In the summer of 2014, a ground-breaking thing happened.
The UK’s first robotic process benefit assessor starting processing claims in North Tyneside Council. Ground-breaking, because benefits is widely seen as the most complex aspect of local government administration. If you can leverage robotic process automation here, then you can use it to do any process.
Fast forward to 2016 and now both council tax and benefit processes are being automated across multiple councils. IEG4 had become the first organisation to enable councils to do this.
Scaremongering from Legacy Suppliers?
It was about this time that scaremongering, and messages designed to stifle innovation, started to emanate from legacy software suppliers.
This had a real and genuine effect on this innovative approach. So, it got us thinking.
How could we automate things to the same level as robotics but solely using the APIs (APIs are bits that allow us to read/write data directly from/to a back office). If we used APIs what would be needed?, What advantages and disadvantages would be exposed?
A new beginning
In the summer of 2018, while reviewing the robotic process in place for example, a Change of Address or Single Person Discount, we could see that there could be upward of 15 distinct stages of activity. In order to achieve >15 separate back-office updates, with each having a relationship with one another, would be a significant technical challenge. Both, in terms of understanding the APIs inside out and building a workflow to orchestrate and manage the many nuances drawn from different circumstances - in a user friendly way.
Luckily, at IEG4 we love to do tricky stuff and also beneficial was that we already had a digital workflow and EDMS system in OpenProcess to do the orchestration.
So it was in August 2019, when reviewing the lovely API schematics, we realised that we could achieve the levels of automation that robotics did. In fact, we could also do two things we were unable to do before. We could use back-office data retrieved in real time to:
- remove the chance of exceptions
- improve the customer experience by reducing page/question counts and
- prevent updates happening where a council would not want them to.
An example or two will help to explain these. By checking a person’s details in real-time in Northgate, we could:
- remove the need to search for / type an address
- remove the need to search for / type the name of a person moving out
- check the current recovery status to prevent a Direct Debit being set up if the account was with the bailiff or where there had been multiple ‘bounced’ direct debits for that financial year
- ask additional questions where they were in receipt of council tax support to enable automation of changes to this too
By knowing the party references, property references and recovery status off the bat, we could make the forms shorter and reduce, if not remove, the chances of exceptions i.e. sub 100% automation.
Incredibly, given the aforementioned complexity, these forms were tested and put into live operations by the City of Wolverhampton Council in November 2018. Just months after the initial research.
We call it, Revenues Process Orchestration, and it is achieving > 90% automation. Moreover, as the service has been live since November, we’ve been iteratively eating away at the scenarios where total automation was not occurring.
Two examples of late, which are fairly awesome.
Empty discounts on moves
Person moves from one address to another. They move their furniture out on a different date from when they moved out. They move into their new address on a different date as a sole adult. Now all relevant periods of empty/empty unfurnished/single person discounts are applied automatically on both accounts.
Intelligent void prevention
If a tenant says they’ve moved out and also do not know who their landlord, etc. is, instead of creating a void account, we can now search the responsible parties associated with the property. Finding that which is relevant to the current time and automatically setting them as liable with an appropriate discount. This is automating updates the customer did not even tell you about in the form!
IEG4’s genesis was in the delivery of smart Revenues and Benefits digital services. Revenues Process Orchestration is the latest stepping stone in the evolution of digital transformation.