Australian Trade Mark Search — Live assessment
Australian Trade Marks Search is the search and information discovery system for public trade marks data.
The service passed the assessment because:
Australian Trade Mark Search is well received by consumers and provides ongoing benefit. The agile process will enable the product team to continue refinement of the service throughout its life.
The assessment team commends the Australian Trade Mark Search delivery team for the delivery of a quality product and recommends that the team showcase their learnings from delivering the service to help other teams on their digital journey.
Criterion 1: Understand user needs
Two recommendations were provided in the Beta assessment under Criterion 1. The first related to the fact that there is no single high level summary document capturing all of the user research done and intelligence gathered. The recommendation flagged that staff coming into the program or supporting the project may need some assistance to understand user needs, rather than reviewing the entire existing library of information. The second related to the importance of sharing the findings of the user research throughout the agency. The team anticipated that some feedback would only reveal itself following the Live launch.
Engagement with users of the system has been ongoing and has mainly been direct contact — a combination of emails, surveys and visits with users to clarify features delivered through the Beta process and following the launch. Feedback mechanisms also continue to exist within the system and on IP Australia’s website.
A new role was introduced following the launch of the system — the Trade Mark Search Capability Coordinator. Prior to the launch of the system, this team member attended the roadshow where users were trained in the system and has since attended visits with users and had the existing backlog made available to them. While being the primary point of contact for the system for users, this team member is supported by the original team to ensure consistency and continuity.
The project team engaged a user experience research team within a university to undertake some independent formal user research of non-expert users and potential users of Australian Trade Mark Search, including an analysis of how Australian Trade Mark Search compares with other equivalent systems internationally — both commercial and from other IP offices worldwide. The research indicates Australian Trade Mark Search rates very highly, but there is still room for improvement to better assist those with little or no understanding of the trade marks domain. But with many system barriers removed, the conversations with these users are becoming more specific and productive.
Successes and lessons learned have been communicated across the organisation at an all-staff presentation, a senior leadership team presentation, intranet updates from the executive and recognition via an Australia Day Award. This has assisted new senior leaders within the organisation to better understand what our customers need. While the project team did not feel the benefit of creating a single document artefact to reflect all of the user research done throughout the delivery, they have dealt with concerns of handovers and information sharing in these other ways.
Criterion 2: Have a multidisciplinary team
No recommendations were provided in the Beta assessment under Criterion 2. Most of the skills needs of the team are satisfied by the small number of members. The team has consulted with others outside the team as required.
The multidisciplinary delivery team has a product owner, as well as a project manager, to provide balance between stakeholder outcomes and project compliance. In transitioning the team and the system into the production “business as usual” world, a challenge for the agency was defining the ongoing role of product ownership in this transition. Going forward beyond the launch of Australian Trade Mark Search, the same product owner is involved in all continuous improvement work. Their role is guiding the consistency and continuity of the system alongside the design and delivery of new systems and supporting those responsible for maintaining Australian Trade Mark Search from this perspective.
Criterion 3: Agile and user-centred process
When Australian Trade Mark Search was launched, much more than the “minimum viable product” (MVP) had been delivered. There was a very short backlog at the point of the launch. IP Australia continues to engage directly with customers and develop Australian Trade Mark Search after going live. There is increasing importance in developing the roles of product owners, business system managers and business system owners within the agency, both in terms of setting a direction for continuous development and then delivering new capability.
IP Australia’s People and Communication group continue to provide input from the perspective of customers who are new to the trade marks domain, especially those who are engaging with IP Australia now for the first time and have no experience with the system that Australian Trade Mark Search replaced. There are often larger issues at play with this audience with various levels of knowledge and experience in intellectual property and an understanding of what they are trying to achieve, so work continues across IP Australia to respond to the needs of the business community.
