10 minute read 4 Nov. 2020
covid_looms

The 74,345* ways life has changed for citizens in 2025

By EY Oceania

Multidisciplinary professional services organization

10 minute read 4 Nov. 2020

(*to be confirmed in 2025)

The way citizens interact with government services will be unrecognisable in five short years. As will the way governments themselves work.     

It’s 2025, and when Sam Dingle turns up on time and fully prepared for his annual medical check-up, there’s little chance he understands just how different it was before automated booking and text reminders were part of everyday life. While he knows about the dramatic changes to hospitals – robotic surgery, virtual care, remote patient monitoring – it’s the unseen system changes beyond the clinical sphere that have most improved his day-to-day life.

System improvements made by the department, and local health and hospital services, mean Sam turns up on time and with all the information he needs. When he checks in, the smart use of data triggers real-time inputs, resulting in higher customer service levels and improved communication between Sam and different parts of the clinic.

And it’s not just Sam who has benefited from department-level automation programs. The automation programs have also dramatically enhanced the working lives of both staff in the hospitals as well as those managing system-level customer service.

Melissa, the customer concierge in one of Australia’s major hospital’s screening clinics, says that instead of spending time on admin, she’s now able to focus on welcoming patients when they arrive and ensuring ongoing and real-time responses to patient needs. “I can also ensure our doctors and nurses deal with seasonal demand so that patients get the personalised care they need.”

It’s a long way from where the department started almost a decade ago. 

Automation has been in train for years. But today, the need to challenge old ways of doing things is accelerating because the technology is accelerating. Public sector agencies are now rapidly recognising the transformative effects of digitised government services and embracing cutting edge programs. For example, Britain’s equivalent of the Australian Tax Office, the UKHMRC, saw 78 robotic processes conduct 15.7 million transactions in 2018-2019, according to their latest annual report. They have also moved over 350 staff from back-of-house to customer-facing roles allowing for proactive and meaningful connections with citizens.

The COVID-19 pandemic, in concert with technology improvements and demands from digital-native citizens, has also driven a rethink of the potential for intelligent automation to both improve service delivery, enhance the customer experience and to upskill their employees for future-focussed roles.

For years, when public service agencies tried to create a culture of continuous improvement, they were beset by concerns around the impact of automation on jobs. Concerns that were reflected in surveys, with one EY automation survey in the UK showing just over 60 per cent of respondents saying they had concerns about the impact of automation on their own role and 45 per cent agreeing that it would reduce the overall size of the workforce.

By 2025 automation is increasingly understood as augmenting roles, rather than replacing them. As repetitive tasks decreased, workers now have time to focus on higher-value work and to produce new insights resulting from access to multiple data points in real time. These insights  ultimately improve the everyday citizen’s experience of public services. The IA programs also created a connected and intelligent digital workforce with skills that keep pace with broader technological change.

Embracing the potential of automation and making it accessible to all government agencies, has delivered very significant dividends. Instead of piecemeal efforts employing ‘next best thing’ software tools, agencies now augment their core systems with comprehensive automation platforms and have mechanisms to share “use cases” across departments.

A Minister responsible for digital service delivery has been appointed, facilitating agency support across federal, state and local government to take advantage of process excellence and the blending of AI and automation capabilities. Agencies and service providers can now work together on similar challenges in delivering and supporting integrated, networked services for citizens.

Departments have also understood that automation programs can be rolled out in a number of ways. Transformative programs increasingly are being developed and implemented on a modular basis, realising benefits throughout the program and enabling reinvestment.  

As Australia strives to deliver a world-class citizen experience, it will have to be ever more responsive to a changing environment and citizen expectations. Digitisation, process excellence and automation enable that responsiveness.
Ean Evans
EY Oceania, Intelligent Automation Leader

All the automation improvements mean that in 2025, citizen satisfaction has more than doubled since 2018 (with every agency now measuring its impact based on a citizen satisfaction index). The Government’s cost base has dropped dramatically due to the elimination of manual, mundane tasks, with automation now dealing with hundreds of millions of transactions. And staff turnover has decreased due to increased job satisfaction.

But the seven-year journey didn’t occur with a simple click of the fingers.

