By James Lye, Oracle Insight
Three of the biggest challenges in the public sector are controlling costs, providing effective and efficient services to citizens, and scaling to meet changing needs.
Cost-wise, the global public-sector budget deficit is close to US$4 trillion a year (approximately 5% of global GDP), with global public debt at US$61 trillion and growing. Despite record spending, citizen satisfaction with public-sector services continues to lag the private sector by a significant margin. Meanwhile, governments are constantly expanding and shrinking as economic shifts occur, new administrations get elected, and the public’s priorities change.
Technology adoption and digital transformation, as they have in the private sector, can decrease costs and create better outcomes. Automation, in particular, can help governments scale, improve productivity, and improve citizen satisfaction.
Yet deployment of automation in the public sector is in its infancy relative to its potential. A McKinsey Global Institute paper estimates half of all workforce activities could eventually be automated. Roughly applied to the Australian public-sector context, as a midsize example, up to US$76 billion in potential efficiencies could be used to deliver much-needed services or to repair the budget.
Achieving the full potential of automation, however, requires significant investment, time, and management focus.
Rise of the Machines
Automation can broadly be categorized into physical (assembly lines, drones, driverless vehicles), digital (software/process automation), and combinations of both. The first wave of automation has been delivering productivity benefits for years in highly structured tasks and predictable environments—for example, robot arms in car factories and data scraping and aggregation on the internet.
However, advances in underlying and complementary technologies such as AI, machine learning, and IoT have now put increasingly complex cognitive tasks within scope, such as tasks requiring judgement or dealing with ambiguity.
In the public sector, robotic process automation (RPA) can deliver the greatest benefit in the short term. RPA uses software robots to perform tasks using the same tools human workers use. The robot can learn by watching humans perform tasks as well as by the trial and error of its own efforts. Combined with natural language processing, robots (for example, chatbots) can also take on customer interactions, improving with every conversation.
In the public sector, robotic process automation can deliver the greatest benefit in the short term.”
As an example, the University of Adelaide in South Australia deployed a chatbot to field questions from potential students during the yearly admissions rush—a critical time to attract prospective applicants. The chatbot, built within four weeks on a PaaS service, reduced average response times from 40 minutes to 90 seconds. Leveraging machine learning and natural language processing, the bot learned from prior conversations to deliver accurate information in natural, conversational responses that 60% of users rated 5 stars.
Driving Forces for Automation
Beyond the headline objective of improving productivity, federal and state governments have identified a number of areas where automation can play a large role.
Key Considerations for Success
Getting automation right the first time is critical, given the sensitivity of citizens to changes in government services. Here are four key considerations for achieving immediate success with automation projects.
Automation has to be a foundational piece of the public-sector strategy. The extensive benefits that can be achieved in scaling, productivity, and improved employee and citizen outcomes will only increase as the underlying technology improves.
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