build a business object model or BOM, that encapsulated all business behaviour on the business entity objects. They also became aware of the naked objects pattern and recognised that this could help them achieve a higher-quality object model, as well as delivering a more empowering style of user interface.

A period of experimentation and exploration culminated in the first pilot project going live in 2002, based on their own proprietary implementation of the naked objects pattern (developed under contract by Fujitsu). The project was hugely successful from a business perspective. In the meantime the Naked Objects framework had become available; recognising that the latter offered a more powerful capability, the DSFA subequently made the decision to switch all future application development onto Naked Objects.

In June 2004 the DSFA awarded a contract to Naked Objects Group, in partnership with BearingPoint, to revise the arhcitecture and develop a series of large-scale applications, including the administration of all state pensions benefits, child benefit, and the central debt management function. These applications all went live during the course of 2006. As of January 2008, the applications running on the new architecture are in continuous use by more than 1000 users. Those applications are responsible for administering more than €5bn in benefit payments annually.

In May 2007 the DSFA announced a new four-year programme to further extend the new architecture, develop a range of brand new applications, and migrate more of its existing legacy systems onto the new platform.

The DSFA's object model is written in VB.NET. The DSFA's architecture was built using the original Java-based implementation of Naked Objects, but cross-compiled for .NET. With the announcement of Naked Objects for .NET (re-written from scratch for the .NET platform), the DSFA immediately acquired an enterprise-wide license for the new product. A new large-scale programme of development will see the suite of Naked Objects applications extended to approximately 4,500 desktops.


The primary intended benefit of agility (as articulated above) has already been clearly achieved. During the course of the programme so far, the DSFA has been faced with substantial new business requirements (resulting from changes in legislation, government re-organisation, and various e-government initiatives) and the new architecture and applications have proven easy to modify and extend.

Two further benefits are now perceived, across the organisation. The first is the capability to build rapid prototypes of new applications, which help business units not only to articulate their requirements, but also to explore alternative business models.

The second is an extremely high level of re-use. At the DSFA, the primary objective was always agility rather than re-use per se. But the hope was that they would establish a 'Common BOM' that would provide the core capabilities of any new application. In fact this has proven to be far more successful than they dared to hope for, and Naked Objects has is key to this. When the Child Benefit system was re-written for the new architecture in 2006, it replaced a system that had more than 50,000 lines of bespoke business code. The new implementation has less than 1000 lines of bespoke business code (in the same language): everything else was inherited, without modification, from the Common BOM written as part of the Pensions project.

In May 2007, the DSFA's Director of Information Systems, Niall Barry, stated publicly that he was delighted with the new systems, adding that 'in 30 years of managing IT projects, I have never been more satisfied'.