This article is part of our Digital State series.
Intelligent automation (IA) offers tremendous potential for public sector organizations to accelerate transformation and unleash value for their employees and the citizens they serve. This is more important than ever in light of the new challenges and pressured finances brought about by COVID-19.
Understandably, there has been some wariness about IA on the part of governments, which are concerned about the possible impact on employment. However, these fears are largely unfounded. When used as a strategic tool, IA allows public sector bodies to keep up with increasing demands on services by delivering them more efficiently. It removes the burden of administrative tasks so that talented and dedicated employees can focus on what really matters — serving the citizen.
There are other benefits too. IA helps organizations use data to generate insights that augment professional decision-making. Capacity and resources are released that can be reinvested in innovation and in enhancing public value.
The successful implementation of automation is a complex process and technology alone is not the answer. It’s the combined power of people working with technology that will deliver the greatest value. This article examines the four key behavioral and cultural factors that public sector organizations must consider in order to unlock the full benefits of IA:
- Aligning digital plans with overall vision and purpose
- Adapting culture and working practices
- Developing the right skills and capabilities
- Fostering trust in automation
What do we mean by intelligent automation?
IA can be thought of as providing “digital workers,” which perform tasks in four broad areas. First is the area of machine learning and artificial intelligence, where the digital workers can provide algorithm-driven insights, unstructured-to-structured translation and a big data focus. The second area is chatbots, which are communication-focused, use predictive behavior and respond to inquiries and requests via text and voice. The third area is robotic process automation, or RPA, where the workers can enter data into systems, process data, communicate using emails, texts and social media, and make rules-based decisions. And the fourth and final area is cognitive analytics, where the workers provide data manipulation, data visualization and predictive analytics. Together, these functions add up to a virtual workforce that can do much of the routine, time-consuming labor of running public services.
The benefits of a virtual workforce
Increasing efficiency and productivity: With budgets under pressure, organizations can improve productivity by automating high-volume tasks and manual processes. RPA and machine-learning tools, for example, may be cheaper, faster and more accurate than humans at tasks involving large amounts of data, complex calculations, or repetitive tasks with clear rules. Public services have many common processes that can be managed and automated centrally for greater consistency and efficiency. The resulting economies of scale create savings that can be reinvested in the organization.
Improving the citizen experience: IA can help organizations improve the day-to-day experience for citizens and achieve much better outcomes. It can also aid the design and delivery of more user-centric services by enabling the end-to-end, seamless digitization of services, from primary interface to back-end processes. Public sector bodies around the world are using IA to answer queries, route requests, auto-fill documents, process payments and handle complaints. “Tell us once” services ensure that people don’t have to refill their personal data online for different public services. Virtual assistants, or chatbots, allow citizens to access services when it suits them and receive speedier responses, boosting satisfaction levels.
Improving the employee experience and offering more personal support: IA allows employees to work in more purposeful roles by freeing up their time to focus on what really matters — human connection. Automation doesn’t displace a team or service but complements it so that it is truly user-centric. For example, if nurses and social workers are relieved of repetitive, administrative tasks, they can dedicate more time to caring for patients or helping vulnerable children and families. The result is higher morale and job satisfaction, and better outcomes for citizens.
Using data to improve decision-making: Public sector organizations hold vast amounts of information from many sources, in formats including text, images and voice. But because there’s so much data, and because it is often unstructured, unlocking its value can be difficult. IA can sift through and interpret this data to extract insights that can augment human decision-making. Predictive models can be created that identify risks earlier and enable more targeted services. Delivering the right services at the right time and place can improve preventative action and reduce pressure on downstream services.