The Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) and its automation software supplier have helped Mencap to remove the risks of embarking on an automation project, which ultimately led to the learning disability support charity building a robotic workforce.
The charity’s automation journey is a story of how three organisations in contrasting sectors can gain from tech collaboration.
It all began when Vince Gratrick, IT director at Mencap, met up with a former colleague, now working at the Royal Bank of Canada.
“I told him how Mencap was keen to use robotic process automation [RPA] technology, but that we hadn’t invested in it,” said Gratrick. “He mentioned that the bank was using RPA from Blue Prism and arranged for some of the Mencap staff to meet up with teams at RBC in London.”
RBC showed the Mencap staff what it was using RPA for and offered to take one of its processes and, using a test licence, build a proof of concept that it could demonstrate to the charity’s executive team.
The automated process was in the HR department, a deliberate decision to make it more palatable to the staff who would use it, said Gratrick. “I didn’t want automation to be seen as an IT thing; I wanted it to be seen as a business benefit,” he added.
For the demo, Mencap automated the process of filling a change form, which is used if staff change their title or address. This traditionally took three minutes for a human to do, but in the proof of concept through automation, a robot completes it in one minute.
From the meeting with RBC, it took about five months to put together a demo for Mencap’s executive team. This may seem slow, but RBC staff worked pro bono and had to fit the work in around their day jobs.
The demo was a success and the project then moved to a new phase. “The executives were very pleased to see the demo because it made it real for them and helped them understand what it really means when people talk about robots automating repetitive processes,” said Gratrick.
After being given permission to take the project into production, Blue Prism became involved. “They were keen to understand how it could maximise its impact in the not-for-profit sector,” said Gratrick.
Read more about Blue Prism’s RPA in use
- Local authorities in Sweden are using process automation through software to help social workers make decisions on benefits for claimants.
- Retail group the John Lewis Partnership has automated business processes to help it increase productivity and cut costs.
- United Utilities is a year into its RPA journey, which has seen the creation of a dedicated team to help the company filter the technology through the entire business.
Blue Prism gave Mencap a discounted licence and helped it to start on its RPA journey.
Gratrick said the collaboration demonstrated that if charities that do not have a large IT resource are given a “leg-up” with RPA, they can start harnessing the technology.
For Mencap, there were three initial pressures in getting started – the initial capital investment, understanding what it means, and a cultural barrier with people fearing job losses.
“Blue Prism and RBC solved the first two for us and, by making it real, we solved the third,” said Gratrick. “A lot of charities I speak to are interested, like I was, but don’t know how to make it work. There is quite a barrier to entry in terms of skillsets, so what Blue Prism is doing and what RBC helped to demonstrate is the value of a little help getting a charity started.”
There has been no financial investment from Mencap, with RBC and Blue Prism covering this, but it will begin to pay an annual licence fee, with a not-for-profit discount, when the implementation is complete.
This will inevitably lead to investment in RPA at Mencap. “By getting that leg-up, you begin to cut costs and reinvest in more robots and automate more processes,” said Gratrick.
Mencap did not set cost saving targets in the project, and focused on time saving and other metrics, including data quality and customer satisfaction, he added.
Mencap will continue to focus its automation activity on HR processes for now. “But by doing this exercise and with the team evangelising, we have identified over 30 different processes that can be automated – and that’s just the low-hanging fruit,” said Gratrick.
Doing something really positive
He said he has enjoyed being part of a collaboration between three very different organisations doing something really positive and all of them gaining from it. “For the RBC guys, it has provided the immense satisfaction of doing something useful and productive,” he said. “It has been very rewarding for them and they have been very engaged.”
Alex Davies, director at RBC, said: “RBC is committed to its communities and philanthropic activities, but this project demonstrates a totally new way for us and for other commercial enterprises to partner with charities. We also believe that a partnership between a bank and a charity to deliver RPA is a UK first.”
Gratrick said the project has also been a test bed for Blue Prism. “It has been useful for Blue Prism to see how you can get software like this into an organisation on a sector that can’t have the investment that corporates have,” he said.
It could also be a useful case study for charities looking to begin or mature their digital transformation.
Mencap itself is on such a journey, with automation a key part. Gratrick added: “A big part of what we are trying to do is digitise what happens in our workforce. We have over 6,000 field-based workers and when I started, these support staff were not digitally enabled.
“The first part of the challenge was to modernise systems at Mencap and the second was to digitise how the workforce uses IT. This involved building apps relevant to them and connecting them up to systems.”