These days, public services increasingly want to do more with less. Recent progress in Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Intelligent Automation offers solutions to challenges faced by the public sector today, such as budgetary pressures and a heightened demand for (more) quality services. The hype surrounding automated bots has, however, led to all kinds of myths about this new technology. Before we touch on possible implications, we must first become familiar with the technical and functional aspects of RPA and Intelligent Automation.
Just like chatbots, Cognitive Automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI), RPA allows for human actions to be carried out more efficiently. Cognitive Automation makes it possible to automate tasks that do not follow a set of rules. Chatbots also fall under this category: these are computer programs presented as smart assistants. This article focuses on the possible applications of RPA technology for the public sector specifically.
Even though the name suggests otherwise, there are no physical robots present in Robotic Process Automation. RPA is a new technology that replicates human actions within administrative processes and can best be compared to a virtual employee. The activities of certain processes are imitated and simulated whereby repetitive tasks can be performed faster, more accurately, more reliably and also, more cost efficiently. For example, this means no more manual copying of information by administrative employees from one application to another. In practice, this will lead to a higher degree of employee satisfaction and a maximum consistency across all processes.
For the employee this means that he/she can fully implement such skills as reasoning, emotional intelligence, insight, problem-solving and social interaction with clients. Moral of the story: RPA takes the robot out of the human. Within an organization, the personnel thus freed has a renewed focus available for more strategic and value-adding tasks, combined with substantial cost savings.
In addition, employees can program the bots themselves relatively easily, so RPA implementation needn't cause heavy demands on IT. Depending on the number and scope of the processes, RPA can already be operational after a few weeks. RPA technology can also be coordinated with a wide range of processes, for both public and private sectors. A good candidate for RPA is typically a process consisting of a number of repetitive and predictable actions and usually following the same procedural steps. Also, the process should be largely digitized, with limited use of physical documents.
As mentioned above, the possible benefits of RPA for the private and public sector are numerous. The technology has proved eminently suitable to automate and optimize existing government agency processes. An estimated 27% of processes within public administrations are of a repetitive, routine and administrative nature, making RPA ideal for the automation and optimization of existing government processes. First and foremost, the technology strives for maximum operational efficiency, for example by limiting human labor as much as possible. The introduction of this technology can lead to a reduction of the number of full-time employees, which will reduce the costs for tax payers.
A second added value to the government is financial. Due to budget cuts at various authorities in our country, in recent years more room has become available for investment in innovative solutions. It does seem, however, that we have now exhausted the various options for linear savings, and must find new structural measures for a more cost-efficient government. The savings and increased efficiency described above that RPA promises to realize, also create a convincing business case for the implementation of the technology.
Thirdly: speed. RPA can also increase the quality of service provision and consequently, customer satisfaction by drastically reducing throughput times formerly dictated by human labor. A recent study has shown that a process with an average throughput time of six weeks can be reduced to roughly one week with RPA. The robot can operate 24/7, handle several processes and/or clients at the same time and also formulate a faster response to their questions/requests. Fourth, the newly available time can be used to eliminate any file backlogs, or focus even more closely on the citizens, the recipients of the service. Not only will the clients be more satisfied, so will the employees. This is because the repetitive and less interesting activities will largely be scrapped from their task package. Fifth, RPA offers solutions for data protection and security, audit regulation and compliance and administrative streamlining. A final benefit is that the performed process steps can be (re-)evaluated afterwards as the system maintains an audit trail registering all implemented actions. This benefits the visibility, transparency and the reliability of the processes.
In a nutshell, considering that the technology offers an answer to the greatest and foremost challenges faced by the government, RPA is one of the most important innovations in the public sector. RPA can realize the most relevant and current objectives that government agencies have today, namely, data protection and reliability, cost efficiency and highly responsive customer service.