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Automation will play a significant role in public sector transformation

From driverless Uber taxis on the streets of Pittsburgh, to the launch of Amelia – IPsoft’s artificial intelligence (AI) customer service agent – disruptive, autonomous technology is no longer a question of horizon-gazing, it’s the here and now.

The fact is, cognitive technology is going to become more accessible for UK organisations very quickly. That has wide-ranging ramifications for the UK workforce and its productivity, and it would be naïve to think that the public sector should not be a part of this.

Often unfairly maligned when it comes to embracing digital technology, much has already been achieved in the public sector. Local government has run with the digital by default agenda, making government services accessible via digital channels. From introducing big data analytics to identify and make use of empty homes, to integrating social media with traditional customer services, Arvato’s own experience in bringing disruptive technology to our local authority partnerships has been a positive one.

If there is a criticism to be made, it’s that the thinking in the sector hasn’t been big enough. A recent study by Brunel University argues that government digital transformation initiatives have been mainly “cosmetic”, failing to deliver in terms of outcomes or return on investment. Indeed, the scale of the financial challenges facing local authorities means there are few efficiencies still to be found in doing the same things faster, better, and cheaper. Instead genuine, radical transformation is required.

Automation will be part of that change. The high volume of repetitive tasks processed in council back offices – which neither make best use of employees’ skills and time, nor offer job satisfaction – means there is huge potential for it to make a difference in the sector.

Recognising this, we’ve implemented leading-edge automation software from Blue Prism at Sefton Council in Merseyside. Our project successfully replicated a range of core transactional processes with 100 per cent accuracy and major gains in speed. The time required to input council tax direct debit payments, for example, has been reduced by 80 per cent, with cost per transaction cut from £1 to 20 pence.

In addition, the software has allowed the council to redirect employees to focus on more complex tasks or much-needed front-line citizen services. Employee satisfaction has also increased as a result of removing the mundane tasks from staff members’ day-to-day routine.

Our research suggests that more public-sector organisations are beginning to consider this approach. In a survey of 134 local and central government decision makers, carried out on our behalf by iGov Survey this summer, more than half of respondents said their organisations have explored the use of automation, and 21 per cent expect the technology to be trialled within their department or authority over the next year. The findings show that 70 per cent had experienced rising work volumes in their departments over the last 12 months, with 60 per cent reporting a reduction in the size of their team.

With the right approach to sharing learnings and pooling experience, the UK public sector can benefit from a technology that is only going to become more prolific in coming years.


Debra Maxwell is CEO, CRM Solutions UK & Ireland, Arvato
Visit www.arvato.com/businessreporter to download Arvato’s White Paper, Driving Transformation Through Automation In The Public Sector