Several rounds of continuous improvement releases were able to introduce new functionality that reflected evolving expectations of IP Australia’s customers after the system’s launch. Now that the system has reached a stable state of maturity, the system will be updated based on user needs going forward, driven by the Trade Mark Search Capability Coordinator in partnership with the original team to continue the evolution of the product. As the original team continues to build other systems within the trade marks domain and across other IP rights (designs, patents and plant breeder’s rights), the teams will consider retrofitting Australian Trade Mark Search to evolve in line with newer systems for greater consistency and to continue to improve the system over time.
Criterion 4: Understand tools and systems
A recommendation from the Beta assessment noted that third party expertise (internal or external) could be drawn upon to assist in determining best practice and to assist with avoidance of technical debt. Consistent with this recommendation, an expert hosting authority has been engaged to perform audits on technical delivery work. They have provided recommendations for the project team and vendor to deal with and to improve the consistency of the products being developed.
Internally, the team has worked with other areas — enterprise architecture, solution architecture, data teams, database administrators and network teams to ensure the project team is doing things in a consistent way within the agency. The input of the internal and external expertise has resulted in some positive tweaks to the system, both functionally and behind the scenes, which have positively impacted the performance of the system following the launch. In the first year of the system’s life, there have been no outages or downtime, even through the rounds of continuous improvements in the months following the launch.
The team has not seen indications of generating technical debt through their approaches and generally believes the system has been approached in a reasonable, consistent way. Australian Trade Mark Search has become an exemplar within IP Australia for cloud based delivery.
Criterion 5: Make it secure
All the data accessible via Australian Trade Mark Search is publicly available, there is no confidential data stored in the system. The team has engaged IP Australia’s Privacy Officer to assist in interpretation of the Australian Privacy Principles, when needed. The system has been designed to allow anonymous use and does not cache search results, and cookies do not include any identifying information. The team have demonstrated compliance with legal and policy requirements and have factored these into the solution.
Since the Beta assessment, the system has undergone more penetration testing and secure code reviews. Good technical learnings came out of these — everything that was identified was fixed and signed off. Every 6 months all controls are checked, including cloud permissions. Our cloud provider is also performing architecture reviews. The project team is working towards having smaller security assessments more frequently and for this to be the direction of the organisation.
Criterion 6: Consistent and responsive design
The team was advised in Beta that while there was limited demand for mobile access to Australian Trade Mark Search at that time, more focus should be considered on building a complete mobile experience sooner rather than later.
Initial user research revealed many users did not consider mobile use of the trade mark search system to be a priority. The previous system was not mobile-friendly and so expectations were low or non-existent. Australian Trade Mark Search was designed with native mobile compatibility for Quick searches, but optimising the Advanced mode for mobile was de-prioritised. Soon after launch, analytics showed that mobile use started low, but that mobile use surged dramatically on weekends. Customer feedback indicated growing demand for access to Advanced search features using mobile. The project team was able to respond to this need, delivering a richer mobile interface within a month of the system’s launch.
Criterion 7: Use open standards and common platforms
The project team remained very focused on using open standards and common platforms and have remained largely standards compliant.
Criterion 8: Make source code open
As noted in the Beta assessment, some parts of the project are not open. It was a conscious choice to allow the vendor to retain the intellectual property of the system being built, consistent with the Department of Finance’s guidelines that the default position is in favour of the supplier owning the IP of the software developed (prior to May 2016, when the Digital Service Standards were finalised). In this circumstance, there was a likely lack of value of re-using this specific, specialised system across different sectors of the government or community as it services a niche need.
Criterion 9: Make it accessible
One recommendation was provided in the Beta assessment under Criterion 9. It noted that developing an understanding of the devices and browsers customers will be using may provide further insight into the ongoing development of the system.
Since the Beta version was made publicly available, Australian Trade Mark Search has been certified as WCAG 2.0 Level AA compliant. The certificate received from the WCAG 2.0 assessors commended the project team for the efforts involved. The involvement and levels of interaction users have on a search system such as Australian Trade Mark Search introduced complex and sometimes conflicting needs between efficiency and usability, especially across different modes of use (mouse, keyboard, screen readers and voice recognition). The agency is continuing to build greater capability for testing with voice recognition and screen readers in-house.
