for a rent change process, from an initial four minutes
saved by the council, through rent change automation
data accuracy, enabling improved data quality in core systems
designed, developed and deployed in under 12 months
data connectivity between legacy systems
Brent Council is one of 32 borough councils in London, UK. It is the second most culturally diverse borough in the UK, and equality and diversity lie at the heart of all its services. The council is committed to delivering services in a way that is efficient, transparent, and accountable to local people.
Robotic Process Automation. Now part of the culture at Brent.
When Brent Council launched its first three-year digital transformation plan in 2017, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) was not included. In its next plan, running until 2023, RPA with UiPath had become a core element. So, what changed?
“Brent is an increasingly digital borough and it’s important we become a digital council,” says Manjula Pindoria, Digital Workstream Lead at Brent Council. “We want to apply digital technologies and initiatives to help our workforce and better serve our citizens. What we do differently in the back office can free time to better focus on residents and provide them with faster, more accurate services.”
The council’s strategy director had seen RPA and believed that the technology had a good deal of potential for the council. The question was where? It was agreed to establish a proof of concept to understand if the council could gain the expected benefits.
After an evaluation of internal processes, the rent change service was identified. Rent changes happen twice a year where tenant’s rents are adjusted. The rent changes had to be uploaded manually onto their systems assessed, by council officers.
We realized in 2018 that RPA could be a powerful tool to automate our business processes. It was clear that UiPath could deliver the powerful features and ease of use we needed.
Manjula Pindoria • Digital Workstream Lead, Brent Council
Manjula explains: “We chose a process that was quite simple but delivered a big benefit for both our staff and residents. The people that had to work through the changes described it as ‘mind numbing’, however it’s essential for the smooth running of the council.”
Within six weeks, the council had automated the process and rolled it out. A single rent change that could take a staff member over four minutes manually, now takes less than forty seconds. The council estimates that this automation alone has saved it over £32,000 in the overtime costs needed to ensure that the council hit its deadlines.
But, the time and cost saving weren’t the real benefit that the proof of concept demonstrated for Brent. Manjula believes there are two other important benefits.
She says: “For Brent, RPA isn’t about staff cuts. It’s about being able to allow staff the time to do their proper jobs. We had highly skilled assessment officers having to spend hours copying and pasting information to make the rent changes. The positive affect of this is that staff can now devote their time to making a difference to people’s lives, which is why we’re here.”
“We also found that automating the rent change service dramatically improved the quality of our data. We eliminated the errors that creep in through manual data entry. The entire process is smoother and more efficient,” Manjula continues…
The ability to improve data quality and management has become an important component of what RPA can deliver for Brent, as the next set of processes automated showed.
Manjula and her team identified debt recovery as an area prime for automation. All councils have significant amounts of debt that is difficult to recover. Previously, debt that was over seven years was not pursued through lack of resource. Brent spent four months automating a series of four interlinking processes, so that a robot automatically triggers debt letters, tracks progress and then prompts follow-up actions based on results. This could mean either sending out another letter or passing the tenant to an officer to arrange a repayment plan.
For Brent, RPA isn’t about staff cuts. It’s about being able to allow staff the time to do their proper jobs. The positive affect of this is that staff can now devote their time to making a difference to people’s lives, which is why we’re here.
The automation has been incredibly successful as it has led to residents re-establishing contact with the council. The officers can provide a much better service and help really vulnerable residents to meet their financial commitments. In the worst case, it allows bad debt to be written off and removed from the books.
This has been so successful that many other parts of Brent Council have asked to deploy RPA for their data cleaning activities, ensuring that it always has up-to-date and accurate information in its core business systems. However, cleaning is only one data management feature of RPA that Brent is now exploiting.
Manjula explains: “Like any council, we have a lot of legacy systems. Making sure that data can flow seamlessly between our legacy systems and our newer digital systems is essential. However, making changes to our core systems can be a long and costly process. Traditional automaton techniques would simply take too long and add to our management overhead. RPA can be quickly programmed to talk with these systems and effectively extract data from one, validate it and put it into another. It’s fast, efficient and cost-effective.”
This is a huge amount of work to perform manually, that frankly no one has the time or wants the pain to do. It’s really easy for the robot as its just checking and changing where appropriate. In the past we’d have to do this every three months, now it can almost be done a real-time activity.
Manjula Pindoria • Digital Workstream Lead, Brent Council
Brent is now beginning to implement a new CRM system and other digital systems as part of its transformation strategy. The council is extending its use of RPA to deliver data between systems rather than look at expensive Application Program Interface (API) connectors.
Brent has now established a Center of Excellence and, using UiPath, has 10 robots in production, servicing 10 automated processes. The council took the decision to train RPA developers and business analysts from its existing employees. The ease of training and use of UiPath solutions meant that new developers could quickly become productive.
When we talk about RPA with other local authorities, we feel proud of how far we’ve come in such a short time. We couldn’t have done it without UiPath. It’s a big success story and we’re happy to share it.
This approach has allowed the council to embed RPA in its culture, as staff realize that they can reduce their repetitive tasks. In fact, at a recent event held by Manjula and her team to promote RPA within the council, they ended up with over 100 recommendations for processes that should be automated.
Manjula states: “We attend industry events and conferences to share our RPA journey. When we talk about RPA with other local authorities, we feel proud of how far we’ve come in such a short time. We couldn’t have done it without UiPath. It’s a big success story and we’re happy to share it.”