Here’s how it all happened.

INTELLIGENT AUTOMATION: A TIMELINE

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21

From little things, seamless things grow

The Year 2021

“Automating government is a complex job, so you need to simplify it by starting with governance and those small, quick wins before scaling up.” - Jeff Frazer, APAC Intelligent Automation Managed Services Leader

2020 was a year of upheaval, with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing public services to radically rethink the way they interacted with citizens. However, amid the uncertainty, early pockets of success paved the way for automation arriving in a big way. Thanks to the burgeoning number of proof-points, in 2021 the newly minted Minister for Digital Service Delivery took the bold decision to begin a comprehensive automation journey.

The first step was the creation of a dedicated “Automation Hub”. It became the first port of call for advice on IA and provided a strong strategic and governance framework so teams could access technologies such as robotic process automation (RPA), machine learning, chatbots, process mining, data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI). The hub provided support and maintenance of automation processes and allowed for smooth cross-department scaling through sharing of approaches, methodologies and best practices.

The state’s Service Delivery Team was first in the door. In charge of analysing thousands of transactions and processes for various demographic groups, each having their own service delivery requirements, the team was burdened with disparate information that was often stale, fragmented and inconsistent. “For each service we provided to those groups,” says Dale, head of the Service Delivery Team, “we would draw transactional data – in essence, each time a citizen interacted with the public service – from multiple systems. We’d then have any number of our customer service staff gathering data from various screens and information data points specific to each report.”

“A typical transaction report involved our staff heroically piecing a myriad of data points together and then shaping them all into the required formats. Not only was it an arduous manual process but it was rife with error and inefficiency and lacking real-time relevance. It was also often genuinely frustrating for the team members.”

The implementation of a document intelligence solution involving Optical Character Recognition (OCR) and AI alleviated the need for arduous manual reviews and document categorisation, resulting in higher levels of processing accuracy and time savings of more than 80 per cent.

Robotic processing automation was deployed to not only source the integrated data the instant the transaction, which could be as simple as applying for a Medicare rebate, took place, it then categorised and analysed the citizen’s data and automatically created cross-departmental insights that would have been almost impossible to find manually.

“As we began rolling out the new technology, we kept talking about doing more with less, but many people assumed that meant more work with fewer staff, which wasn’t the case,” says Dale, head of the Service Delivery team. “What’s been interesting to see is the growing realisation that automation enables us to take away the often frustrating, repetitive stuff people assumed they’d always just have to do. We’re now seeing people connecting with citizens in a far more helpful and satisfying way than they ever had the time for previously.”

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Connecting the bots

The Year 2022

"Benefits will come from the economies of scale made possible by centralising and automating routine tasks, creating savings that can be reinvested back in the organisation." - Ean Evans, EY Oceania, Intelligent Automation Leader

2022 was the year dedicated to scaling the Intelligent Automation program. The Automation Hub was fully operational and had key components deployed including governance and control, training, multiple deployments of process enabling technology, benefits tracking, reporting and support and maintenance across the hundreds of processes in production.

The Health Services Department had already rolled out RPA for getting patient information into its system. Their well-established automated booking system, nicknamed “Polly the Bot”, triaged patient details and set criticality levels. “‘Polly’ could understand how quickly, for example, a  patient might need to be seen for an endoscopy, what additional information they would need for their treatment, the closest clinics to where the patient lived with next availability for an appointment,” says Melissa, the customer concierge. “Polly would then input those details into a booking system, send an email and text reminder, and any crucial information the patient might need.”

As well as giving the Department, hospital, doctors and health care workers access to real-time information, the system reduced the number of patients missing their appointments. The flow on effect meant the clinic was able to more accurately maintain levels of specialised equipment and treatment.

“There are massive budgetary costs involved with patients not being prepared or not turning up,” says Melissa. “Using ‘Polly’ as well as a suite of other automation systems, has given us a huge operational advantage not only for staffing levels but helping with referrals that best suit the unique needs of each patient.”

The historic lack of connected data meant that modelling for demand management was clunky and often inadequate. As Polly matured, 2022 saw the Department apply machine learning and predictive analytics to the vast amount of data now available, enabling them to understand what sort of equipment and staffing was most needed, in which locations and when.

