“Blizzard of Demand and a Blizzard of Data”

RPA is dead, long live RPA!

With so much talk about intelligent automation, digital business automation, integrated automation platforms, and other such terms, you’d think that robotic process automation – RPA – doesn’t apply anymore.

But not so. Whilst I believe much automation will indeed come from machine learning, AI – and so on – applied to work that gets done, organisations are still reaping the benefits of RPA. I recently attended an event run by the Government Automation Taskforce and whilst they too are contemplating the value of intelligent automation and are in its early stages, many of the success stories there – such as this one from the HMRC – show RPA has more potential to bring value across the breadth of Her Majesty’s Government.

The title of this blog is a quote from Chief Constable Andy Marsh of Avon and Somerset Police. They have a grand vision of being an outstanding police force, but with “the blizzard of demand and blizzard of data” – 10 million new pieces of data into the force every day – they knew they need to do more in order to turn this into smart decisions. With many data flows and processes, there had to be potential for automation.

They began this process of applying RPA in 2019, after running a Proof of Concept with us at IBM. As Nick Lilley, Director of IT at Avon and Somerset Police, said, this was about “extending and augmenting” the police force, freeing up capacity to work on more activity where humans can truly add value.

Of course, key to implementing RPA to make sure you get the best value is not to automate bad, poor or unnecessary process. This is an opportunity to apply ‘Lean’* or ‘Lean Six Sigma’ to truly understand processes, improve on them, and collect relevant metrics to support continuous improvement.

One of those processes they decided to tackle was uniform ordering. With a backlog of 700 orders, that would take 2 months for a human worker to process, the digital worker they designed dealt with that backlog in just 2 weeks.

The public wants officers on the street and RPA is helping Avon and Somerset achieve exactly that. This video tells you all about it.

And this is not the only example of recent RPA success. When I attended #ThinkGov2020 I learned about what has been done at the Veterans Benefits Administration from Dr Paul Lawrence, Undersecretary for Benefits. With regards to their intake, it took a long time to move from fax/email to an examiner’s hands and they desperately needed intelligent workflow.

By applying RPA they were able to turn a 10 day process in 1 afternoon’s work. Furthermore, the folks doing that manual work had great experience and insight into the business and they were reskilled into higher paid jobs.

The VBA needed to be agile to implement new benefits, and RPA has been an enabler for this. The organisation did have to deal with a few myths, such as the belief that a wet signature was necessary for approvals, when in fact it turned out it wasn’t.

As Dr Lawrence said, these days we can get a pizza and see it tracked by the hour – why can’t we do the same with benefit applications?

(As always, if you’d like to know more about how automation can help the public sector deliver service more effectively, or even to discuss what we mean by RPA or intelligent automation then get in touch.)

*I searched on ‘lean’ to find an appropriate link to add to this blog. Turns out every day is a school day: according to Wikipedia, ‘Lean, also known as purple drank and several other names, is a recreational drug cocktail, prepared by combining prescription-grade cough syrup with a soft drink and hard candy.” I definitely did not mean that!


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