Case City of Tampere
RPA speeds up the handling of matters in the City of Tampere
Case City of Tampere
RPA speeds up the handling of matters in the City of Tampere
Qentinel Finland is part of the Gofore Group
The City of Tampere is a large organisation whose industries span a comprehensive cross-section of the entire city’s infrastructure. When health care, educational institutions, hobbies and everything in between are maintained at the same time, a myriad of different systems are involved in the machinery. Among them all, there is a colourful spectrum of data, information and archival material. In an organisation the size of the City of Tampere, the amount of information is huge and the systems are as diverse as the areas of operation.
Moving data within systems from location A to location B has largely been a manual operation. Information must have flowed despite the fact that, to put it simply, not all systems are integrated, or there are no interfaces allowing integration between systems.
In 2017, the City of Tampere set out to find a pioneering solution for handling large data volumes. New perspectives were needed on how to save working hours and whether there could be a more efficient way to carry various processes through. In information management, there was a desire to try software robotics and there was a wide interest in the possibilities of automation.
A state of mind for development and renewal
When the City of Tampere decided to tender for RPA, or Robotic Process Automation, the use of software robotics had not yet become as widespread as it is today. “We have always been eager here to boldly try new things. This project also had its roots in a couple of individual pilots,” says Pertti Vartola, who is the City of Tampere’s information management designer and project manager for the implementation project. “The idea started with the fact that things can be automated and people can do more meaningful work,” designer Pasi Paananen, who worked as Mr Vartola’s colleague in the project, continues.
Contrary to what is often feared, software robotics did not come to Tampere to take people’s jobs. The City of Tampere set out to innovate new ways to fill resource shortages and make more efficient use of people’s working time for more meaningful tasks. For example, in child protection, attempts are made to speed up the processing of non-urgent tasks through automation in order to allow more time to deal with urgent cases. “We already consider at the design stage what the work time saved by automation will be used for. It’s not the intention to lay anyone off due to automation,” Mr Paananen sums up.
Qentinel Finland was selected as a partner of the City of Tampere through competitive tendering. However, the start of the project had to be postponed by one and a half years because the tender was subject to a grievance process. It was nevertheless concluded that Qentinel Finland rightly won the tender. After this, in November 2018, co-operation with Qentinel Finland began. Unfortunately, due to the delay, the original projects planned for RPA were no longer relevant, so the design work had to start all over again.
What exactly is RPA about?
As a word, robotics evokes a wide range of images, and in the beginning it was important to communicate to one’s own staff what RPA is all about. “Digitalisation and other related matters are so relevant today when it comes to software robotics, automation and artificial intelligence. People need to understand that we are automating processes that are otherwise done by hand, and this does not necessarily involve any form of machine-led deduction. If a column reads A, then a different thing happens than if a column reads B. A certain simplification of the matter has been part of this project,” Mr Paananen says, describing the lack of information within the city of Tampere.
To clarify matters, Qentinel Finland’s project manager Merja Ilomäki held a very popular webinar for the entire staff, during which they went through what software robotics is, as well as what it is suitable and not suitable for. There was a lot of interest in the topic within the City of Tampere, and many ideas came up in relation to various applications. Some of the ideas were also a little too far-fetched. “There were a few over-optimistic fantasies that the robots would come and save us all,” Mr Vartola adds.
Although not everything could be automated, the discussion and brainstorming related to problem areas paid off. Other solutions to some of the problems were found to make everyday life easier. For example, on the financial side, new ways of doing things through Excel were found and various skills were supported so that problems could be solved better within the City. “At that point, we played the role in some respects of a solutions agency,” Mr Paananen explains.
From RPA design to practice through shared learning
In the next step, the workshops were used to chart ideas and consider where automation would be the most acute and, above all, sensible to use. “It really started from scratch. For example, there were no ready-made work documents to get started faster,” Vartola reflects on the project’s difficult first steps. The first months after the start of the deployment project were dedicated to having a closer look at use cases in relation to prioritisation, contrary to what was originally planned. “The situation was challenging, but also very instructive,” says Vartola.
However, finding new automated processes was not a problem, as there were abundant suggestions for potential uses. These suggestions had to be precisely screened to determine what is truly sensible and efficient to automate and which topics could be dedicated enough time within the framework of the deployment project. In the end, a decision was made to condense the original order for seven robots to five, as the six-month deadline was simply not enough to get acquainted with all the varying systems and train people.
