Using technology to improve the effectiveness of public services

The Department for Education (DfE) have developed software to sort thousands of emails, reducing the time taken to communicate with the public


DfE receive up to 100,000 comments and enquiries from the public each year. Prior to implementing an innovative computer programme, each email and letter needed to be read by a staff member, logged onto a database, and assigned to the appropriate team for a response. This required hundreds of days of combined labour and meant staff had less time to complete other tasks.

The knowledge asset solution

Aware of how Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is used in the private sector and elsewhere in government to make decisions about data handling, DfE investigated how the technology could help them when it came to organising enquiries from the public. They undertook work to programme a robot named ARNOLD – ‘Automated Robot Negating the Onerous Logging of Data’ – to streamline some of their processes.

This was particularly challenging given that emails are unstructured data, and people do not write in a standard way. ARNOLD scans the content of emails and follows a series of rules to prioritise them based on potential risk. It then enters the data into DfE’s database. ARNOLD has replaced the manual data entry of emails and letters from the public, improving productivity and increasing efficiency.

Who has this helped?

  • The public: DfE have been able to reduce the time taken to respond to queries and concerns from the public which means they can offer a more efficient customer service.
  • DfE staff: The use of the robot has freed up time for teams to focus on learning and development.

What impact has this innovation had on the team?

Owen Roffe, Head of Digital Communications and Public Enquiries at DfE, was delighted that ARNOLD was quickly seen as one of the team. “Everyone is clear about roles and where technology plays its part,” he said. “The robot has taken away the need for manual data entry, which was an area where the team felt they added less value. As a result, they are able to focus on more rewarding work, develop their skills and provide a quicker service to customers.”

Next steps

ARNOLD made an appearance at the Civil Service Live roadshow in the summer of 2023 to showcase how data logging can be streamlined and the benefit this knowledge asset might have for other government departments. DfE is continuing to look at different ways for how technology can improve efficiency to benefit staff and the public.

Government Office for Technology Transfer
Department for Education