THE PUBLIC SECTOR FUTURE

Has it ever occurred to you that technology governs so much of our lives. That is to say, not in the sense of maybe television and cellphones, but that automation literally governs our lives? Government agencies are no stranger to Robotic Process Automation (RPA). Just like their commercial counterparts, government and public sector agencies rely on RPA to deliver its citizens better service. 

Public sector organizations can (and have begun to) harness the power of automation’s digital innovation to run smoothly and effectively. Process automation helps address common problems like high work volume, employee shortages, frequent regulatory and policy modifications, and insufficient resources. Since its first application only a few short years ago, government agencies like the National Aeronautics and Space Association (NASA), the Department of Defense (DoD), and the United States Postal Service (USPS) have all seen significant changes in efficiency and error reduction, among other benefits. 

Because of the highly transactional, repetitive, and time-consuming nature of government processes, the public sector is perfect for RPA. Automated processing allows agencies to prioritize human-centric services and delegate them to in-house digital robots that carry out redundant and time-consuming tasks. From a back-end perspective, RPA helps reduce costs and backlogs while improving compliance. Efficiency and cost reduction ultimately leads to better service and care towards the citizens it serves. From a return on investment (ROI) perspective, all parties involved are seeing some form of immediate ROI. 

DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION (DOT)

Take for example the Department of Transportation (DOT). Working on an outdated system, the DOT incurred a database of over 150,000 records. As the system became obsolete with no ability to upgrade using the current vendor, the DOT needed a solution to migrate the mass amounts of data seamlessly and with extreme accuracy. To complete the task manually would have required a significant amount of work-hours that would have put the current operations at risk. 

Carrying over into a new system manually could have had extreme negative consequences for the DOT and those that utilize its service daily. By employing RPA into its system, the DOT’s automation of processes reduced the data migration time by 75% with little to no intrusion on its daily operations. All 150,000 files migrated with 100% accuracy and cut the project cost in half. 

INTER-AMERICAN DEVELOPMENT BANK (IDB)

In a similar case of automation in the public sector, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) took on the challenge of processing over 20,000 invoices annually. So, as populations continue to grow and its member count increasing, the company needed to make better use of the resources it already had. In the case of invoice processing, the IDB gathered multiple PDFs, image files, emails, and other digital assets and extracted their data manually. Subsequently, each invoice on average took 7 minutes to process, resulting in over 2,300 work hours—and that’s just to extract data from a PDF file. 

Repetitive manual tasks like invoice processing took away from IDB’s skilled workforce capability. Thus, they were preventing workers’ engagement in more complex processes where they are desperately needed. IDB’s implementation of RPA saw a sharp reduction in processing time to only 1 minute per invoice with 100% accuracy. Its non-intrusive deployment took 7 short weeks. 

TO ERR IS HUMAN, TO NOT IS AUTOMATION 

In many areas of government and public sector agencies, accuracy becomes the Achilles heel of processes. As for the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), a combat support division of the Department of Defense (DoD), accuracy is more than just a requirement—it’s critical for the safety of every US citizen. In one use case, the DLA uses automation processing for its onboarding process for new personnel. The DLA found that data entry points saw repeated errors in manual handling, leading to duplicate and faulty records. For such a sensitive government sector, perfect accuracy was a means of at-risk prevention and of avoiding long processing times. 

After implementing RPA, the DLA achieved 100% accuracy in data entry, saving over 800 hours annually with a single robot. The agency currently uses 40+ digital robots across operations that keep sensitive information secure while reducing unnecessary work hours. 

ROBOTS DON’T REPLACE, THEY ENRICH THE PUBLIC SECTOR

Misconceptions about the use of digital bots and workforce hour reduction can come across as threatening. As the General Services Administration (GSA) and many other companies point out, bots enrich the workplace rather than destroy it. In GSA’s case, the agency built a digital robot in which they affectionately named “Truman”. To clarify, this was an homage to the agency’s founder, President Harry Truman.

The GSA’s use of Truman parallels with Xchanging, a UK based company with a set of their own digital robots named “Poppy” and “Henry.” So in Xchanging’s case, workers using bots consider them an extension of themselves. Additionally, they’ve got so far as inviting them to office parties (imagine!).[1] But even from an impersonal perspective, bots don’t take jobs away from workers; they help make their processes easier so they can work smarter. Human workers are inevitably responsible for training and delegating tasks: even in their independence, bots are still dependent on humans.

MORE THAN JUST A BOT

As government and public sector agencies make great strides towards applying automation within its processes, the results ultimately net better service for the citizens it serves. The employment of digital robots poses ample opportunity for growth and expansion by reducing costs and the time needed to complete tasks. Moving forward, the use of automation will free up organizations to provide more services and better quality of care. Suffice it to say, digital robots work in agencies that govern the citizens in a position of quite humbling service. 

 

 

Notes:
[1] Harvard Business Review
“What Knowledge Workers Stand to Gain from Automation”
https://hbr.org/2015/06/what-knowledge-workers-stand-to-gain-from-automation