The inaugural UK Robotics Week kicked off this week, designed to showcase the nation’s leadership in automation technology and autonomous systems.
Author – Debra Maxwell, CEO of CRM & Public Sector, Arvato UK and Ireland
‘Local government’ might not be the first sector that springs to mind in a discussion about innovative technology like robotics, but in fact there’s massive potential for the technology to have an impact on public services. In truth, the public sector has been unfairly maligned in the past for being slow to adopt new technology. The reality is that many local and central government bodies have made huge progress under the ‘digital by default agenda’; but there’s more to be done.
According to a recent joint paper from the Local Government Association (LGA), Solace, Socitm and the Local CIO Council, greater digital innovation is required to help councils increase efficiencies and relieve pressure on staff so resource can be redirected to where it’s most needed.
An Arvato project has shown that robotics can play a fundamental part in delivering much needed change to help cope with budgetary constraints and welfare reforms that are putting ever more pressure on council services.
Simply put, robotic process automation (RPA) technology uses software to mimic human interaction with software and complete repetitive, rules-based tasks where speed and accuracy are essential. The technology acts as a virtual workforce to complete high volume work in the back office, for example processing online forms for council tax, direct debit mandates or single person discounts. The key is that, while improving efficiency, it can allow teams to free up resources to focus on more complex, customer-centric tasks.
A robotics project in one of our local government partnerships proved that back-office processes in revenues collection can be delivered with 100 per cent accuracy and time savings of up to 80 per cent, reducing errors that result from manually transferring information between poorly integrated IT systems, and less time spent by employees trying to contact residents to resolve the resulting issues.
The project demonstrated that the technology is scalable and could do much more than just integrating online forms or processing payments. It has the potential to be introduced across other departments which have a high proportion of repetitive processes, including human resources, finance and accounting, and payroll – in fact, in our project a total of 20 back office processes – just in the revenues and benefits department – were identified where RPA will soon improve both accuracy and efficiency.
Inevitably, any application of robotics will lead to some reservations surrounding the technology’s impact on jobs. Our trial has shown that it actually has a positive impact. For example, by removing the need for council employees to spend time on repetitive admin, the technology allows people to do what’s really important: helping citizens resolve some of the more complex queries – a common requirement in the wake of major welfare reforms. What’s more, it can allow authorities to upskill and then redeploy employees towards more strategically important work, such as tackling council tax fraud or increasing collection rates, which ultimately generate more revenue for the council.
With budgets tightening and citizen demand increasing, it’s innovative technology such as RPA that councils will need to invest in to protect front line services and transform back-office processes.