11 Feb 2020

Augmenting your workforce with digital workers

Guest Blog by Natalie Coaten, Client Executive for Home Office & Police at IBM as part of our #futurepublicsafety campaign week.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA), a term that has been around since the early 2000s, but what does it actually mean? Should we be fearful? Or should we welcome it with open arms, by giving ‘robots’ repetitive tasks, such as copy-paste and order processing and leave humans with the tasks that require problem solving, creativity, and human interaction? 


Robotic Process Automation automates system-based business processes by training software robots or ‘digital workers’ to complete the activities of users in existing IT systems. RPA presents a unique opportunity to augment a workforce with digital workers in order to remove backlogs, improve accuracy, and empower human workers to focus on delivering value.  

RPA isn’t new. It is already being used across the private sector to eradicate monotonous tasks, freeing workers to focus on higher value work. You would not dream of manufacturing a car without a level of automation on the production line – production costs would be expensive, quality would be variable and speed to completion would be drawn-out. So why can’t this be applied in policing? 

And the answer is, it can. 

Policing is flooded with processes that are carried out hundreds or thousands of times a month. If we could take away the task of re-keying the same information into multiple systems, imagine the time police forces would get back and how they could put that time to better use. In addition, the data within the systems contains a lot of useful intelligence but because this information is not linked, it’s difficult to search and get a complete picture of a person, vehicle, location or anything else that could be useful in the prevention or detection of a crime. 

There are also a multitude of back office processes which would benefit police forces by being automated, not dissimilar to the private sector. Uniform ordering, Sickness Reporting, Leave Request and the general uploading of documents, all could be automated, which would result in time back to humans to do more useful and interesting things. 

And let’s not forget the 20,000 new police officers to be recruited over the next 3 years. We know that vetting these new recruits will be time consuming and create delays. How about we automate part of the process, reduce the manual checking and leave staff to do the decision making? 

Imagine if such processes were fully or partially automated by ‘digital workers’ dedicated to ensuring 100 per cent compliance on behalf of the police officer or police staff member... with of course the significant benefit of being able to operate continuously without rest days or holidays and scheduled to complete tasks at the most appropriate or optimal time of day or night!  

Interest in RPA is unsurprisingly increasing, when the benefits include improved efficiency and boosted productivity. On top of that we are seeing improved morale. Automation of repetitive, tedious tasks allows workers to be more productive and frees them up for higher-value work. Robots aren’t necessarily replacing the workforce, they are augmenting it.  

Discover more on IBM’s automation work in UK Policing at www.ibm.biz/policerpa