What is RPA?

RPA is a timesaving, risk-reducing digital solution for many cumbersome and repetitive manual processes, and you may have already heard about its benefits within various industries – but what exactly is it? This edition of Tech Bytes focuses on the basics, covering everything you need to know as someone new to RPA in the public sector.

What is RPA?

Short for Robotic Process Automation, RPA is a technology that emulates repetitive processes based on rules and logic within software. Automation refers to an implemented approach requiring little (attended) to no (unattended) human intervention - allowing RPA to complete the required actions independently, or alongside staff. 

What is an RPA bot?

Within the context of RPA software, a bot is an application that can perform basic, rule-based tasks, as instructed. Also known as “robots” or virtual workers, bots can be programmed to complete a digital process automatically. They can work independently, within teams of bots (digital workforces), or alongside people. While they aren’t capable of human intuition, they’re capable of virtual tasks, such as:

  • Clicks
  • Keystrokes
  • Calculations
  • Copy and pasting
  • Algorithms
  • Data cleansing
  • Logic and workflow

How is RPA used?

Bots can complete repetitive virtual processes much faster than human workers, as they don’t require thinking time or breaks – they can run pre-programmed processes 24/7, without the risk of human error. This allows them to significantly speed up administrative operations for people, freeing up time for more important and complex tasks.

For this reason, RPA is used in a variety of ways across multiple industries. Most of these processes are administrative, involving data entry or collection within a range of back-office systems and processes. Depending on the RPA platform you’re using, bots should be able to automate any system, due to its direct operation of user interface. Here at NDL, we’ve yet to come across a system we can’t work with.

Which processes are suitable for RPA?

As previously mentioned, the project requirements involved with RPA often revolve around rules and logic. This makes RPA applicable to a number of processes that don’t require much thinking power are often the best candidates for automation, such as:

  • Data migrations
  • Data integration
  • Data synchronisation
  • Data extraction
  • Rekeying
  • Front- and back-office unifying
  • External data sharing


However, those aren’t the only processes RPA can improve – if you have a specific process in mind, don’t hesitate to get in touch to hear more about the possibilities of automation within your organisation.

What does attended and unattended RPA mean?

As previously mentioned, RPA bots can work independently, or alongside members of staff, clinicians and frontline services. Unattended automation operates within a server environment and runs without any human intervention. Attended automation features desktop bots, who work alongside humans in real-time.

Unattended bots

Unattended RPA is best suited to processes that require no human decision making. Bots run in the background, within a virtual environment. An example of an unattended RPA project could be rekeying the same, existing information from one back-office system, into another one. This process is logic based, so a bot could complete it independently.

Attended bots

Attended bots work on the desktops of staff machines, working with people to speed up simple and repetitive elements of wider tasks. It’s often used to support team members in real-time, such as telecom agents who need to pull data from multiple sources during calls. Here, attended automation could be used to collect this data quickly for the agent.

Does RPA require coding?

RPA is a powerful technology, but you don’t have to be a code expert to benefit from it. NDL’s SX toolkit is a low-code platform, allowing users to programme automation processes with sections of pre-loaded code. All functionalities are available through simple, easy to use features – such as a drag-and-drop development environment.

More challenging and complex automations may need to be handled through more advanced code development, but this transition remains seamless within SX’s development environment. NDL also provide comprehensive training for all of its customers, to ensure all users are getting the very best out of their licenses – as well as shared code and resources within the NDL Customer Community.

RPA in the UK public sector

Automation is a valuable tool within the UK public sector – with 5,511 active bots currently deployed from NDL alone. Many administrative tasks within healthcare and NHS, local government, housing, policing, and education sectors are repetitive, handle sensitive information and require rekeying across multiple systems. With the use of RPA, essential front-line workers can be easily relieved of significant administrative burdens, allowing them to focus on the work that truly matters. Take a look at some examples of RPA within the public sector below:

Conwy County Borough Council

With the imminent expiry of Conwy Council’s legacy system, it was essential that almost 12 million social care records were successfully migrated into the Wales Community Care Information System (WCCIS). With each record containing a range of unstructured data, it would have taken an estimated 2,000 working days to complete this migration project manually. With the use of RPA, all records were migrated without error in just three months. 

Read the case study

East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust

As part of its paperless initiative, East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust were able to automate around 15,000 GP referrals each month. The process integrated directly with the Trust’s back-office e-RS and NHS Spine systems - it was able to save just short of a million sheets of paper annually, as well as any associated printing costs. Freeing up the time equivalent to two and a half full-time healthcare workers, RPA improved both staff and patient experience.

Read the case study

Swindon Borough Council

Due to the effects of the pandemic, a large influx of Swindon residents entered the benefits system unexpectedly in 2020. As a result, applications for free school meals increased by 2000% - a demand of which the original process couldn’t accommodate. In order to keep up with applications for free school meals, Swindon Council implemented RPA to automate the process integrated with the relevant back-office systems. This resulted in a 98% increase in efficiency, and 66% reduction in application waiting time.

Read the case study

For even more case studies, don’t forget to take a look at our other success stories. You can stay up to date with all of the latest news – including the newest additions to the Tech Bytes series – over at our blog. For more information about RPA, take a look at our other resources, login to the customer portal, or speak with a member of the NDL team.