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UK public sector turning to automation technology

We all benefit from technology. Even before you leave for work in the morning, you might have used the alarm clock on your smartphone or a coffee maker to brew a freshly ground espresso. The point is this: technology has the power to automate our lives for the better.

Savings to be made in the public sector

The workplace is somewhere all of us would like an extra pair of hands. But, unfortunately, budgets can get in the way of hiring new staff. One solution that some public sector organisations are currently exploring is automation technology.

Reading a recent iGov survey I found that 21% of UK public sector workers are expecting robotics process automation (RPA) initiatives to be trialled in their departments in the coming year. Like myself, you might be wondering what that means.

RPA is an application that allows employees to use software to automate activities like processing transactions and manipulating data. Basically, RPA is ideal for high-volume data work that can be automated to save money and boost capabilities (think data entry). These sound like benefits that any local authority would want, but how realistic is the prospect of automation technology for councils?

Rising workloads, fewer staff

In terms of scope, iGov looked far and wide to survey 134 decision-makers from 118 public sector organisations. From those individuals, 73% said their workloads had increased in the past year, while 68% were trying to cope with fewer staff members after job cuts.

The survey also revealed that 53% were working in organisations currently exploring automation technology, with 21% saying their departments were planning trials. Then comes the justification that 57% said more than 10% of their staff were mostly focused on repetitive tasks.

Based on the numbers, it seems that this technology has the potential to automate repetitive duties and free up staff members to work on more difficult tasks. Just look to Sefton Council, which was highlighted by iGov’s research partner Arvato UK.

Quite simply, the outsourcing specialist helped Sefton Council by automating the local authority’s council tax payments. After implementing the system, Sefton Council reduced the input times of direct debits by 80%, with 100% accuracy.

Security concerns to address

Sefton’s real-world example is helpful for convincing us all that having more technology in the public sector is for the best. Here at Dukes, a private limited company, we're firm supporters of implementing technological trends when they can change things for the better. But it doesn’t mean we should fast-track such initiatives.

In my opinion, security would be the core concern, as council tax payments call for residents to share sensitive information with their local authority. First and foremost, authorities would need to guarantee that automation technology wouldn’t expose their residents to risk.

Just last year, Zurich Municipal made a freedom of information request that revealed in 2015 there were 625 complaints of UK councils breaching the Data Protection Act. Zurich said many local authorities are managing sensitive information with “squeezed budgets and limited resources.”

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