“Because we’d always had to allow for lost time issues, the system could never be optimised,” says Melissa. “Now we can more accurately forecast how we set up our hospitals and health clinics.”

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Blockchain to the future

The Year 2023

“Governments often don't know in real time how they are spending their money. Blockchain systems can quickly and transparently help answer questions of what funding is being spent on, how and when is it being spent, and what outcomes are being achieved.” - Andrew Garner, Oceania EY Government and Health Technology Lead

In 2023, blockchain solutions were rolled out as the next stage of the IA program. A whole-of-government program was implemented, with blockchain-based payment systems all linking back to Treasury. The system not only enormously reduced the payment time for work undertaken, it moved the public service from almost limited transparency to full, real-time visibility of budget allocation and trends.

The Housing Department, for example, deployed a blockchain solution to optimise maintenance operations and payments. In the previous system, it took between 7-10 weeks from the moment that a faulty hot water system was logged to the payment of the contractor and notification of Treasury. Now it takes four days.

“We often wouldn’t log delays for the work, notice quickly if the PO number was missing from the invoice or have the ability to rapidly review and allocate funds for the work,” says Bill, Head of maintenance for Housing. “The cumulative effect was enormous. Now, we have a set of criteria – from work completed to all invoice details being correct – that can happen automatically. And if all those criteria are verified, the payment is reviewed and allocated to the contractor. And that happens in less than a week and with complete visibility.”

“Instead of our staff having to deal with administrative breakdowns, they are now upskilled to evaluate our vendor contracts, and help them better manage a certain area of housing. The real time data analytics also red flags potential fraud patterns or where there are hot spots of maintenance concerns. It means we’re also keeping a close eye on any ageing infrastructure and giving our people back real purpose in their roles.”

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Unearthing a world of insights

The Year 2024-2025

“Trust must be embedded to transform citizen engagement with Government. Departments that embrace leading practices in ethical design and governance will be better equipped to mitigate risks, safeguard against harmful outcomes and, most importantly, build trust to maximise the potential benefits of intelligent automation.” - Catherine Friday, Managing Partner, Oceania Government and Health Sciences

Across public services, the anticipated as well as unanticipated benefits continue to be realised through machine learning and predictive analytics. Machine learning, for example, has long been able to “make sense” out of disparate data points within different departments. But it was done sporadically and without central coordination. Now, however, as whole-of-system reform is rolled out, inter-agency insights means that the Health Department now links to data from the central services and other agencies. It has enabled targeted, relevant care to be delivered to vulnerable communities. For the services themselves, it has meant more efficient and accurate planning and staffing and closer community engagement.

Data from all those services, as well as transport services, has enabled the Planning Department to use predictive data mapping to develop and build a far more effective social and private housing precinct delivering all the necessary infrastructure at a vastly reduced cost.

“This approach allowed cross sector insights that we would never have understood manually,” says the Minister. “For example, we didn’t know there was a correlation between health and transport data. But machine learning and other technologies are now creating ongoing end-to-end automation capabilities, to build ‘connected’ or ‘hyper’ automation. Simultaneously, we’ve baked in transparency so the public has trust in IA algorithms, and everyone understands the factors that decisions are based on. Our IA systems have a clear line of accountability to an individual, who is able to explain the system’s decision framework.

“The automation program has also upskilled and re-energised our staff and radically improved the lives of our citizens. The single-entry screen giving access to all government services has made our services faster and more personalised. It means our citizens have a far more streamlined vision of government. Something that, ultimately, is at the heart of the automation strategy.”

Contact:

Sanjay Sridher, EY NSW Government Lead and Shared Services Partner
sanjay.sridher@au.ey.com 

Andrew Garner, EY Government & Health Services Technology Lead
andrew.garner@au.ey.com

Summary

Society is already moving towards automation and citizen expectations of their Governments, as well as those working in Government agencies, are also rising. Responding to these changes requires a powerful focus on the transformation opportunities that Intelligent Automation can deliver. 

About this article

By EY Oceania

Multidisciplinary professional services organization