Automation technologies could radically transform government, performing the more tedious processes that can free up employees across departments, agencies and bodies to perform more value-add tasks.
That was the view of IBM public sector technology experts, who joined a Tech Monitor roundtable discussion with business technology executives – hosted with event partners IBM – to discuss the role of automation in government digital transformation plans.
Speaking to IBM’s director of UK public sector, Andy Astbury, the technology company’s client executive for the Home Office and Police, Natalie Coaten, outlined work Avon and Somerset Police had done to automate more than 25,000 hours of work – adding the equivalent of 30 full-time employees back into the force as ‘digital workers’.
“Ultimately, the whole point is to free up police officers and staff to save them from doing manual, tedious tasks – allowing them to concentrate on those skilled, high-value tasks,” Coaten said.
“It’s about augmenting the human worker, rather than replacing them.”
When starting to look at the opportunities provided by robotic process automation, Coaten’s advice was to start small, focus on proof-of-value, and ensure robust data quality.
Rob Anderson, principal analyst for central government at GlobalData, said that providing better services, significant savings and supporting an engaged workforce were the biggest opportunities RPA could offer.
“Using the latest data analytics, automation and AI techniques could dramatically reduce the amount of error and fraudulent activity in transactional systems,” Anderson said.
“This costs UK taxpayers tens of billions of pounds each year; cash that could be ploughed back into providing more frontline staff to provide richer services.”
Anderson noted the challenges of facilitating meaningful transformation in the behemoth of government, agreeing with Coaten that the best approach was to start small and move beyond pilots.
“The key to driving the next wave of digital transformation is to think big, but build small,” he said. “Fully joined-up government is a laudable concept, but too enormous a task for most of us to comprehend as a whole – and besides there is little funding available for massive, multi-year programmes.”
Furthermore, automation initiatives should not be about fossilising bad processes for the next generation of technology and business executives.
“Transformation shouldn’t be about digitising long-standing processes, it should be about reviewing them and where necessary redesigning them to ensure they are the most efficient and effective way of delivering a service,” he said.