Automate or fail: the stark choice for Scotland’s public sector
Unless Scotland’s public sector fully embraces intelligent automation (IA), it won’t meet the challenges ahead. Why? Because IA is one of the most critical and genuinely transformative technologies available in a generation. It can create a new, virtual workforce to alleviate the colossal pressure on employees. It’s not simply ‘another piece of technology.’ It’s a strategic necessity.
Let’s consider the situation. Scotland’s population is growing older. There are a third more people aged 65 and over than in 2000i. Meanwhile, healthy life expectancy is decreasingii.
This means greater pressure on public servicesiii with more people seeking support from the NHS and other agencies. Citizens are also more demanding, expecting the same experience from front-line workers as they get from Amazoniv.
Yet the number of employees in the sector is decreasing, with one in eight jobs facing the axev. Burn-out, retirement and funding cuts are conspiring to shrink the workforce at the very moment it needs to grow.
In short, there’s skyrocketing demand for skills, staff and services, but supply is dropping off a cliff.
In this context, IA will be one the most pivotal tools available for change since the rise of the Internet. It mixes robotic process automation (RPA) with artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), large language modelling (LLM), and other capabilities such as document understanding, to create virtual employees that can think, learn, improve and execute work 24×7.
To paint a picture of how it works, imagine someone sitting at their computer in a local authority, reading emails from service users. Each message holds information that must be added to a database. It’s time consuming, yet vital.
Now imagine the same workflow, but there’s no one in front of the computer. It’s happening virtually, with IA acting like a human, but from within the machine. Furthermore, unlike a human, IA can work longer, faster and without mistakes.
Meanwhile, the once desk-bound employee can perform higher value tasks, such as being with customers or planning how to meet demand.
Importantly, this isn’t a pipedream. It’s a reality. For example, the DVLA automated the rapid processing of over 48,000 urgent test requests, slashing time taken to days instead of months. Meanwhile, NHS trusts are using IA for complex clinical and administrative tasks.
Scotland has been a testbed for the technology with the Government creating an IA unit, reaping significant rewards. In seven years, 270,000 transactions have been automated, 66 automations delivered, and eight processes are in development, saving £13 million. But more action’s needed.
Success is based on two things. Firstly, the willingness for all Scottish public sector leaders to see the huge value IA offers. Secondly, equipping employees with the skills to embrace it.
Both must be a priority, because there’s a stark choice for Scotland’s public services: automate or fail. And failure isn’t an option.