“At the production level, we had no idea what kind of documentation about RPA should be produced, and there was a lot to learn on behalf of Qentinel Finland with regard to getting acquainted with all the new systems,” Mr Vartola notes, summarising the initial collaboration situation. Both parties learned something new and valuable documentation was generated. “Qentinel Pace provides good data and dashboards allow you to track processes. From there, you can easily see the volumes and constantly mirror not only the current state but also the estimates set for the project.”
Prior to the start of the project, production lines did not have an understanding or complete comprehension of software robotics, so the choice of processes to be automated was challenging. “Within the framework of this project, a model has been created for how to evaluate such situations; that is, how and in which processes software robotics can be introduced,” Mr Paananen states. Challenges have been related to technical issues and third-party operators. “The more players in the game, the more challenges there can be.”
Fast-paced progress and many simultaneous projects
Sprint-style project work was not really new to the City of Tampere, though when talking about the city, the organisational structure is naturally a little different. The City of Tampere did not find Qentinel Finland’s fast-paced sprints problematic, though the rapid progress of the project surprised some parts of the organisation. The fixed-term nature of the deployment project, however, set a fast pace that was adhered to.
All seven projects were from several individual industries. In practice, this meant that a separate team of system experts and other people familiar with the processes had to be harnessed from the City of Tampere to work on each robot. Joona Sinisalo, Tuomas Koukkari, Ilari Rosengren and Merja Ilomäki from Qentinel Finland participated in the expert team focusing on robot development. “In the beginning, it was difficult to anticipate what it takes to do an RPA project, but fortunately now we know better,” Mr Vartola admits, explaining the ambitious initial goals. Among other things, the specification work and test environments require work from many individuals representing the City of Tampere as well. Sufficient expert work time must be set aside for an RPA project, as input is needed not only to prepare process descriptions but also to clarify details and ensure the functionality of the software. “When attempts were made to address multiple use cases simultaneously, it was stated on behalf of both Qentinel Finland and us that this would not succeed.”
“In hindsight, it can be said that it would have been good to start with just a few projects while carrying out the work in stages, rather than trying to do everything at once,” Mr Paananen considers. Within a time period of six months, the process automation of seven completely new systems was a little too ambitious in terms of the schedule. When automating processes, it is important to describe the process in as much detail as possible. A detailed process description speeds up implementation, and thus deployment. As a result, only five robots were ultimately implemented as part of the deployment project.
“It was great that even though the healthcare systems, for instance, were new to Qentinel Finland’s experts, it was possible to quickly make a judgment on what can and cannot be automated on the basis of a mere demo,” Vartola says, characterising Qentinel Finland’s efficiency. Getting to know the systems definitely took the most time. It was quickly noticed that the project progressed twice as fast when automation work was commenced on another process belonging to the same system.
From challenges to the best possible results
nforeseen problems were also encountered, such as the credentials of the software robot. Data transfers worked normally within a test environment but in production it was noticed that the robot could not operate without credentials required by a healthcare professional. So far, according to the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, these cannot be granted to a software robot. The robot was designed to ease the workload of nurses by automating manual data transfer from systems directly to physicians. Currently the robot has been shelved, awaiting a decision from the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare.
Ultimately, the deployment project resulted in the production of six robots:
- Transfer of ice rink reservation system information from one system to another.
- In child protection, activation of non-urgent notifications for processing. The system itself does not allow automatic forwarding.
- Electronic archiving of support forms in the student system. About 40,000 files to archive, which must also be named correctly.
- Early childhood day care decision. The robot does not make the decision by itself, but compiles the necessary information for making a decision.
- Early education customer fees. Forming a decision when the customer agrees to the highest payment.
- Targeting prescriptions. The patient information system receives prescription renewal requests, from which the nurse directs these to a doctor. There are about 20,000 requests annually per health centre. The robot is in the testing phase and is awaiting for approval from the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare.
"It was great that even though the healthcare systems, for instance, were new to Qentinel Finland's experts, it was possible to quickly make a judgment on what can and cannot be automated on the basis of a mere demo.”"
Information Management Planner
City of Tampere
Capabilities in this cooperation
What capabilities created value in this project?