Why the future of the public sector is increasingly automated

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Increasingly, digital collaboration tools, automation, and AI offer a new equilibrium between people and machines to create a fluid, augmented workforce. So where are the biggest opportunities for the public sector to embrace the future of work?

An ocean of opportunity

Traditionally, the public sector has been characterized by multiple, unintegrated legacy systems. Often, public sector workers still have to exchange information between themselves manually, in order to complete a process or provide a service, usually increasing costs and room for error. However, as the private sector embraces data and automation with slick precision, citizens and businesses expect the public sector to become more proactive and data driven, improving the speed and efficiency of services. In fact, it’s inevitable that the public sector automates, given its increasing workload due to new legislation and the demands of citizens, and a declining number of employees thanks to demographic change.

Since the pandemic, the expectation of self-service via seamless, digital channels has only accelerated. Gartner research shows that in 2021, 82% of citizens expected to use self-service, compared to 73% in 2020. Shifting demographics mean a higher percentage of workers is comfortable with advanced technologies, with the new generation expecting more advanced digital tools.

Meanwhile, the regulatory context on data privacy and data sharing is maturing, creating a clearer framework for how people and AI can work together. Efficiency is a priority, meaning that public sector organizations need to be leaner, with increased scrutiny on public spending.

The benefits of automation

So what does a more automated public sector look like? Processing is more citizen centric, offering fast, touchless, paperless, self-service experiences. Digitization simplifies processes and removes friction, making the journey easier for everyone. Public sector organizations are more in control and more proactive, often nudging the citizen to act, rather waiting for their move. This delivers cost savings and enables investment in other initiatives. The result is a more satisfying, citizen centric, personalized experience.

But automation isn’t for everything. It’s a judgement call. This is about enhancing social impact and improving experiences in specific scenarios. It’s also about balancing efficiency with a personalized service to truly satisfy the needs of individual citizens. Of course, the pandemic has been a catalyst for digitization. Public sector agencies need to remain flexible, maintaining high levels of service, whether or not employees are actually in the office.

Automation in action

To illustrate the opportunities, we’ve identified a diverse range of stories, all taken from our report TechnoVision 2021 Public Sector Edition.

HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) used Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to automate time-consuming clerical tasks, and link digital services and back-office systems for end-to-end processing. In the US, the RPA Community of Practice (CoP) enables cooperation among federal agencies. In Japan, the Ibaraki Prefecture implemented RPA to automate the input of data and information, while improving associated processes. Meanwhile, South Korean Customs Services is using AI to augment its custom workforce with predictive analytics to help identify illegal counterfeit products. Back in the US, AcUIty is a modern unemployment insurance (UI) solution designed to support state-level UI benefits and address complex financial, eligibility, and claims management requirements.

Upskilling and optimizing workforces

Automation demands a long-term organizational focus on building the talent pools that will be critical to future success. Removing repetitive manual tasks means more time to focus on specific cases, and to interact with individual citizens; but also refocusing on delivering insights through analytics. Using AI and analytics enhances decision making, prediction, and scenario planning to put the organization more in control. The workforce needs to evolve digital skills for widespread automation, and to develop new capabilities through continuous learning, all of which presents a change management challenge, as our report

Work in progress

Many public sector organizations are in the process of responding to new regulations and the rapid digitization of services. Take the example of a particular state pension service in Europe. Currently its workforce isn’t expanding, but the state population is growing and ageing, resulting in a rising demand for services. Meanwhile, the future workforce demands more flexible, virtual work, with the best digital tools. When the pandemic reinforced the need for radical technological transformation, it was actually the business, not IT, which took the lead in championing the need for greater automation. Within a few weeks, one simple bot was able to deliver work equivalent to 20 full time employees. Meanwhile, the humans are focusing on complex work and interaction with citizens.

What are the key challenges?

The first challenge on the journey to automation is securing the support of the whole organization, especially if it doesn’t have a Chief Digital Officer, or Chief Data Officer, to drive the digital agenda. Then the desire to avoid vendor lock-in often leads to a reliance on custom solutions that increase silos and fragmentation. Next, data quality and accessibility can be challenging, making it difficult to apply AI. The regulatory and compliance context often means that personal data can only be used for the purpose it was gathered for. Also, leaders need to ensure their activities serve a coordinated strategy across the public sector.

Where to start?

Your journey should focus on transformation as an evolution in citizen centricity. First, start with the vision and benefits that will be the basis of the business case: How will automation add value for citizens and increase your efficiency? Second, understand the ecosystem of available technology, data, and workforce. How do the processes work today? Are they documented? Are there gaps in terms of speed and availability? Can you identify backlogs or bottlenecks? Third, recognize the key challenges from a citizen and business point of view, and develop a strategy and roadmap to deal with them – identifying the processes, people, and technologies you’ll need to optimize the opportunities.

Look beyond the public sector at successes in the private sector. Evaluate the business cases and the key technologies. Don’t chase innovative technology for its own sake but do build solutions for specific business challenges. Then your strategy and business case will justify the case for change internally. Wherever your journey starts, one thing is for sure.  The business case for automation makes it inevitable, but so do human imperatives: citizens want a faster, smoother service, while workers want the most advanced tools for the job.

Read TechnoVision 2021 Public Sector Edition, our guide to what’s new and what’s coming next in the world of technology, for more information on technology trends in the public sector.

 

Authors

Stefan Burghardt

Senior Manager at Capgemini Invent

Florence Rolland

Senior IPA Offering Coordinator & Innovation Analyst at Capgemini

Marek Sowa

Head of AI & Automation Offering & Innovation at Capgemini

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