In a recent article in CityA.M, our very own Natalie Taylor outlined the reasons why government procurement finds itself in a crisis, and how technology can help to create more innovative and transparent procurement processes. It’s a great piece that really highlights the success of innovations made in public sector procurement by the UK’s Government Digital Service, such as the digital marketplace and G-Cloud.
The article also refers to a recent report from the National Audit Office, which found a lack of transparency in the procurement processes used for government PPE contracts. This echoes similar concerns expressed by UK think tanks that government procurement processes lack transparency and are too focused on the contracting-out phase of the procurement cycle, at the expense of contract management. This lack of transparency is cited as being one of the reasons why trust in government in the UK is falling as it was placed just above Russia in the Edelman Trust Barometer.
This is clearly a concerning situation for the UK public sector, as complicated procurement processes combined with a lack of transparency risk reducing the number of suppliers the government has to choose from, increasing contract costs while likely reducing quality. It can prevent innovative approaches or suppliers from entering the market, thereby putting the UK government, and by extension its citizens, at a disadvantage by not being able to access the best solutions available.
Given this situation it is clear that the UK government needs to look at innovative solutions to improve transparency and increase trust in their procurement processes. I believe that Intelligent Automation (IA) can play a significant role in achieving this as it is well suited to integrating with existing software to replicate desktop actions that typically would be performed by a human, in a rapid and cost effective way.
At Foundry4 we define IA as being a combination of Robotic Process Automation and Artificial Intelligence technologies which together empower rapid end-to-end business process automation and thereby accelerate digital transformation.
Many organisations rightly see IA as a way to greatly improve efficiency and productivity in a quick and relatively low-cost way. This is certainly not something to be sniffed at, but the benefits of this technology extend even further. There are numerous use cases where IA can also be used to reduce risk or ensure compliance, while at the same time providing greater transparency by improving data quality.
Managing risk with Intelligent Automation
An example of this can be found in our recent work automating compliance processes in housing associations. We partnered with these organisations to automate high risk processes like gas compliance certificates or to improve contract management through the automation of repair appointment processes and contract expiry checks. This enables these organisations to automate follow up emails; instantly send out notifications for contract milestones; manage inboxes; and collate information into a single source database.
The ability of IA to ensure data is accurate, up to date and transparent in this way demonstrates the technology’s potential in procurement, where it can be used to minimise human touchpoints and automate most steps in the chain. For example, contract management, category management, third-party risk management, and supplier relationship management processes can be fully, or part automated using IA.
Further, approvals can also be automated, as well as the detection of breaches and the recommendation of potential remedial actions. If this wasn’t enough, IA digital workers can also read through lengthy reports, contracts and regulations to identify gaps in compliance and provide insight on how to close them.
The perfect candidate
These examples demonstrate the extent to which procurement processes make strong candidates for IA. They have all the required characteristics we’d look for when assessing the suitability of processes for automation, including: high volume; highly manual and rule based; stable applications and strong process adherence.
By automating these processes organisations can access better data, more often, improving contract management and increasing transparency in procurement overall. If that sounds too good to be true, then don’t be fooled. It really is something organisations can aspire to through the application of Intelligent Automation technologies — offering both the public and private sectors alike a way of increasing trust in their operations.
If you’re interested in learning more about IA and understanding how it can be applied to your procurement and finance processes then please get in touch.