As a leading enterprise automation software vendor, UiPath was at the forefront of keeping public services on the road at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

With driving tests suspended, the company played a vital role in designing an automation solution to rapidly review and process more than 48,000 urgent DVSA test requests from critical workers in days instead of months. 

Faced with an admin mountain, and skyrocketing demand, Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust also turned to the firm. As a result, 18 complex clinical and administrative tasks manually inputted via a patchwork of clunky systems were automated, saving £370,000 a year and 56 hours a day in clinical settings. 

Unsurprisingly, the appetite for automation among governments both central and local has grown post pandemic, driven by the desire to realise ever greater efficiency savings and productivity benefits. 

In a devolved setting, Scotland has been one of the notable testbeds for the technology with the Scottish Government establishing an “intelligent automation” unit, which is reaping significant operational benefits through applications of the technology. 

According to recent Scottish Government data, 270,000 transactions have been automated to date, with 66 automations delivered and an additional eight processes in development, unlocking £13 million in savings over seven years. 

In addition, benefits such as efficiency gains, improved customer journeys, enhanced scalability to meet peaks in demand, a reduction in processing time and repurposing of staff hours have also been realised.

Pioneering councils such as Aberdeenshire have also turned to UiPath, to enhance outdated back-office legacy systems with automation. 

And in a public health setting, NHS Lothian has harnessed its capabilities, too. Automating the referral triage process for urgent suspected cancer patients was estimated to reduce the referral to treatment pathway by one to three days in a pilot deployment of the tech.

Philip Sheen, head of public sector UK & Ireland, UiPath, said: “There are many reasons why public sector organisations are beating a path towards automation. We’ve seen a build-up of pressures within the public sector, of huge volumes of work and a declining or burnt-out workforce, particularly in the NHS. Add to that the shortage in digital skills, and problems or challenges can turn into crises.”

He adds: “And then you layer on top of that the rise in expectations from citizens who are used to instantly streaming their favourite movie on Netflix or ordering something on Amazon, and it’s clear the operating models on which many of our public services are founded are no longer applicable.”

Sheen, left, says that while government departments have been keen to embrace intelligent automation (IA), there are still barriers to its adoption. There remains a lack of strategic thinking about how to best leverage IA, and some cultural and leadership problems persist. 

Sheen gives some personal insight into a government agency which recently turned to recruiting more staff to meet a new work demand, rather than a more innovative – and effective – approach through IA. 

It is a view echoed by techUK. The trade body for the IT sector made six recommendations to government in a recent report on furthering IA adoption, but highlighted the “lack of understanding” about the tool among senior leaders, which made it a struggle to get “crucial buy-in”. 

Furthermore, senior leaders tended to think that IA was a technology implementation rather than an operational transformation.

For Sheen, the evidence to the contrary is mounting, with substantial benefits in terms of outcomes – both operationally and societally – on major projects. 

UiPath recently worked with the Department for Work and Pensions on reducing the application timeframe for a short-term loan from six weeks to four days, helping meet the needs of some of the most financially vulnerable people in the country. 

Sheen says: “Whenever someone talks about automation taking the human out of the loop, I just like to quote this back to them.”

Seemingly, that message is starting to get through. With the establishment of the Scottish Government’s Corporate Transformation and Workplace Directorate in 2021, “designing and delivering intelligent automation solutions” has become a major focus of business change. 

With a new procurement framework for IA services being “considered” by the Scottish Government, the journey to automation looks likely to become a smoother one.

Partner Content in association with UiPath