Driving efficiency savings in higher education with intelligent automation

Human+ - UCL


HR Services at University College London (UCL) were interested in the potential benefits Intelligent Robotic Process Automation (RPA) could bring to their department. The team dealt with many repetitive, manual tasks, and faced large fluctuations in workload throughout the year, leading to additional stress and the need to hire temporary workers. The characteristics of these processes were ideal for Intelligent RPA, but the university had little or no experience with automation solutions, and staff were understandably wary of a potential threat to their jobs.


Human+ worked with HR Services at UCL to select and implement two automation solutions in the first quarter of 2019. Aware of the need to get all staff on board with the project, the team selected a widely unpopular process as the first contender for automation. This dealt with payroll for casual workers – a manual, repetitive task which consisted of making 1500-2000 one-off payments per month. A human employee was capable of approving around 100 payments per day, but no one enjoyed completing this task and it was always put off until the last minute.

When speaking to departmental staff about the technology, HR leaders were careful to position Intelligent RPA as an automation solution – capable of relieving them of unpleasant tasks – rather than a more threatening sounding “robot”. The team collectively named their RPA solution “Barbara”, quickly coming to see it as another member of staff who could take care of the jobs no one wanted to do.


Barbara was particularly impactful in helping the team to deal with fluctuations in workload. In October, for example, payroll volumes at the university typically double in value, making it difficult for the HR team to cope. When Barbara was built, every new staff member was successfully added to the October payroll on time – a feat which had never been achieved before.

The automation of the payroll process resulted in a yearly saving of approximately 750 employee hours in the HR department. When combined with the second automation solution which dealt with the resignation process for staff – the HR team saved around 1000 hours annually. As a result they worked less overtime in busy periods and temporary staff costs were reduced. As testament to the success of this project, a Continuous Improvement team has been created within the UCL shared service centre and two finance solutions have already been built with Intelligent RPA. The team is also now working to take the technology in-house by training their own RPA developer.

  • 1000 employee hours saved
  • October payroll successfully completed for the first time ever
  • “Barbara the bot” became a central part of the team