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Robotic assistance can lend government a helping hand

(Image credit: Image Credit: Computerizer / Pixabay)

Business Systems UK’s Will Davenport looks at how robotic process automation (RPA) designed to automate routine administrative work, can be a real asset to the UK’s cash strapped public sector

The UK’s public sector is still for the most part under unprecedented budgetary pressure, while demands on its services continue to increase. 

The truth is public sector departments are struggling to cope with gargantuan data mountains with reduced staff numbers.  According to figures quoted in a recent report from Bertelsman, 73 per cent of respondents said that they had seen volumes of work increase over a twelve month period. At the same time, 68 per cent said they had seen staff levels fall. It’s no surprise therefore that advances in robotics have made automaton a viable tool to address the challenges that public sector departments now face in delivering services on tight budgets.

By automating routine tasks staff are freed up to concentrate on more essential public facing missions and improve what the public sector has to offer, instead of being tied to mundane and repetitive tasks.

RPA software tools can replicate and automate transactional processes while improving both accuracy and speed. And with RPA, this can be achieved 24/7. This dramatically reduces the amount of staff required to carry out routine activities. Data enhancements made by RPA can also make for smarter decision making. This not only cuts costs overall, but improves productivity.

Contributing to cost reduction targets

Automation is already making its mark and has become a critical tool for local, NHS and emergency service organisations looking for the best ways to utilise their budgets to meet the growing needs of citizens. In fact, RPA software revenue grew 63.1 per cent in 2018 to $846 million, making it the fastest-growing segment of the global enterprise software market, according to Gartner. It is forecast to hit $1.3 billion this year.

It is abundantly clear. RPA is an important tool in accelerating an organisation’s digital transformation. RPA can be easily applied to complex and lengthy processes and it has the innate power to streamline and enhance service delivery.

This is all a huge boon to the public sector which is wrestling with staff shortages, frequent regulatory changes, poor or no collaboration tools and a growing tide of information that is blocking productivity

The proof is in a recent Softomotive’s survey which looks at why commercial sector organisations find RPA so appealing. Reduced operating costs were seen as a main benefit by 44 per cent of respondents. As well as being more time and cost-efficient than people, automation has the ability to significantly improve workflows and, as mentioned, operate 365 days a year without holidays, breaks or sick leave.

There is also a dramatic reduction in errors. RPA failures, in our experience, are almost always due to human error, rather than the technology itself. This enables public sector bodies to actually learn from past mistakes. The Bertelsmann report noted that improved accuracy supports compliance and quality control, for example, with all automated processes being open to a full and transparent audit.

By freeing up staff from time-consuming and monotonous tasks, such as administering council tax and managing social care to patient-file handling and appointment scheduling, they can better service citizens. This increases both staff productivity and morale.

This can add enormous value to operations as the human touch is paramount in serving the public in a whole host of local and central government roles – from the emergency services to social work and caregiving services. The Bertelsmann report also found that 96 per cent of respondents looked to automation to free up staff time for more critical departmental tasks, for instance.

In addition, RPA has the power to improve the overall satisfaction of citizens. The quicker and more efficiently teams can complete tasks, the better the overall quality of service experience delivered. Increased accuracy also supports a far better service as a whole.

RPA also enhances human jobs by making it easier for staff to find relevant information and to complete tasks in hand.

Getting a grip on the information backlog

RPA solutions also have the ability to make quick and cost effective improvements without an end-to-end system overhaul, simply by pulling together diverse systems across an organisation.

One national tax collecting authority, for example, was losing the equivalent of nearly $2.7bn in tax fraud annually. In a bid to tackle this issue, it was using a vendor to contact customers to validate and update personal data. The glitch, however, was that due to security restrictions the vendor couldn’t actually access the authority’s own records. The backlog of updates that needed to be made on the authority’s own systems to get them up-to-date would have required several hundred extra staff on data entry.

RPA was brought in to address this gargantuan and unforeseen challenge. In the end, 150 robots processed 25,000 updates requested by the vendor each day, dealing with the initial backlog and then processing change requests in real-time.

RPA saved the authority in question the equivalent of $13m, achieved 100 per cent accuracy in updating records and put it in a strong position to tackle the fraud deficit. Here, the flexibility RPA can bring to the public sector in its application to customer enquiries as well as the organisation’s own internal workflow is highlighted.

RPA can undoubtedly help to make cost reductions on mundane tasks and re-focus staff efforts on high-value, citizen-facing projects. But there are other compelling reasons for the public sector adopting RPA, including automation’s ability to be more predictable, consistent and less error prone than humans.

We are all too aware that the pace of digital change in the public sector is slowed down by large, complex legacy systems. RPA allows public sector organisations to make real improvements without having to overturn these systems.

With pressure on the UK’s public sector showing no sign of abating, RPA has got to be the answer to growing workflows and reduced funding.

Will Davenport, Director, Business Systems