2020 was a year of upheaval, with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing public services to radically rethink the way they interacted with citizens. However, amid the uncertainty, early pockets of success paved the way for automation arriving in a big way. Thanks to the burgeoning number of proof-points, in 2021 the newly minted Minister for the Digital Economy and Communications took the bold decision to begin a comprehensive cross-sector automation journey.
The first step was the creation of a dedicated “Automation Hub”. It became the first port of call for advice on IA and provided a strong strategic and governance framework so teams could access technologies such as robotic process automation (RPA), machine learning, chatbots, process mining, data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI). The hub provided support and maintenance of automation processes and allowed for smooth cross-Ministry scaling through sharing of approaches, methodologies and best practices.
The Service Delivery Team was first in the door. In charge of analysing thousands of transactions and processes for various demographic groups, each having their own service delivery requirements. The team was burdened with disparate information that was often stale, fragmented and inconsistent. “For each service we provided to those groups,” says Corbin, head of the Service Delivery Team, “we would draw transactional data – in essence, each time a citizen interacted with the public service – from multiple systems. We’d then have any number of our customer service staff gathering data from various screens and information data points specific to each report.”
“A typical transaction report involved our staff heroically piecing a myriad of data points together and then shaping them all into the required formats. Not only was it an arduous manual process but it was rife with error and inefficiency and lacking real-time relevance. It was also often genuinely frustrating for the team members.”
The implementation of a document intelligence solution involving Optical Character Recognition (OCR) and AI alleviated the need for arduous manual reviews and document categorisation, resulting in higher levels of processing accuracy and time savings of more than 80 per cent.
Robotic processing automation was deployed to not only source the integrated data the instant the transaction, which could be as simple as applying for ACC, took place, it then categorised and analysed the citizen’s data and automatically created cross-Ministry insights that would have been almost impossible to find manually.
“As we began rolling out the new technology, we kept talking about doing more with less, but many people assumed that meant more work with fewer staff, which wasn’t the case,” says Corbin, head of the Service Delivery team. “What’s been interesting to see is the growing realisation that automation enables us to take away the often frustrating, repetitive stuff people assumed they’d always just have to do. We’re now seeing people connecting with citizens in a far more helpful and satisfying way than they ever had the time for previously.”