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Automation in the Public Sector Needed for Staff and Citizen Support During and Post COVID-19

In our current times, businesses and citizens are seeking more reassurance and proactive support from their governments than ever before as they weather the storm of COVID-19. In turn, government agency employees are dealing with a long list of challenges every single day in order to meet these new needs and requirements.

Under ‘normal’ circumstances, citizens already hope to deal with government agencies in the same seamless and convenient way that they shop online for groceries. However, during large-scale crises rather than scaling down, staff in public services must work even harder than usual to ensure all essential amenities are available to citizens. In fact, according to a recent poll conducted by Blue Prism and OpenGov Asia, the biggest challenge faced by local public sector decision-makers in the ‘new normal’ is citizens’ requirements for new services – because of what they have become accustomed to as they were instructed to stay at home in the past year.

In their race to keep pace with evolving citizen expectations and demands, public sector agencies are seeing first-hand how the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the gaps between the inadequacies of existing legacy systems and their digital readiness. With agency staff working incessantly to help citizens but also having to deal with seemingly insurmountable workloads, could automation augment their ability to serve people?

We would suggest so, especially with 59 percent of public sector decision-makers in Singapore believing that incorporating automation into their organisation’s digital transformation journey would help improve overall work efficiency.

First, an automation mindset shift

As the world continues to lean toward digitalisation, intelligent automation has been adopted widely to manage and respond to the proliferation of data and information. Organisations have long focused on harnessing innovative technology to replace mundane administrative tasks, and rightly so, as such automation typically results in higher cost-effectiveness, a boost in productivity levels and increased operational agility. However, as digital transformation has started taking a firm foothold in many businesses, we have seen the traditional notion of intelligent automation and what is encompasses progressively giving way to a more complex one. In other words, automation has moved from just offloading onerous and menial tasks to a realm of innovative solutions.

By bridging the gap between ageing technology and intelligent automation, organisations are able to focus on automating tasks that are more strategic and complex to them, equipping them to better achieve mission outcomes and maximise resources. This shift requires organisations to re-examine the areas where intelligent automation can potentially support business functions and to recognise the importance of tying intelligent automation, in conjunction with other innovative technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence, to legacy applications to better run our society.

Exploring new possibilities in Singapore’s education sector

One example of where intelligent automation has an untapped potential to make a huge wave within the public sector is within education.

The circuit-breaker measures implemented by the Singapore government earlier this year sparked the catalytic shift towards remote working. Along with a large part of the workforce, most students, if not all, across various education levels, had to follow suit and continue their learning from home. This disruption in schooling has led schools to rethink ways to move towards online learning in the long term, and intelligent automation has emerged as one such solution.

The benefits of intelligent automation within education are twofold. Firstly, by implementing intelligent automation platforms in education systems through the deployment of intelligent digital workers across multiple functions, the time and human labour spent on administrative tasks can be significantly reduced. These ‘digital workers’, which are essentially a scalable team of low- or no-code software robots, can be trained by any user within a government agency to do anything, from automating basic tasks like updating students’ records, through to more complex ones like automating grading assessments for students’ national exams.

Besides unlocking efficiencies, such intelligent automation platforms will also allow lecturers or teachers to spend more time teaching, freeing them from administration to concentrate on tailoring lessons and enhancing the learning experience for students.

With digital workers working alongside public sector staff to take on excessive, tedious and repeated processes, they then have more time to then exercise their creativity, empathy and critical problem-solving abilities, focus on more value-adding projects or even take some time off for their personal well-being.

The next step in fulfilling digital transformation mandates

Governments around the world have laid out a long-term vision to modernise key areas in the public sector in order to effectively deliver operationally excellent services for their citizens. Singapore, with its launch of a ‘Digital Government Blueprint’ in 2018, is no different.

Within this equation, the benefit of unattended and intelligent automation is its interoperability with existing systems and its scalability. By incorporating a digital workforce as an additional organisational layer, intelligent automation can connect and unify different systems to deliver a frictionless digital experience and better support the human workforce.

Through lessons enforced by the pandemic with regard to insufficient or overworked employees, digital workers could very well be what all government agencies need as they move forward – the ability to provide modern services and provide a sense of solace and reassurance to the citizens using them.

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