Robotic automation to be trialled at HMRC

6th July 2017

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) looks set to trial the effectiveness of artificial intelligence (AI) regarding its low-grade, mundane day-to-day processes, freeing up human resources into ‘higher value work’.

With a firm emphasis on casework and customer liaison, Mike Potter, interim chief digital and transformation officer at HMRC discussed the proposals as part of a presentation at the Public Sector Show last month.

Mr Potter claimed the tax authority is keen to carry out trials in the coming months as part of a shift towards robotic automation, “taking the graft out of people’s jobs to focus on higher value work”.

Potter refused to delve too deep into HMRC’s plans for the trials, insisting that there would be a need for private discussion among staff before any information is made public.

Nevertheless, Potter reiterated that HMRC is currently investigating new ways it believes AI can be viable internally. Indeed his presentation in London featured a slide separating early-use cases into three distinct groups: contact handling – directing customers to the right area without the need for human intervention; casework – utilising AI as part of the decision-making process; and hand-holding customers through self-service areas.

Through its online self-assessment service alone, HMRC has been able to cut its administrative staff numbers by a third in the last decade, resulting in strong savings for the UK taxpayer.

AI is part of a wider effort from HMRC to utilise its data in a more intelligent way, whilst giving the department’s human professionals the freedom to tackle the bigger cases.

A number of other government departments have tested the water with AI. The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) has already conducted proof of concept tests in automating certain processes; meanwhile Enfield and Aylesbury Vale local authorities are just some to have committed to utilising AI in their customer services.

In addition, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport included a line item for research and development into AI as part of its new national Digital Strategy.

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