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Workforce augmentation for sustainable public services


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Next level intelligent automation can help public sector bodies face up to systemic pressures, writes Philip Sheen, head of the public sector for the UK and Ireland at UiPath

UK public services are in an unsustainable position, and there must be radical change in the way they are carried out if they are to remain viable.

The underlying problems are well known: a long term squeeze on finances, overworked staff and increasing demands on services, especially those related to healthcare and adult social care. The sector is also hindered by operating models designed for earlier, less intense demands, and often has to work with legacy technology with limited capabilities.

This creates an urgent need for transformational change; but the progress of AI powered intelligent automation has presented a great transformational lever, with the ability to augment the human workforce with a high level digital work capability.

The foundations are already in place with the now widespread use of robotic process automation (RPA) to carry out repetitive, rules based tasks for which software bots can be programmed. It has made a positive difference in many organisations, but does not provide the capability to deal with the more complex demands on public sector employees.

A new boost

The advent of AI-powered intelligent automation, however, promises to boost the capability. It draws on technologies such as machine learning, natural language processing and optical character recognition to equip digital systems with more of the cognitive abilities of human workers. And advances in artificial intelligence (AI) are taking them into the realms of reasoning and problem solving for even more complex issues.

In addition, automations can run 24/7 and can maintain higher standards of accuracy and consistency than human workers – a key factor in adding to their value.

This makes it possible to augment the workforce with a digital capability that can ease the strain of diminishing budgets, exhausted workers and rising demand. It can be an intrinsic element of any organisation’s strategy for responding to the long term pressures.

A crucial factor in this is to realise it is not a technology integration but a strategic move to improve efficiency and productivity, and deliver better outcomes for the public. These are only achievable by augmenting the human workforce, and the deployment of intelligent automation has to be planned around the key steps in delivering services, with a sharp eye on where the emotional intelligence and value judgements of humans should take over from the technology.

DWP achievement

There is an example of this in how the Intelligent Automation Garage within the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has deployed the AI driven UiPath Business Automation Platform to manage the short term loans process for vulnerable people in financial crisis. A manual process which used to take up to five weeks is now delivered within four days of application, with the customer updated at every stage. 

It is also using AI to manage the massive volume of ‘white mail’ it receives from customers every month. This includes paper forms, letters and other documentation with information relevant to individuals’ benefits claims, much of which does not fit within the clear structures that automation alone can handle. It uses AI elements such as intelligent document processing, contextual analysis and sentiment analysis, which can process a heavy churn of mail in a fraction of the time taken by people, while identifying and flagging requests that require human intervention. 

Its great value is in automating the process of quickly and correctly dealing with the bulk of routine requests while pinpointing and prioritising those where human input is needed.

Such a use case requires high standards of data quality and governance, and for context and relevant content to be programmed into the system, but it demonstrates an immense potential across the public sector.

Strategic tool

It is where the UiPath Business Automation Platform provides a valuable resource. It includes components for automation through application programme interfaces (APIs) and user interfaces (UIs), low code development, intelligent document processing, process orchestration and the integration of generative AI. It also has functions for real time and trend analytics, continuous testing, unified management and governance’, mining processes, tasks and communications, and idea capture and management.

It can be used to complement functions within the widely used office productivity software suites, taking the capability for automation to a higher level.

Intelligent automation is a great strategic tool for public service organisations, enabling them to create the workforce augmentation to overcome the systemic problems that now confront the sector.

At UKAuthority’s Automation & Bots4Good online conference, UiPath added more detail to the perspective, along with contributions from a range of public sector representatives and leaders in the field.

You can catch up with UiPath's presentation and the other speakers from organisations including DWP, University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust, North of England Commissioning Support, Norfolk County Council, Leeds City Council, Government Digital Service and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities here

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