Intelligent Process Automation of Back Office services

Full Application: Not funded at this stage

Suffolk County Council and our partners need to safeguard front line services by ensuring that we execute back office work in the most effective and efficient way possible.   We want to introduce Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to deliver high and medium volume transactions that are of a simple or moderately complex nature, freeing up the time of our human workforce. Time that they can use to deliver more services to citizens alongside developing and implementing strategic end-to-end digital processes.

Initial analysis of just five processes shows up to 95% of the work could be automated. We believe we can reduce the cost of running these processes from £215k pa to just £12k pa using automation. This extrapolates to around 1000 days of “Time” that could be saved/ deployed to the front line or used on more complex work, we aim to prove this.

We plan to build a Robotics Centre of Excellence within the eastern region where councils from all tiers of government can benefit from having access to Process Automation capabilities.  We will work closely with one of our collaborators, delivering at least one process at County Council and one at District Council as exemplars and proof of concept. We aim to prove that the technology can be easily deployed further within those organisations; other collaboration partners and potentially across the UK.

Measures of success will be:

  • Delivered technology into phase one authorities.
  • Established a Centre of Excellence (CoE) including training staff and organisation capacity.
  • Delivery of two processes through to at least Proof of Concept (PoC) stage.
  • Benefits case explaining opportunities for councils to adopt the common pattern.

A successful service will meet user needs, improve efficiency and effectiveness of back office services, be easy to use by subject matter experts, be ready for reuse by other local authorities and have readily available justification as to why service design decisions have been made.

The alpha project will focus on establishing the core capabilities, the initial CoE and the automation to PoC stage for at least two processes.

By the end of December 2018:

  1. Procurement of 3rd party supplier resources
  2. Define specific areas of focus within the councils where we conduct higher volumes of lower complexity processes which require little or no cognitive input.
  3. Conduct in-depth analysis of the characteristics of those processes and select the most appropriate processes to run within a defined period (these will be prioritised and at least two will be tackled within the MHCLG delivery period).

Starting January 2019:

  1. Commission SaaS platform
  2. Run a defined 90-day automation pilot on the selected processes.

April 2019:

  1. Review the outcome against pre-defined deliverables.

Beyond April 2019:

  1. If successful, roll out across other processes and directorates extending to other authorities.
  2. Share learning.

We will contract with a specialist external organisation focussing on Intelligent Automation within the Public Sector. We are already in detailed negotiations with the supplier.

This initial external engagement will allow us to deliver the Pilot phase, however, we will then focus on a transfer of skills and knowledge to collaborators, so we are able to build and develop an in-house capability moving forwards.

In-house capability will enable us to build a Centre of Excellence or “Process Automation Team” which will have the ability to deliver tangible results for the collaborators as well as the potential for other external 3rd party stakeholders.

We will work in 2-week sprints ensuring the timely delivery of this project phase. We will have SMART objectives for each of the project sprints that align to the project success criteria to measure if the objectives have been met. We plan to develop the assets throughout the project phase lifecycle to ensure that we are ready to publish by April 2019.

We believe that we can deliver a genuine step-change of efficiency and productivity in how we deliver council services both internally and externally. “Time Matters” in our organisation and every hour saved processing back office services can be used to provide front line services to customers – that’s more time with the most vulnerable people in our society.

We are working towards the goal of enhancing the citizen outcome by:

1)    Reducing the time to service citizen requests.

2)    Ensure we complete the citizen’s request right first time (a higher percentage of the time).

3)    Remove service islands from with the organisation – working towards a single view of the citizen by removing the reliance on individuals to update disparate line of business systems.

4)    Drive down the internal cost of delivering services by being able to support a higher rate of on-line service requests as well as completing higher numbers of requests in a shorter period.

In connection with Question 4; all of these benefits can be replicated and shared to any internal or external third-party organisations who wish to leverage this capability.

The whole Public Sector faces similar challenges– rising demand for services and limited resource to deal with it.  We believe RPA can free up resource to help with demand in the short to medium term whilst at the same time allowing the thinking to happen that puts in place sustainable end to end processes and services.

