Posted on: 10/06/2022

Soaring demand for services across a growing and ageing population, combined with worsening skills shortages and shrinking budgets, is intensifying the pressure on local government organisations.

In response, councils recognise that they need to start doing things differently. They need to re-think service delivery models and assess how they can better manage their limited resources by utilising new digital technologies.

With this in mind, increasing numbers of councils are now implementing intelligent automation as a way to accelerate their digital transformation programmes and improve citizen outcomes.

This is the focus of Executive TV’s latest programme: “Digital Transformation – Digital Innovations”, which welcomes three experts in local government automation, who have experienced the game-changing benefits that automation can deliver to councils, their staff and, most importantly, to citizens:

– Chris Bally, Deputy Chief Executive at Suffolk County Council, reveals how Suffolk has deployed automation across a wide range of services and back-office functions to drive efficiencies and productivity and to support the council’s wider digital transformation agenda

– Eric Tyree, SVP AI and Innovation at Blue Prism, explores the future potential of intelligent automation, where RPA technology is integrated with AI and Machine Learning, to transform service delivery in local government

Removing the barriers and fear around digital transformation

Digital transformation has become the holy grail for public sector agencies across the UK, a way to drive efficiencies and productivity and meet rapidly evolving citizen needs. But the perception of digital transformation within large parts of the public sector continues to be that it is costly, complex and daunting.

However, with intelligent automation, where council officers operate alongside digital workers, the narrative around digital transformation changes completely for local government agencies.

Blue Prism talk about a digital worker as a way to describe a software robot who can deliver a human capacity to carry out tasks and work a business day.

With intelligent automation, these digital workers act as the integration layer, transferring data between previously siloed systems, to enable councils to provide more seamless and joined up services. And beyond this, it enables councils to share data externally with other related public sector bodies, such as NHS, police and charities.

Freeing up council officers to focus on improving citizen outcomes

The programme continually highlights how one of the key benefits of intelligent automation within local government is the way in which it removes the need for staff to spend large amounts of time carrying out mundane and repetitive administrative tasks.

Digital workers can be deployed to carry out back-office tasks and processes which they can do more quickly and with greater accuracy. And this allows people to apply the skills that technology can’t deliver – such as critical thinking and empathy.

Intelligent automation isn’t about technology replacing workers, it’s about technology supporting people and enabling them to focus on the work they find most enjoyable and fulfilling – namely, helping citizens and protecting the most vulnerable people in their communities.

A great example of this is provided by Chris Bally, who describes how digital workers have been deployed for police welfare referrals through children’s and adult services within Suffolk County Council. Previously, it would take a council officer 30 minutes to input all of the necessary data to set up each new case, whereas now a digital worker does it within seconds. The council typically processes 800 – 1200 new cases a month so this is saving a lot of time. It means officers have more time to spend on the phone with citizens and it also means that cases are being looked at far more quickly.

Intelligent automation also enables councils to be faster and more nimble in responding to citizen needs. Chris talks about how Suffolk used digital workers to navigate through the pandemic, supporting workers when they were required to work remotely during lockdown and enabling the council to spin up new services such as a booking system for visits to household waste and recycling centres. 

Re-imagining service delivery in local government

As new, bleeding-edge AI-based technologies are integrated with RPA in the coming years, councils will become increasingly sophisticated in their use of automation.

Eric Tyree describes how councils will progress from the first phase of automation, where they focus on driving rapid ROI through the automation of specific tasks – ‘the low hanging fruit’ – to the second phase of ‘People Shift’. This is where councils start to look at how they can automate entire processes rather than tasks within a process, and by doing so, how they can re-deploy staff into other areas.

Eventually councils will move onto the final phase, ‘Ops over IT’, where councils will pursue ‘automation-first transformation’, where they will use automation as a way to drive modernisation and digitisation while maintaining their legacy infrastructure. In this ‘no code’ environment, council departments will deploy digital workers without the need for any IT