With better analytics available in Australian Trade Mark Search, IP Australia now has better insight into the devices and browsers used, as referenced in Criterion 6. The system supports the range of commonly used browsers and devices used by our customers.
Criterion 10: Test the service
The assessor panel noted that code reviews make up part of the testing process. Testing work packages was part of the agile delivery process, and has been built into the automated deployment process by the partner vendor. Nothing would be deployed that did not pass the automated testing, so the project team could focus on functional testing.
User testing was conducted continually, including in-person usability testing with end users in their own environment and with opt-in users who subscribed to the mailing list. Focus was on design, layout and the ability to search for information for common tasks. A Beta program was established to test the system — initially as a private beta for subscribers to the mailing list, followed by a public beta in the months leading up to the launch. Feedback was logged via improvement items with multiple rounds of improvements made during the Beta timeframe.
Volume and load testing of the service was performed at a level beyond the expected live load. Testing sign off was done prior to the launch. Within the first 6 months of the launch 15 external releases in line with customer feedback were done. For testing new features, being a cloud based system allow prototype environments to be established quickly, enabling the team to provide new features to end users to test and then rapidly iterate based on their feedback. The Australian Trade Mark Search has been demonstrated to be robust, reliable and secure.
Criterion 11: Measure performance
A web analytics tool has been implemented on Australian Trade Mark Search since the beta version was made available. Metrics, such as the growing use on mobile/tablet devices and behaviour flows of users, have fed directly into continuous improvements to the system following its launch.
The four KPIs were included in the non-functional requirements for the system and have been provided to the DTA for inclusion in the Performance Dashboard.
Criterion 12: Don’t forget the non-digital experience
IP Australia has not practically offered a non-digital channel to search across trade mark data since at least 2005, when hard copy paper copies of the trade marks Register were decommissioned. However, outside of the pure digital channel, customers may enquire about trade mark information (for example, an application’s current status) through IP Australia’s call centre. This is most often used as a blend between channels, where some users of the search system will call for assistance midway through their search.
If a customer is not able to answer their question through the digital or call centre channels, they may formally seek an examination of their trade mark, which is available through paper channels. As part of the trade mark examination, an examiner will conduct a full search online and report to the applicant if there are any conflicting trade marks found. Non-digital channels, while supported, are not IP Australia’s preferred channels.
Criterion 13: Encourage everyone to use the digital service
Broadly, IP Australia has achieved 99.6% of our customers transacting with us online. IP Australia, through initiatives in recent years, has encouraged customers to use digital channels first and foremost.
The previous search system provided a significant disincentive to using the digital channel with a confusing log-in page, complicated search interface and out-of-date appearance. Australian Trade Mark Search has encouraged more use by being contemporary and usable, following rounds of iterations and feedback of the first screen of the system (the “Quick Search”).
Since its formal launch in February 2017, Australian Trade Mark Search has had an average of 1 million page views and 50,000 users per month. The system has been promoted via IP Australia’s corporate website (as a step someone should take before applying for a trade mark), intellectual property peak bodies, industry sectors, training for journalists reporting on trade mark related news, start-up hubs, media releases and social media promotion.
Under the previous system, 64% of trade mark search calls were asking for help checking a trade mark’s current status. Calls of this type have fallen by 53%. Calls asking for help with search functions have fallen by 74%.
Australian Trade Mark Search’s service load is scalable to meet the increased digital take-up. As it is cloud-based, it can automatically scale. The system was designed for peak loads and to readily scale on cloud-based architecture.
While no longer in use by the public, plans are underway to formally decommission the previous search system.
The Australian Trade Mark Search delivery team is encouraged to share their learnings across the agency to help other teams on their digital journey.