Getting started with Robotic Process Automation

Suzanne Sherriff, Senior Project Manager, shared how ENGIE transformed customer service at North Tyneside Council with the help of robotic process automation (RPA) at a recent #channelshiftcamp in Glasgow. The event is part of a series of unconference events for senior management in local government to share ideas and best practice on channel shift and digital transformation.

Channel shift is the process by which organisations seek to encourage customers to access or interact with services via channels other than those they normally choose. Implemented well it can lower costs, build reputation, empower citizens and improve the overall service proposition.

North Tyneside Council won the Institute of Customer Service UK Customer Satisfaction Awards 2016 for best use of technology. The implementation of RPA by ENGIE enabled the existing workforce to transition from routine processing duties to added-value and customer-facing activities; meeting customers’ expectations for convenient, on demand services and providing more fulfilling jobs for staff.

Here Suzanne shares her best practice tips for successfully adopting RPA based on her experience in local government and across ENGIE in the UK.

Create an automation roadmap

Steer clear of anecdotal headcount reduction targets as a measure of success, think impact and at what cost. Local authorities differ in size, technical solutions and customer needs. Thus, transactional volumes differ, as does process variability and complexity.

RPA likes high transactional volumes, standardisation, and low complexity tasks. Consider your proof of concept and define your pipeline; if your data is not digital your project will stall and if there are errors in your data, you will need a validation stage (human or system).

Begin with an assessment of your process landscape to identify the opportunities, collect process metrics and consider alternative solutions. Remember, RPA may not be the best solution! For some processes, it may be another off the shelf product is cheaper or cognitive capabilities are required to drive real savings. ENGIE initially found RPA was only suitable for 20% of the processes evaluated.

Work with an experienced partner to help you quickly assess and create the business case and choose a supplier whose commercial model best aligns with your pipeline; the resultant business case will help manage stakeholder expectations explaining both benefits and limitations.

Don’t underestimate staff messaging

Rather than being perceived as a threat, RPA should be thought of as a tool that enables your workforce to deliver high quality public services; removing mundane, repetitive tasks and workload spikes caused by high fluctuating levels of demand. It provides a digital workforce which works alongside your human workforce. In ENGIE’s experience, teams did shrink and this was achieved through natural wastage and job reassignment to higher-value roles including problem-solving functions.

Getting staff messaging right is an essential ingredient to success. The target operating model, digital strategy and how the technology will be prioritised and deployed must be communicated clearly. The operations and RPA team must be in constant communication. Challenges of change, fear of job losses will bring resistance; therefore carefully consider focusing the messaging on more than simply reducing labour costs. RPA should be perceived as one tool in your overall digital strategy and resultant channel shift. Any breakdown in communication will make it difficult to share insights and knowledge, and realise the full benefits of RPA.

Build and retain the right team

Invest in a significantly sized team or work with a partner, if the return on investment permits. The team requires a balance of skills, experience and leadership. There is a huge amount of digital talent within local government from IT, communications to subject matter experts, all of whom have transferable knowledge and skills. Consider advertising internally for people who have the aptitude and, most importantly, enthusiasm to identify automation projects, build automation processes or capture requirements.  This will send the message that your organisation values loyalty and performance. It can also act as a motivator and foster greater employee retention for those looking for security.

A retention strategy is critical; once accredited, your staff will be contacted and offered an array of opportunities. Consider developing career pathways linked to competitive salaries from the outset, implement learning contracts and talk to your staff regularly.

Develop an operational framework and governance

Using software to automatically update critical data in financial or social care systems is disruptive; it impacts people’s status, belief, control and resources. It is important to identify the political blockages and determine how to navigate through or around them. Form a RPA Governance Board at an early stage to provide transparency. Appoint effective sponsors who can drive the automation projects from the service’s perspective. Consider the operational framework; a waterfall approach will help ensure the process is well defined including the exceptions and support governance. Whereas within the build stage the products are technical and allocated to the developers in a number of sprints, consider using tools like Trello to help keep customers informed and demonstrate progress regularly.

Hopefully, these tips will help your organisation to get started with RPA in the right way and realise its full potential to transform your service to customers. The full presentations from #channelshiftcamp are available here

If you would like more information on RPA, please contact Martin Ruane, Programme Director on 07772 532101 or at martin.ruane@engie.com.

If you are attending the LGA Conference and Exhibition in July, Martin will be sharing more insight on how RPA can provide low cost, transformation change for local government. Find out more here.