More than half of public bodies considering automating repetitive processes, study says

Written by Rebecca Hill on 8 September 2016 in News

A survey has found that 53% of public sector senior managers say their organisation have considered automation technology in the past year.

Automating processes like setting up direct debits for council tax can cut costs - Photo credit: PA

The study, carried out by iGov Survey for the business outsourcing company Arvato, asked 134 senior staff in 118 public sector organisations and departments about the use of robotic process automation.

It found that 21% of government employees are expecting to see robotic process automation – which uses software to carry out routine, standardised tasks – trialled in their departments over the next 12 months.

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According to the study, this is because of increasing financial pressure, growing pressure to create citizen-facing services and reductions in staff numbers. Some 86% said that there had been a reduction in available resources due to staff cuts in the past year, while 73% said their work volumes had risen.

The move to automation is likely to reduce the amount of time spend on repetitive tasks – 57% said that more than a tenth of their department’s staff spend most of their time doing such jobs.

Indeed, of the respondents that said their organisation had already begun to use automation technology, 84% cited this as a reason for the move. Meanwhile, 89% said that it would also free up staff to focus on critical services and 67% said it would improve citizen services.

Debra Maxwell, the chief exeucutive of Arvato, reiterated this, saying in a statement that the technologies would help public sector employees “focus on what’s really important, and redirect resource away from mundane, repetitive tasks”.

For instance, councils could use the technologies to help citizens set up direct debits for council tax. Maxwell said that her company had provided Sefton Council with such a service, which reduced input times for council tax direct debit payments by 80% and cut the cost per transaction from £1 to 20p.

However, the study also found that some people were not aware of the technology, while others said that the mix of legacy and new IT systems made it hard to find the right solution to tackle their problems.

In addition, an accompanying report from Arvato stressed the need to engage with employees from the start, saying that it must “embrace the human side of the process”.

Mark Barry, the head of revenues at Arvato, said: “Employees need to understand what the project is and how it will affect them.”

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