Intelligent automation (IA) can help to build a ‘blended workforce’ in the public sector combining automation and people, with the promise of a range of benefits
This was one of the messages to emerge from UKAuthority’s recent virtual conference on Powering Digital Public Services, outlined by Ed Mitchell, director and lead for IA at consultancy EY.
He said that IA can bring together the best of what people and automation can provide, highlighting factors such as empathy and building relationships for the former and the rules based execution of high volume transactions and advanced data analysis for the latter.
The right combination can produce a blended workforce with characteristics that include being non-invasive, highly auditable, consistent and accurate on a 24/7 basis and more productive. This can reduce costs, raise revenue and produce high levels of customer satisfaction.
Mitchell pointed to IA’s role in process automation, the provision of chatbots, sentiment analysis, advanced analytics, and the provision of algorithm driven insights. The latter comes with the ability to translate unstructured to structured data and to handle massive volumes of big data.
He also responded to a question on IA’s uses in tech and connectivity infrastructure by saying the company has already seen it applied to a number of tasks, including password resets, auto reporting of outages, automatic checks of firewalls and setting them to facilitate REST APIs.
There is significant scope to do so in the public sector, where some organisations are already using the technology as part of a number of functions.
Representatives of two local authorities provided examples at the event of how IA has provided substantial benefits for their operations.
South Kesteven experience
South Kesteven District Council has been working with the technology since the middle of last year, when it set up a joint team with EY named BoxEY. Its strategic director for transformation and change, Lee Sirdifield, said that the team began identifying processes prime for modernisation – taking into account high demand and costs – including registering changes in circumstances for benefits, changes of address for council tax, discretionary housing payments, housing applications and planning applications.
“Each of these, possibly with the exception of discretionary housing payments, are fairly linear and rules based, which is what IA is incredibly good at dealing with,” he said. In the case of discretionary housing the council made sure the officer dealing with a case had all of the data readily available to support decisions.
“It was about refining the processes and looking for opportunities to improve them,” he said.
The programme produced a number of benefits: some of them cashable with released capacity; enabling staff to focus on adding value to services; and improvements in staff satisfaction, the effectiveness of processes and customer journeys.
The council is now planning to expand the use of IA, believing this can embed a culture of innovation within the organisation, and is looking to collaborate with others in sharing the work it has delivered with BoxEY.
“The project was aimed at delivering solutions for South Kesteven, and looking at how the technology could be deployed to other parts of the public sector,” Sirdifield said. “It’s putting it back to market in a way that others can use without having to go through the challenges that we had to work through.”
Data at Barking and Dagenham
The London Borough of Barking and Dagenham has been among those drawing on data tools in its response to the coronavirus pandemic, using its One View platform to combine data management with governance and predictive modelling in allocating resources.
Its head of programmes and community solutions Rhodri Rowland told the event that one of the key components is automated case notes - providing summaries for frontline staff at the point of contact with residents. The others are alerts of changes in circumstances that could increase the risk to a person or household and flag the need for an intervention; and an analytics dashboard for a high level overview of needs around the borough.
This has provided the foundation for a Covid-19 case management tool with dashboards, which has been used to coordinated day-to-day support for those in need and will play a central role in the council’s legacy planning.
“Our platform has enabled us to get ahead of the game in building a Covid response tool,” Rowland said. “Primarily, it is enabling us to support a quick response to the identification of people who need support, both for council services and with some of our community providers and health partners.”
He added that Barking and Dagenham is now thinking about how it can be used and adapted to future services, citing the example of identifying people at financial risk and making early offers of help.
Apply the principles
Such cases highlight what the technology can achieve, but there are principles that should be applied, Mitchell said. These cover: focusing on the purpose of an implementation and the business issues first; planning for process and organisational change; considering IA solutions holistically as a spectrum of technologies that should work together; and using a balanced implementation approach, in which the operating model and delivery are in sync with each other.
“You can’t just put them in and forget about them; you have to manage them,” he said. “Think of them as a member of your workforce.
“If you do that you need the operating model, such as building a centre of excellence or working with a partner, whatever is right for the organisation, to get the return on investment as quickly as possible. You have to get that right balanced approach from the beginning.”
Videos and presentations from Lee Sirdifield, Rhodri Rowland and Ed Mitchell at UKAuthority Powering Digital Public Services are available to view here
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