Suffolk County Council has conducted nearly 6 months of discovery and due diligence to establish the most appropriate course of action.  This has included (but not been limited to):

·         Market appraisals of potential providers with suitable capabilities and support.

·         Initial scoping from internal stakeholders and directorates.

·         Initial due-diligence on process suitability.

·         High-level review of process characteristics.

·         Generation of initial business case to support Suffolk investment & resource.

This capability will not only empower our staff in the eastern region to focus on the execution of high-value work but will allow them to focus on the role they are skilled or trained for.

The solution that we have chosen has a dynamic and intelligent allocation of resources from across the organisation, and directly addresses the requirement to accomplish higher efficiency of nearly eight times more work per virtual worker compared to a human counterpart. In some instances, 95%+ of the process can be automated meaning that the commissioned platform (5 automation workers) has the potential to save £1m p/a if fully utilised. This equates to around 23 senior social work practitioners or providing foster placements for 25 additional children.

Currently, an RPA capability does not currently exist within the councils. We require external support to create, develop and nurture this vital competence. We aim to make the service available to a wider group of internal and external parties from across the County.

Councils run similar services and systems whilst facing similar challenges (increasing demand, reducing resources). RPA can assist in the short to medium term to free up resources, that not only enables them to deliver services more efficiently and effectively, but also frees up time to allow them to concentrate on more strategic digital transformation. 

Whilst we share common infrastructure with some of our collaborators, we have chosen a solution that is a cloud-based Service, which means that we can make the service onwardly available to any other organisation who wishes to leverage the benefits of our intelligent automation CoE.  

  • We will share and include the following:
  • Research around process suitability.
  • Learning from softer aspects such as cultural adoption, buy-in and development of the capability.
  • Automated processes to drive the most efficient use of public funds.
  • Individual component items within automations to drive the most efficient use of public funds.

We need some help to get the programme off the ground.  We are asking MHCLG to help us fund the initial purchase. SCC will then fund the professional services, ongoing support and supporting resources.  The supplier is also providing some professional services time to show their commitment to the project’s success.

By April 2019 we will produce the following outputs:

  • Business case: we will gather the information from partner councils and supplier organisations to be able to make a like-for-like comparison of the old and new offering and prove a value-for-money case. We already have a business case based upon 5 initial processes which only will use about 20% of the initial capacity.
  • A business adoption report: we will publish all outputs around research around how the business has been able to adopt this technology – it is important that subject matter experts can access and use this technology
  • An iterated design pattern and prototype that shows how we adopted the technology and setup for our initial collaborator.
  • A conclusion proposing next steps, which would probably be to expand CoE into other collaboration partners and move processes from back-office “corporate services” into back-office adult or children services.

Our users will initially be colleagues from Suffolk County Council and one collaborator, however, our aspiration is this extends outside of these as rapidly as possible. This should accommodate external organisations such as other locally based local government, health, police, arms-length bodies, charities etc, subject to necessary security and data protection.

We have engaged with numerous stakeholders across various business units / directorates in order to gauge interest, applicability, resource requirements and budgetary restraints. We have then run internal workshops to ascertain the above as well as conducting “process hacks” with external supplier(s).

The objectives of all this activity is to better inform our approach as well as validating the applicability of process automation / Intelligent Automation in any given area.

We would like to be able to benefit from:

     Access to GDS user research labs (to help us bring down the project cost for user research sessions)

     Crash course of basic Agile training for the whole team

     An advanced course of user research and service design for 2 business analysts

     Ability to send comms via MHCLG channels (like newsletter, twitter, etc) to help us ‘work out loud’

     Help with sharing the outputs with the local gov sector

     Help with engaging with other councils that may want to feed into our project.

     Connection with others undertaking RPA so we can learn from their experiences.

We have not been granted funding for the Alpha phase of this project. Discovery was funded by Suffolk County Council’s budget.  We have created a business case for five ‘pilot’ back office processes that shows a good return on investment on four years just from those processes (which only equates to about 20% of the initial platforms capacity – so lots of growth opportunity), however the solution requires quite an amount of upfront commitment and funding provided from LDF would enable a much quicker implementation alongside the work needed to understand how to scale the solution across a region.