Conwy Council shares lessons from RPA launch
Conwy County Borough Council is still in the early stages of its implementation of robotic process automation, but its lead engineering solutions architect, Will Valintine, says he has already learned a number of valuable lessons to underpin his transformation ambitions.
The council decided to use RPA at a time of significant changes and signed up to use the NDL SX platform in March just before the Covid-19 lockdown began. However, good progress has been made in meeting the technology goals.
“We looked at our general challenge in running end-to-end digital processes and found that we had some serious gaps in key systems that we couldn’t interface with,” says Valintine.
“To cut a long story short, instead of investing money in different APIs with vendors of different systems, we decided to invest in an RPA platform once, improve our capabilities, and then reuse the investment in the Authority.”
Other drivers were the desire to remove third-party portals if possible in order to improve the accessibility of the website and to support data and document migrations from old to new systems.
Attraction to NDL
The team was attracted to NDL due to its strong focus on the public sector and procured the SX platform via G-Cloud on the basis of a business case, which included it in a package of measures and set service priorities for the next three years.
He also managed to complete the training a week before the lockdown was announced and get the company’s remote support as soon as it was rolled out – a move that Valintine said worked well.
However, when the council signed the deal, an unexpected but serious problem emerged. It had to migrate its social care data from a proprietary system to that Welsh Community Care Information System (WCCIS), an electronic record made available to the NHS. But the national effort was troubled and late in the day it became clear that there were a large number of documents that the new system could not accommodate.
None of the system providers offered a solution with which the council was satisfied. Therefore, he had to develop a robotic process to extract all the documents from the old system, store them in his electronic document management system, and then provide a link to the WCCIS and the data could be cross-referenced.
The council encountered challenges in designing the process, in particular that the old system had difficulty handling the volume and required a new logoff and logon to export each customer case load. This made it slower than automation expected, but also improved reliability – test batches of up to 30,000 documents were migrated without errors – and the team is well on its way to migrating documents from 130,000 clients, which is approximately 19.5 million documents corresponds to. until March 2021.
It is also expected to save £ 40,000 per year that would have been spent keeping the client system running to access historical records.
The second initiative concerns school admissions and transfers. According to Valintine, this has been a headache for the education team for some time as applications are submitted digitally but are sent as email and need to be entered into the education management system – an everyday but time-consuming process for employees.
In response, the e-forms have been updated to ensure a more consistent presentation of the information – an important step towards automation – and the incoming data is stored in an SQL database from which the NDL SX platform monitors and monitors the training updated management system.
There are plans for a number of other initiatives within the agency, in particular the council is examining the potential of RPA to enable the integration of a mobile app into the WCCIS system for social workers.
Questions, trust and tips
Valintine says that while Conwy is still in the early stages of using the platform, it has already learned some valuable lessons. On the one hand, it is important to fully understand the process to be automated. The key steps in doing this are spending time with the people who handled the data entry, asking questions about how and why they took certain steps, and gaining their trust in learning the tips and tricks they went through have learned the job.
“You can use what human ingenuity has already applied to your own benefit,” he says.
Likewise, developers, whether in-house or by the platform provider, should be given time to concentrate. Building a robust and repeatable process takes time, especially when dealing with difficult integrations with different systems, and shouldn’t be rushed.
This includes the need to understand and clean up incoming data to ensure it has the consistency that enables successful automation to develop.
Valintine is also enthusiastic about the support from NDL, as Conwy got the platform under control and developed its automations.
“The NDL support days were fantastic and provided your own employees with an accelerated path. Not only do you teach them technical skills, scripts, and things to work on, but working with the NDL deployment team also brings them into the ethos of how to approach problems from an RPA perspective.
“But you have to give your own people time to focus on the task at hand. If it’s a complex job, it takes a lot of testing, so you have to build, test, review, test, review. “
Image from iStock, Olivier Le Moal