Civil Service to use more robotic process automation

Chief executive highlights potential for RPA in reiterating importance of digital transformation and data to future of central government operations

Central government is on course to make increasing use of robotic process automation (RPA), the chief executive of the Civil Service has said.

John ManzoniSir John Manzoni made the prediction in a speech on Civil Service transformation at the London School of Economics, along with a reiteration of several elements of the Government’s digital strategy for Whitehall.

“We must make full use of technology and data to modernise the design and delivery of services, and to inform more robust policies that meet people’s real needs,” he said.

Manzoni highlighted the potential of RPA, saying that its speed and accuracy of response “could transform the experience of citizens registering for services or applying for grants or benefits”, and that it could give civil servants time to work on the more rewarding elements of their jobs.

He pointed to HM Revenue & Customs’ work in automating its system for registering new employers, and the creation of centre of excellence to accelerate the take-up of RPA across government.

“There’s ground to make up on other clerically intensive industries,” he said. “But we can learn from their experience and from local government, and we will accelerate our efforts.”

Data drive

He also emphasised the importance of making better use of data to improve services, pointing to the recent creation of the Geospatial Commission to exploit geographic and location data, and the setting up of the Data Science Campus in Newport, saying it will eventually produce up to 500 qualified data analysts for government.

“With data analysis and its supporting technologies increasingly a factor in new digital services, analysis is gradually moving from being a preserve of policy to powering decisions made in the moment by civil servants on the frontline,” he said. “The upshot of this is not only greater efficiency, but a more personalised experience for citizens.”

Manzoni pointed to efforts by organisations such as the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency and the Passport Office to move more of their services onto digital channels, and said he expects that by 2020 nearly 100 government services will be available digitally.

He also claimed significant progress in bringing more IT expertise in-house, reducing the reliance on suppliers, and disentangling departments from expensive long term contracts. He highlighted HMRC’s exit from the Aspire IT contract, saying it is now working with a more diverse range of suppliers and is on target to save about £200 million a year by 2021.

Image from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0