The Government’s Big Opportunity

22 March 2017

As a society we are in the midst of a rapid period of change. Advances in technology are both intertwined with and driving this evolution, as consumers across each sector become ever more demanding, expecting organisations to move at the speed they live their own lives. In this sense, the government is no different from any part of the private sector and the launch of its digital strategy is a timely recognition of this fact.

The recently announced investment in AI and robotics research in particular, will prove to be a critical tool in helping the public sector adapt to this change of pace. If the government is to achieve its lofty digital targets however, a rapid acceleration in the adoption of such technology will be absolutely vital.

Aiming high

The UK government has set itself the target of making every interaction it has with citizens digital, by 2020. That is no small task and one that will require every department to take on responsibility for delivering the technology that will facilitate this change. Pivotal to changing the way in which the government engages with and serves citizens, is the effective use of Big Data.

As Andrew Anderson, CEO of Celaton recently stated, “90 percent of the world’s data was created in the past two years; 80 percent of that is unstructured.” This statement makes it abundantly clear that while working with Big Data holds huge potential for organisations, the very latest technology is needed to bring it under control. The capability is needed for this unstructured and structured data to be handled far more efficiently, if it isn’t to become an empty promise from the government. This is where Robotic Process Automation (RPA) comes into its own.

Critical intelligence

Quite simply, RPA involves a computer conducting administrative tasks. By automating the repetitive manual tasks that drain so much time from people across all industries worldwide, technology can give an organisation the chance to spend time adding value to the services it delivers. In the government’s case, automation tools will certainly save time and money, but the real advantage of robotics will be the opportunity it provides to use data more effectively. Automating the gathering of the huge quantity of data government currently collects – from people’s addresses to their healthcare records – will free up valuable time for it to focus on analysis of information. This allows public services to identify trends, predict need – such as when someone may use the local hospital or GP – and develop solutions to better serve UK citizens.

As Everest Group, a researcher company, has made clear, the more that an organisation understands RPA, the more priorities change. Initially, the cost savings will be the most attractive element of automation, but as people gain greater insight into how the technology works, more strategic advantages such as redesigning the workforce to use data to meet needs earlier – such as reaching out to those at risk of losing housing due to unemployment – and compliance, in terms of protecting personal data, come to the fore. The compliance angle in particular will be of massive importance to the government.

To date, the organisations that have been most active in deploying RPA hail from highly regulated industries such as banking and insurance. In terms of the criticality of compliance, the government very much comes into the same bracket as these businesses. After all, it deals with sensitive information such as health data and tax affairs. Taking the public sector fully digital in its interactions with citizens will mean many regulatory hurdles will have to be overcome and if the government is to meet its objectives in this respect by 2020, automation will be critical in tackling these compliance challenges. Now more than ever, consistency will be key.

Act smart

An issue that government has often struggled with regarding technological deployments is consistency. Often, one department will have access to a set of data, while another will not, placing significant limitations on digital progress and hindering communications between different parts of the public sector. Intelligent automation will be front and centre when it comes to handling these issues and overcoming the problems that the lack of communication and consistency have brought in the past. It will also prove a far more nimble, painless way of undertaking significant technological progress across the entire government, in a way that huge IT projects have often failed to do in the past.

In order for this to truly be a new dawn of digital government, the adoption of automation has to start immediately and at pace. The leading consultancies such as PwC and EY have recognised the critical role that RPA will play in the future of business, making vast investments in delivering the advantages of the technology to the business world. For the public sector not to be left behind, it must take the lead from such bodies. There is exponential potential in the government’s digital strategy but the right decisions must be made at an early stage if the public is to receive the highest level of digital service.

Guy Kirkwood is an RPA, cognitive and AI evangelist and is COO of UiPath.

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