The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is the government department responsible for environmental protection, food production and standards, agriculture, fisheries, and rural communities in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
This RPA story starts in 2017. Dave More, now Service Owner, Digital Robotic Automation Centre of Excellence (CoE) at Defra, was working for the Environment Agency (EA) at the time. He said they undertook a highly successful proof-of-concept in a live environment. That led to a much larger investment to give staff in the National Licencing & Permitting Service a software robot assistant to help them administratively issue permits and licenses, roughly 14 to 16 thousand each year.
This involves an individual or business making an application for an environmental permit or license. An example is the issuance of a water abstraction license. When done manually, the non-decision-making, administrative process commonly takes 65 minutes per transaction. A person with a software robot could do the same process in 6 minutes and 54 seconds. Given the team completed up to 14 to 16 thousand of these each year, that’s a significant amount of time freed for staff to concentrate on more valuable work.
With the scene set and the robot proving its worth, 2019 brought a further three robot services. These now deal with environmental waste, water quality, and installations permits and were flawlessly implemented. They freed staff from awful, difficult tasks that brought little user satisfaction.
“We really put RPA to the test. We were able to make it work with extremely old legacy IT. I knew if we could do this, we could do most things, and we could go further across the Defra Group.”
Dave More, Service Owner, Digital Robotic Automation Centre of Excellence, Defra
This was an important moment and led to the Defra Digital Data and Technology Services function (DDTS) approving and investing in the creation of the Digital Robotic Automation CoE that Dave More now heads. The CoE now has several robot services up and running with the Rural Payments Agency, Environment Agency, and Animal Plant Health Agency. Dave More and the team are hoping to provide a productivity gain equivalent to more than 20 full-time employees.