It’s easy to see why many people in the public sector fear automation, but the truth is much more nuanced. Intelligent automation isn’t about replacing a workforce with machines, creating overcomplicated management challenges or amassing ever-mounting implementation costs – it’s about complimenting what’s already there in the organization, for results that actually make things easier. No, really…
Businesses within nearly every industry are already reaping the benefits of strategic, intelligent automation and trends show we are seeing the public sector follow in the footsteps of their private sector counterparts.
The conversation around digital transformation through intelligent automation has expanded and public organizations are ready to take the leap. Many of these bodies suffer from outdated systems, time-consuming practices and a lack of technological innovation. This, combined with increasing pressure to operate more efficiently, provide better service and create modern working environments for their employees, means public sector organizations must begin to embrace automation to drive these changes.
Compared to the private sector, however, public bodies have unique needs, often not operating as a typical business might. They require intelligent automation solutions that can support their particular strategic and organizational needs, which, in turn, can form the basis of continued digital expansion.
Beginning with the digital worker
While there are many different kinds of intelligent automation and artificial intelligence solutions, undertaking tasks within nearly every function, it is useful to consider them as “digital workers”; able to simplify and automate time-consuming manual processes.
These solutions are able to interface with various platforms, software and applications, boosting the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of tasks that would otherwise require intensive human input. Not only does this free up time and focus for employees to concentrate their efforts on more complex and valuable work, but in the case of the public sector, it drives meaningful change across the entire organization and the communities they operate within.
With public sector organizations being so highly regulated, it’s not uncommon for inefficiencies stemming from outdated technology and legacy systems to become baked into the day-to-day way of doing things.
Intelligent automation can help eliminate these inefficiencies by offering a solution that doesn’t rely on unnecessary manual input. It also provides a chance to examine time-consuming processes and identify where they are becoming bottled-necked. Key functions like invoice processing, workflow automation, payroll, onboarding and a host of other core processes within any organization are all ripe for automation. Automation offers a way to alleviate the administrative burden on human workers.
The working landscape has undergone an intense transformation over the past few years, and employees now have inflated expectations of their organizations to keep up with these changes.
Intelligent automation, when implemented strategically with the needs of the organization at the forefront, can support collaboration, communication and a new, modern way of working. This not only contributes to increased efficiency and cost-effectiveness, but also boosts the employee experience. In particular, the elimination of repetitive, manual and time-intensive administrative work – which is often cited as one of the main factors of public sector job dissatisfaction – can help with retaining key talent within the sector.
Along with meeting employee expectations, strategic deployment of intelligent automation also helps public bodies keep pace with the expectations of the general public. The technology allows citizens to access support more effectively, without the need for human intervention, especially in the resource-intensive functions that manage access to help and support across many key areas such as pensions, healthcare and benefits. These citizen service improvements free up employee time to focus on more pressing and complex issues and also establish a greater degree of trust and confidence in public sector organizations to operate effectively and with modern capabilities.
Bloated processes that require intensive human input, multiple levels of approval or the generation of large quantities of administrative busywork, naturally lead to delays, inefficiencies, dissatisfaction and, crucially, vastly inflated budgets.
Public sector organizations, many of which are still on the road to financial recovery post-pandemic, are always expected to be able to do more with less. Consequently, they are looking to the streamlined, agile ways of operating that are already widespread in the private sector. With the scope for automation encompassing a wide range of tasks, including HR, financial functions and workflow and approval, the potential to create long-term savings is immense. A report from McKinsey estimates a minimum of 30 percent savings after implementation costs.
Breaking down silos
Within the public sector, there is an increasing reliance on old, out-dated technology and legacy systems. An article from the BBC uncovered the fact that the UK government spends up to £2.3bn each year on patching up old systems, with some dating back 30 years. Not only is this incredibly cost-intensive, but outdated systems such as these directly contribute to teams being unable to successfully communicate with one another and are effectively siloed, creating unnecessary administrative burdens.
With large amounts of data being stored and accessed through disconnected sources, useful and often vital information ends up buried in various spreadsheets, documents and other disparate systems, siloing data as well as people.
Intelligent automation solutions can seamlessly interface across multiple systems and platforms, synthesizing data and extracting meaningful information, all while dramatically reducing the risk of error and inaccuracy arising from human input. The latter is of particular importance to public bodies tasked with consistent data collection and analysis for tasks, such as crime prevention and healthcare provision.
Repurpose, not replace
At the heart of well-implemented intelligent automation is people. While there is fear that automation is there to replace people, the opposite is true. These technologies, when integrated with a careful understanding of the public sector, do more than offer time and cost savings. This emerging tech offers a way for people to redirect their efforts away from time-consuming, intensive manual processes, and towards higher level work that continues to bring about real change within their communities, while laying the foundations for continued digital growth.