Late last year School of Automation’s (SOA) CEO Marc Cooper sat down with Kevin Kelly, General Manager for their RPA Centre of Excellence at the Health Service Executive (HSE) in Ireland to chat about the organisation’s work with automation and their successful partnership with SOA.
The HSE has been working with RPA for several years, and last year employed two SOA trainees – Gillian Martin and Danny O’Connor who are now permanent employees at the organisation.
Have a read of our interview with Kevin, Gillian, and Danny, and check out the link for the full video interview…
How did HSE discover RPA?
Kevin Kelly: We first assessed RPA in 2019 along with other public sector organisations. There had been an RPA framework established and we agreed to commence two pilots in HR and finance – both highly transactional areas. We successfully completed those pilots in February 2020, but literally, two weeks later we were in lockdown.
One of the pilots was in HR in the area of Garda (Police) vetting – that automation was able to speed up the updating of staff members vetting stages. This became really important at the start of the pandemic as we were racing to get new staff onboarded and into front-line posts.
Soon afterwards we began working with the HSE’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre who provides data on Infectious disease surveillance. We kicked off a significant piece of automation work with them around the processing of positive Covid-19 cases and have put huge numbers through those small sets of automations.
In May 2021, the HSE was hit with a criminal cyber-attack. We got our RPA systems back up and running within a few months but we then had a backlog of cases and data to process. We found that we were able to clear a four-month backlog within two weeks as we scaled up to 100 robots. For us, that really demonstrated how RPA can help the organisation deal with unexpected surges in demand.
Then Omicron hit so we again upped our robot fleet to around 120 robots to deal with that, with incredible numbers processed in January/February 2022. To date, we have completed over 5 million transactions and 600,000 hours of equivalent manual hours.
How do you find talent and resources in this space?
Recruitment is mixed and a challenge to attract people with the right skill sets into the public sector, so it’s important to build a pipeline of talent coming through.
What attracted you to SOA’s model?
We established our RPA centre of excellence in September 2022 and now operate within eHealth where we see other areas already use traineeships. What we like about SOA’s proposal is that trainees are coming in with the necessary RPA skills. It was a no-brainer to at least try!
How have developers added value?
A number of projects the SOA-sourced developers are working on have really accelerated. They are not working solo, but with a senior developer as a mentor, so having two developers on a project means we are speeding up development time.
Did they developers meet expectations?
They are both hitting the ground running and we are seeing positive results already from them. I always got the sense SOA was keen to know the outcome for the trainee. We took on Gillian initially, and would love to have taken on more – but we wanted to make sure we had the work and a mentor to work alongside. When the time was right, we were able to bring in Danny.
And now a few words from our developers who are working permanently for the HSE on automation projects.
When Danny O’Connor originally applied for the SOA course, he thought that it was about mechanical parts and robotics – and although interesting, it was a bit of shock on the first week.
“For me I was always tech-savvy but not from a programming standpoint, I had always liked tech and computers, but I was interested in being a civil servant, so it’s very interesting to see the approach with the HSE and what our projects do for the overall HSE systems. I definitely didn’t see myself here a year ago!
“Now being employed and having a stable wage and job, means my partner and I are able to plan our wedding and we were able to have our first big Christmas for our little one. The stability of the job and everyone that works at the HSE is fantastic.”
Gillian Martin had taken an extended career break before embarking on a course with SOA, and now say she couldn’t have imagined this is where she would be a year ago.
“When I started on the training course I was at a point in my life where I had taken quite an extensive career break and then Covid arrived and I just took the opportunity to take a training course. I was really thinking about upskilling and developing new skills and after 12-week training course with SOA I had the opportunity to take on a year’s traineeship and the HSE placement, to then being offered a permanent contract.
“It was quite an adjustment to come back into a working environment but it’s been a really positive experience. There’s plenty of flexibility – working in office a day or two a week and then from home. It’s great to be involved with the HSE and see how our work is having such a positive impact.”
Find out more about SOA and the work we do here.