By Emma O’Brien, of Embridge Consulting
Businesses within nearly every industry are already reaping the benefits of strategic automation and, increasingly, 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 organisations are ready to take the leap. Many of these bodies suffer from out-dated 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 bodies must begin to embrace automation to drive these changes.
However, compared to the private sector, public organisations have unique needs, often not operating as a typical business might. They require intelligent automation solutions that are able to support their particular strategic and organisational needs and form the basis of continued digital expansion.
What is intelligent automation?
While there are many different kinds of intelligent automation and artificial intelligence solutions, undertaking tasks within nearly every core company function, it is useful to consider them all as a “digital worker”, able to simplify and automate time-consuming manual processes.
These technological 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 towards more complex and valuable work, but in the case of the public sector, it drives meaningful change across the entire organisation and the communities they operate within.
With public sector bodies being so highly regulated, it is not uncommon for inefficiencies stemming from out-dated technology and legacy systems to become baked into the day-to-day way of doing things.
Automation can assist with eliminating these inefficiencies, creating a chance to examine time-consuming processes, identify where they are becoming bottled-necked, while also offering a solution that does not rely on unnecessary manual input. Key functions such as invoice processing, workflow automation, payroll, onboarding and a host of other core processes within any organisation are all ripe for automation, offering 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 organisations to keep up with these transformations.
When implemented strategically and with the needs of an organisation at the forefront, intelligent automation can support collaboration, communication and new, modern ways of working, not only contributing to increased efficiency and cost-effectiveness, but also boosting 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 automation also helps public bodies to keep pace with the expectations of the general public. Automation allows citizens to access support more effectively, without the need for human intervention, especially in the case of adult social services, being resource-intensive centres that manage access to help and support across many key areas such as pensions, healthcare and benefits. This frees up employee time to focus on more pressing and complex issues, and also establishes a greater degree of trust and confidence in public bodies as effective organisations 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 organisations, many of which are still on the road to financial recovery post-pandemic, are continuously expected to be able to do more with less. Consequently, they are looking to the streamlined, agile ways of operating 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, with a report from McKinsey estimating it at a minimum of 30% after implementation costs for governmental agencies.
Breaking down siloes
Within the public sector, there is an increasing reliance on old, out-dated technology and legacy systems. A recent 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 out-dated systems such as these directly contribute to departments that are unable to successfully communicate with one another, and teams that are effectively siloed, creating unnecessary interdepartmental 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, synthesising 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.
Intelligent automation is about repurposing, not replacing
At the heart of well-implemented intelligent automation is people. While there is a 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 not only offer time and cost s
avings, they offer 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.
Emma O’Brien is CEO of Digital Transformation Services Agency, Embridge Consulting.