How automation can help the public sector do more with less

Charlie Bruin says public services must not lose sight of the role that automation can play in achieving efficiency savings.

Last November’s spending review has put departmental finances under the microscope once again. Those Government departments that do not have their budgets protected are required to reduce spending by around 20% over the next four years, on top of the £17bn of savings asked for during the July budget. According to George Osborne, in order to tackle this challenge the public sector must adopt a simple mantra: it must do more with less.

No pain, no gain

The good news is there is still room for improvement when it comes to delivering more efficient services. Some departments have already invested in proven technology which can be used to drive savings without the need to squeeze or cut existing services. It is about the re-use of efficient processes and utilising smart data to reduce the amount of work departments need to do to achieve the same or better outcomes.

This approach certainly isn’t without its challenges and requires a strong political will. But using data to target services better, and then re-applying efficient practices that have been tried and tested, could help to curb spending without comprising the provision or quality of public sector services. This in itself is great news for cash-strapped departments. Furthermore, the effective reuse of existing processes and technology could even deliver an “innovation dividend”; whereby departments receive further returns from investments in innovations that have already been made, but could be applied more widely.

A new way of thinking

There are a number of common technology approaches that are being used by Government departments to create savings, such as driving customers to use web-based communications and eliminating errors in paper or online forms. However, more innovative examples are available where departments are achieving significant savings by harnessing the power of data-driven technology and automation.

One example of more effective use of technology comes in improving statutorily burdensome processes involving multiple departments. For example, reconciliations technology, which provides the ability to reconcile large volumes of data sets, has been carefully adapted to automate receipts, reconciliations and payments for public services to make government an easier place to do business.

Fixed penalty fines is one area where such innovation is proving to be of huge benefit. Each fine must pass from the local police force to HM Courts and Tribunals Service for payment; essentially, crossing a number of different departments and systems, maintained by different bodies. The reconciliations technology plays its part by making this process, which can’t be changed, much more efficient so it works for the customer. Equally, it reduces the cost and the administrative burden, not to mention the number of opportunities for that process to go wrong.

This technology-led approach has already been used by the Ministry of Justice, which has processed more than £1bn worth of automated receipts in 3m. In fact, 98.9% of these cases have been processed accurately first time, dramatically reducing the resources required to operate such systems. The proof of these benefits is in the pudding, with the department saving up to 30% since deploying the technology. Best of all, at least 345m transactions across government are ripe for similar automation, so there is scope for huge savings across the board.

Potential for progress

Automation initiatives such as this demonstrate how the public sector can tackle its savings targets through reduced bureaucracy and workload, as well as freeing up resources to focus on better service delivery and front-line services. Already it is resulting in impressive levels of savings. Ultimately, such innovations could lead to significant savings if they were implemented across the board.

We are frequently reminded by the government that we all need to make savings to ensure that our grandchildren are not left to pick up the bill. At a time when the public sector is being told to think differently to prevent this from happening, perhaps by reusing innovative efficiency solutions that are already working, the answers already exist within the system.

Charlie Bruin, is chief executive of supplier Liberata UK

Colin Marrs

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