Headlines: February 7th, 2017

Half a million jobs could be cut in the public sector with a full scale automation programme argues the Reform think tank in a new report.

The report calls for a thorough overhaul across the public sector to explore where artificial intelligence, chatbots and drones could be used to reduce demands for people.

The report finds that the current workforce is a legacy of past approaches. It is built around siloed attitudes of yesterday’s governments and fails to embrace technology and new ways of working to meet users’ needs in the most effective ways. A traditionalist mentality fails to cultivate a culture of change: mistakes are covered up, risk-aversion is rife and leaders have not built the workforce around the needs of users. That there is one receptionist for every GP should be alarming in a world in which online banking is the norm.

A new approach is needed. Public services should deliver outcomes that matter to users, and meet expectations of interacting via technology. This approach would see services designed around users and render at least 248,860 administrative roles redundant. The accuracy of decision making can be further improved by using artificial intelligence to make healthcare decisions and by understanding why mistakes that, for example, cause 10 per cent of hospital patients to suffer from medical error, are made. Securing the right people to do this is essential. New recruitment practices, such as increasing apprenticeships and using ‘gig’-economy platforms to better organise workers can inject innovation into service delivery. In short, this is a framework to make twenty-first century services fit for twenty-first century citizens.

The report recommends that administrative roles should be automated where appropriate, including in the Civil Service to make Whitehall “diamond-shaped”. Technology should be employed to improve the efficiency and quality of front-line and strategic roles.
It also recommends that hierarchies should be disrupted through fewer management layers and self-management models.

Neil Kinson, chief of staff, Redwood Software commenting on the report said: ‘The implementation of robotics across the public sector will ensure that efficiencies will be gained, simply by “taking the robot out the human”. That is, freeing staff up from repetitive manual tasks to allow them to focus their efforts on more value-add, strategic activities. However, as long as we remain fixated on the idea that robots replace humans, or narrowly define the sets of tasks to which we can apply robotics, the true potential of robotic process automation will be overlooked. Robotics brings the opportunity to completely re-imagine how the entire process is executed – e.g. cash to billing, record to report, procure to pay – as well as the interdependencies between these processes.
It’s time for a shift in language on how the ‘robotics revolution’ is defined and explained’.