To stay relevant within a changing world, public service organisations, including Government departments, must continue to evolve and change. An important goal of the current framework for Public Service reform - Our Public Service 2020 - which became operational during 2018, is to encourage innovation across the public service and to promote different service delivery options. This notably includes supporting the use of Business Process Automation, as referred to in the Deputy’s question, to help public service organisations to deliver leaner, faster and cheaper back-office functions.
Automation of the rules-based and repetitive processes that are a necessary and unavoidable feature of the work of most public service bodies has the potential also to add significant value to our workforce by freeing up individuals to concentrate on more value-add as well as interesting and engaging work.
In this context, my Department funded a pilot project in 2016 to examine the potential of Business Process Automation in the delivery of public services. Government Departments and Offices were invited to propose suitable processes that would be amenable to such automation. The Revenue Commissioners, the Public Appointments Service, the Property Registration Authority and the National Shared Services Office participated in this pilot under which a total of 14 processes were automated at a total cost of approximately €110,000.
The results of this pilot suggest that the solution can work very well in the right circumstances. However, it takes time to embed the technology, to generate support from the IT function, to train staff and, crucially, to find the right processes to automate.
On foot of this, my Department worked with the Office of Government Procurement during 2018 to publish a procurement framework for Business Process Automation. This framework will allow public service bodies to rapidly deploy automation within their organisations and train their own staff to automate suitable processes. It clearly provides that a key aspect of the service to be offered to public service bodies is staff development and training in Business Process Automation, in order to help establish a centre of excellence within the Civil and Public Services so that we are not reliant on external consultancy in this area.
Employee representative bodies have been kept informed of these developments through the established industrial relations channels and I am aware, in particular, that the Fórsa Union’s Civil Service Division has detailed its position on automation in the Civil and Public Service in general principles submitted to my Department earlier this year. While the impact on staff requirements is a matter to be assessed by individual Departments and bodies on a case-by-case basis, the Revenue for example, foresees no impact on overall staffing levels on foot of its participation in the automation pilot study as the staff involved are reassigned to higher value work elsewhere within the organization.