We’re beginning to see the ‘Rise of the Robots in the Public Sector’, what The Guardian describes as Government embracing a robotic makeover.
As UK Authority reports, the leader of the Cabinet Office team promoting the use of robotic process automation (RPA) in central government has said interest in the technology has reached a tipping point. The chief executive of the Civil Service also forecasts an increased use of the technology.
The Global Government Forum writes how adopters include the National Health Service in Wales, North Tyneside Council and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. Last year the Cabinet Office ran a procurement to establish an RPA Centre of Excellence, promoting the use of the technology more widely across government; French outsourcer Capgemini was selected as the external partner for the work.
Writing on the Gov.uk blog the Cabinet Office team share their experiences of adopting the technology.
Unstructured Process Automation
RPA (Robotic Process Automation) offers a generalized solution to a generalized need. Where specific applications and developments cater for specific needs, such as a web site for filing tax returns, RPA is ideal for any form of unstructured workflow collaboration.
For example if you consider the full context of online services like tax returns or social welfare claims, the user interface and online process is only one part of an overall set of activities required to support that user.
Other steps would include staff discussing and actioning decisions related to their claims, a decision process that often features the email exchange of Word and PDF documents, Excel spreadsheets and the like. This is low skill, repetitive work load that is ideal for RPA automation.
As Phil Vincenzes describes writing for GovLoop the key dynamics to look for when considering where RPA might be applied are these manual processes where they are highly repetitive, time sensitive and expensively error prone. Automating this drudgery to free people to focus on higher value service is what IT has always been intended for, but that enterprise line of business systems never really addressed.
Transformation Use Cases
Deloitte explores the field in great depth in this paper, and Cap Gemini identifies a number of possible RPA use cases, such as :
- Customer 360 – Handling of incoming customer queries (email, letter), Exceptions processing (rule based), validation & credit checking etc.
- Using RPA to virtually customise COTS legacy systems – Digital forms integration to back end services, Virtual API, Data cleansing, Transferring data from one system to another etc.
- Attended user augmentation – Auto compliance checking, Auto data set-up, Pre-populating forms/ screens-Knowledge base, Guided / contextual help etc.
- Using RPA to sort & separate unstructured data enabling AI integration – Processing inbound semi-structured inbound correspondence, PDF integration to back end services, OCR of customer documents, Classification of data based natural language processing (sentiment analysis, syntax analysis, entity recognition and content classification).
RPA for Local Government
Via their blog Business Systems UK very effectively repeats the point about the make up of different process activities required for organizations like Local Authorities to fulfill their services:
“Despite the progress made so far –such as introducing electronic means of communications which have certainly improved service times and costs- there is still room for process optimisation which is often obstructed by departmental, procedural and/or technological silos.”
“From data validation, to records update and standard email dispatch, Robotic Process Automation can perform these tasks in one third of the time it would take a person, and with 100% accuracy. Even for internal processes, for example Payroll, RPA can simplify the process of updating all relevant files with information like new starters or leavers, contractual or temporary changes, absence and holiday records, deductions etc.”
They also make the keen point that RPA would be an ideal method of facilitating and delivering the type of efficiency improvements that councils seek through Shared Service initiatives, and that these would therefore be very productive capabilities for outsourcing providers to offer.