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Automation plugs the gap between front and back office

13/01/21

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Finding the right combination of humans, robots and AI delivers a big step forwards for digital transformation, writes Tom Wright, head of digital engagement at NDL

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The prospect of robots in public services is worrying to some people, but they can provide great value when they are combined with human staff, not used to replace them, in transforming services.

Most organisations will have some tasks that are better suited for humans and some for robots. The perfect fit for the latter are repetitive, process based tasks that follow a set of defined rules; they are great at providing accuracy, consistency, logical processing and high productivity. This is most effective in the back office for tasks that require no need for value judgements.

People have other strengths in their verbal communications, creativity, capacity for subjective thought, sense of empathy and the ability to read and show emotions – strengths which usually come to the fore in the front office when dealing with the public and patients.

The common ground between the two is found in unstructured information that feeds into back office processes. Over recent years it has required human staff to spend a lot of time sorting through that information and fitting it to the required structure; but the outlook is changing as artificial intelligence comes into its own, providing the structure and potentially passing it on to a robot. AI can scan and select swathes of unstructured information, much more quickly than a human, to tell them what they need to know at the right time.

Public sector organisations have the ability to capture and share information digitally through technologies such as apps, e-forms and cognitive services, but it is imperative that this information is integrated through the many back office systems currently in place. RPA and intelligent automation can plug the gaps between front and back office and provide the potential for a new stage in digital transformation.

Three core constituents

NDL’s Digital Transformation tools can provide this end-to-end transformation from the one software suite. The three core constituents of the suite are the SX module for robotic process automation, the MX mobile application platform and the FX e-forms platform; this provides the ability to collect and share data in the front office and by automating manual tasks, information can be placed where it is needed.

The suite is built on a low code software that makes it possible to build e-forms and apps to wrap around processes then trigger an automated process. Such steps can support an end-to-end automation of an organisation’s processes. The open architecture of the suite also provides the scope to add a range of cognitive services, introducing AI to streamline specific processes that may involve unstructured data.

Automation provides a fantastic opportunity to do more with less, and has been proven to make a difference with plenty of examples in the public sector. But it is just one piece of jigsaw; there is also a need for efficient data capture, the ability to share information through devices which work at the digital front end. Things work best when frontline services are unified with the back office estate, and the NDL suite provides a tool to make this possible.

Successful deployments

There have been plenty of successful deployments. Moray Council has been using the technology for its housing repairs, so that when a problem is reported the details are recorded and cascaded through RPA, without the need for re-keying, into relevant applications such as the scheduling system, stock management, CRM and mobile apps used by frontline staff.

Similarly, Swindon Council has revolutionised its free school meals application process with automation. A digital worker taking on the tasks of identifying new applications, checking their eligibility status, performing validation checks, identifying any exceptions and logging them into the database for passing to a human worker.

NDL is also working on a project for a finance team that highlights a more ambitious potential. PDF invoices are scanned by an AI cognitive function that can identify and extract relevant unstructured data, then convert it into a structured format and pass it on to a robot. Early results have shown it provides a level of accuracy much higher than the optical character recognition systems that have been used in some settings.

Such initiatives are being developed within the NDL user community, which consists of more than 100 organisations that have been exploring applications of automation and front-end technologies and are ready to share, collaborate and help each other where they can. The company’s strong focus on the public sector – notably in local government, housing and healthcare – makes it and the user community well equipped to support new ideas on using automation.

This can play a big role in an end-to-end transformation of public services, and anyone with ambitions to make this happen for their organisation is welcome to reach out to us.

To find out more about RPA join one of NDL's workshop events or read the case studies on their website

Image from iStock, Abidal

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