Industry voice: Using technology to free up employees’ time has long been a goal of digital transformation, and the advent of robotics is making it a reality, writes Paul Tomlinson, managing director of IEG4
Local government services often require difficult judgements even in routine processes - take for example the provision of benefits - and dealing with complex cases requires time and skill. There can be a conflict, however, as council employees have to spend a lot of time undertaking repetitive elements of their routine, giving them less time for considering the evidence and thinking through those judgements.
The outlook is changing, however, with the emergence of robotic processing automation (RPA). RPA provides a new, more efficient approach to dealing with those routine tasks. There is now the potential to free up valuable staff time from the ordinary, enabling them to focus on the complex decisions and interactions that really need the human touch.
RPA brings a disruptive technology into the equation of Local Government as a Platform. It harnesses a capability to exploit the core framework, whilst possessing the flexibility to work for any council. Intelligent automation can ensure both a balance between simplicity and security, and the requirement that the needs of the customer always come first.
One of RPA’s major advantages is the removal of human error. The software is 100% accurate in inputting data and does not miss out any stages in the process. It can also be available, and working, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Another key benefit is the ability of a robot to read and transcribe data. This means that if APIs are not available for direct integration into legacy or back office systems, it is perfectly possible for the robot to carry out the integration regardless.
This technology makes it possible for a council to identify the high volume of routine cases when processing e-forms and to deal with them digitally, without the need for human effort. Applying business rules and logic consistently removes processes and highlights exceptions to the norm for further scrutiny.
IEG4 has contributed to the pioneering work of a handful of councils in this field to achieve large savings in their revenues and benefits processes. Our customers have used RPA to transfer data from the e-forms into back office systems and to make the relevant calculations based on the programmed business rules.
North Tyneside Benefits
The scale of what can be achieved can be seen in the case of North Tyneside, where we worked with the council, RPA specialist Blue Prism and services group Engie, to deliver major efficiencies in handling benefits claims.
The project provided real improvements to the council’s customers: the number of days taken to process new claims were reduced from 36 to 25; 91% of customers reported no problems using the e-forms; and overall customer satisfaction now regularly exceeds 85%. The public saw a seamless service with no indication that the process was carried out by a robot – reflecting that priority of placing the customer first.
It has also freed staff from the mundane task of data processing and allowed them more time to address the complex circumstances that come with many benefits claims.
The potential for RPA extends in many directions. For example, you could reverse the process above, taking data from legacy systems to pre-populate forms to help customers. Some banks are already making progress in this area and local authorities could benefit from a similar approach.
Similarly, it could be used to support staff in customer contact centres. If data on an individual resides in different systems, RPA could be used to run a check and quickly make all the relevant data from those systems available to the employee. This would be a big asset in helping them to fully understand the individual customer and provide a better response to any enquiries.
The integration of multiple back office and legacy systems - from revenues and benefits through to social services - has long been a blocker to the delivery of better, more efficient, more personal, public services. RPA offers the exciting possibility of integrating this information from departmental silos, regardless of API availability, to create unique views of citizens and service need. To do this manually would be time consuming in the extreme, but the potential efficiencies from automation are endless.
Essentially, RPA can be used in any repetitive transaction, applying rules-driven processes to the mundane tasks that are fundamental to a high-quality service. It empowers employees to deal with the more demanding tasks, and provides customers with better outcomes. But the full value is only realised when it is made simple, repeatable and can be rolled out elsewhere.
These are all examples of how new technologies can be integrated with each other to provide a radical transformation in local government, taking provision to a new level of efficiency while providing better services for the public.
IEG4 is contributing to the movement with its eDesigner software for e-forms, and other technologies such as its OneVu citizen account and OpenProcess workflow engine. In combination, this offers a myriad of possibilities that can not only automate the mundane, but provide the basis for long term positive relationships between councils and their customers. ChatBots , Augmented Intelligence and Virtual Customer Assistants, will further build out how the citizen can interact with their council, at a time to suit them in a way they prefer.
IEG4 can help to improve and deliver your digital transformation needs using AI and Bots. To find out more about just how, book on their free event on 9th May in Cheshire. To book your place click here.
Photo credit: iStock/Kirillm