Implementing robotics and RPA in the public sector

11 December 2019 6 min. read

RPA has become one of the most rapidly adopted technologies in modern business. It can bring about a positive impact on costs, productivity, accuracy, data analysis and decision-making, and will spearhead digital transformation. Experts from Convedo told how RPA can benefit the public sector.

The UK Government finds itself racing to implement major change campaigns on multiple fronts in the coming months. Brexit had created an unprecedented workload for the Central Government, with the need to set up and plan new systems to cover border controls, trade, agricultural policy and immigration, and establish a contingency plan to ensure the UK is prepared whatever the outcome. The changes come at a time when the Civil Service is majorly depleted, following a decade of austerity measures.

As the public sector looks to complete a rapid change agenda, and faces further disruption in 2020, experts from Convedo have explained that officials could be major beneficiaries from the implementation of robotic process automation (RPA). As suggested by the name, RPA uses software robots to automate mundane, repetitive tasks, such as transactions, data-processing, establishing communication with systems, performing huge calculations without errors, and fast problem-solving. RPA can be deployed in basically any function, including finance, accounts, HR, operations and IT.

Five best practices for automation in the public sector

Public sector work features a high amount of data entry and collection from various systems, as well as validating information across various internal or external websites, and repetitive consolidation-type processes. By automating these functions, the public sector could rectify the situation described by the Reform, Work in Progress 2017 Report, which claimed that in the UK alone, only 20% of public service employees do strategic work that requires analytical thinking.

This makes RPA ideal for the public sector, both in terms of helping to reduce costs and freeing up labour to focus on more complex tasks. For example, the North Tyneside Council in the UK expects to save up to £56 million over the next few years by bringing RPA into its workflows. Already, the council has used RPA agents to process customer service issues, improving speed and cutting data input times in half.

RPA is a game changer for the public sector,” Convedo said. “The public sector faces issues that require immediate attention: from a high volume of work that blocks productivity, to employee shortage, from frequent regulatory and policy changes to insufficient collaboratory tools that allow different departments to synchronise seamlessly. Today the challenge of delivering more with less within the public sector is indicative that the public sector stands to benefit the most from RPA.”

According to Convedo, there are five key best practices for implementing RPA in the public sector:

Select the right process

Convedo explained, “It’s essential to analyse and choose a process that is mature and has defined tasks that are repeated in high volume. A process that involves a of data exchange between various parties and systems is often considered best for automation.”

According to the firm, when looking to improve the efficiency of any organisation, the first step is to assess current workflows. This will help to manage stakeholder interest, which is also supremely important in the tax-funded, government-controlled public sector. Groups must consider how RPA will improve their performance, and illustrate any other benefits related to implementation to maximise buy-in among stakeholders, which is essential for the project to succeed.

Prioritise maturity

Organisations need to choose a mature process. If the process does not follow an efficient path already, the return on investment will be diminished. At the same time, failing to do so threatens to undermine the goal of improving operational efficiency.

“Intelligent automation allows you to create workflows by using the Object and Process Studio to drag and drop modular tasks,” Convedo said. “These tasks could be to capture information with OCR, bring information into systems of record, process information automatically or with a human in the loop, link processes and publish final outcomes.”

Plan for exceptions

“There will always be exceptions. The last thing you would want for automation is to create a big exceptions queue that requires more time and effort to resolve. This defies the logic of automation. Exception scenarios should be programmed in the workflow,” said Convedo.

For example, the firm suggested that public sector entities would not be well-served by an automation solution that stopped working if it suddenly received a large volume of complaints. Instead, it would be better for the automation to follow a different logical workflow if there are too many complaints, such as perhaps contacting multiple customer service agents rather than one. This would result in an improved experience for service users, while yielding greater efficiency for organisations.

Programme for scalability

Scalability is the property of a system to handle a growing amount of work by adding resources to the system. In an economic context, a scalable business model implies that a company can increase sales given increased resources. In order to maximise the scalability of any RPA transformation, it is best practice to involve all of the organisation’s digital employees, to properly divide the labour required and realise results quicker.

Convedo elaborated, “It’s seen as best practice to assign different tasks across multiple digital workers. This creates work queues and makes it easy for you to scale up and out, or back and down.”

Create a Centre of Excellence

Finally, establishing a Centre of Excellence (COE) in RPA is a common tactic for private and public sector operators looking to adopt and develop RPA solutions. For example, consulting firm Capgemini was recently drafted in to help the UK Government leverage RPA, with the creation and development of a new Centre of Excellence, devoted to the implementation of digital technology in the Cabinet Office.

Concluding, Convedo said, “An automation Center of Excellence (COE) is a group of people, processes, and technology necessary to maximize the benefits of automation. This could be formed inside your organisation or outsourced. The role of COE is critical in looking for more opportunities for automation with the assets and models that have been created so you can multiply the returns from your investment. It is the most effective way to embed automation into the way of working for your organisation.”