Public Sector Automation: Expectation vs Reality
In my role as Director at Fivium, I have witnessed first-hand over the last year the relentless tsunami of cases that have flooded central government ministerial, parliamentary and information rights teams as the COVID crisis has washed over all of us.
The effect of this, sometimes fourfold, increase in workloads at a time when normal routines, working conditions and capacity have all been dramatically changed is understandably monumental and not without repercussions; however, these teams have universally stepped up to the challenge, often working late at night and at weekends just to keep up with the demand for timely information to keep parliament, industry and the public as best informed as possible over this unprecedented period.
The Utopian Vision of Automation
The best innovation typically comes from times of hardship, therefore it isn’t surprising to see interest in how and where automation can eliminate manual or repetitive tasks and where technology can augment people to create further efficiencies.
What is perhaps unsurprising is that the main drive for automation seems to be coming from the technology function rather than the business user community; however, this is dangerous because whilst simple transactions are relatively easy to automate, complex ones require a deep understanding of often very nuanced context and end to end business processes. The risk is that business users are sold a utopian vision, which leads them to believing that third party tooling can be a one size fits all solution, when in fact it is not. Rather than alleviating workload pressures, it instead creates new management workloads (via maintenance of new numerous complex and unwieldy data repositories that manage their new ‘automation’) or ends up causing confusion and chaos when even slightly ambiguous transactions are misdirected through intricately designed workflows. For true automation to be successful, it can not be entered into as a tick box exercise, it needs to be well thought out and consider the future implications of system changes.
Simple or Complex Automation?
Therefore, I advocate that rather than rush headlong into looking for tactical problems for third party generic ‘task automation’ solutions to solve, government really considers the end-to-end complexity of the processes that its under pressure business functions are carrying out, such as its correspondence teams (but there will no doubt be a myriad of other ones too!). If the process is straightforward, with few limited variables, then generic ‘task automation’ multi-purpose solutions are exactly the right tool for the job. However, if the process is complex, with significant amounts of variability and cannot be easily broken down into a series of simple tasks, then it is likely that deep business domain knowledge and experience will be needed. The best and most efficient way of sourcing that is to collaborate with the experts in the specific business function field to truly innovate. This may initially incur a perceived higher overhead, as rather than working with a single generic ‘task automation’ vendor, government departments will need to engage their existing and/ or potentially future system providers for each complex process. Working directly with Fivium’s eCase customer community has enabled us to see, first-hand, the benefits of collaboration between organisations and service providers with unique domain knowledge. This approach has proven to offset the risks (described above) created by point solutions and will ultimately lead to true ‘augmented business process automation’ that delivers the utopian efficiencies and outcomes the business user community so badly needs now and in the post pandemic recovery.
About the author
Richard Clarke is Vice Chair of techUK’s Central Government Council and Director at Fivium, the UK’s largest SME provider of bespoke digital platforms and correspondence case management services to the public sector ecosystem. Fuelled by his passion for improving the lives of UK citizens through technology, Richard has developed a deep domain knowledge having spent the last 16 years operating in senior leadership positions within the GovTech sector.
Laura is techUK’s Programme Manager for Technology and Innovation.
She supports the application and expansion of emerging technologies across business, including Geospatial Data, Quantum Computing, AR/VR/XR and Edge technologies.
Before joining techUK, Laura worked internationally in London, Singapore and across the United States as a conference researcher and producer covering enterprise adoption of emerging technologies. This included being part of the strategic team at London Tech Week.
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Prior to joining techUK in January 2015 Sue was responsible for Symantec's Government Relations in the UK and Ireland. She has spoken at events including the UK-China Internet Forum in Beijing, UN IGF and European RSA on issues ranging from data usage and privacy, cloud computing and online child safety. Before joining Symantec, Sue was senior policy advisor at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI). Sue has an BA degree on History and American Studies from Leeds University and a Masters Degree on International Relations and Diplomacy from the University of Birmingham. Sue is a keen sportswoman and in 2016 achieved a lifelong ambition to swim the English Channel.
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