RPA as an Emerging Technology in the Public Sector

State governments are turning to artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic process automation (RPA) to grow and automate many of their business processes. Many see these emerging technologies as a useful tool to reduce paper work and automate tedious manual tasks.

According to the 2019 survey by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO), 65 percent of state Chief Information Officers believe AI and RPA will be the most impactful emerging technologies in the next three to five years. In 2018, AI and robotics garnered 57 percent of the votes, and in 2017, only 29 percent of the vote. More state CIOs see AI and RPA as having greater value compared to other technologies such as autonomous vehicles, blockchain, and the Internet of Things.

For years, the private sector has used RPA to automate back office processes, and now governments are following suit. UiPath reports agencies can reduce processing costs by up to 80 percent and expect a positive return on investment within a year of adoption. Even better, a majority of public sector employees believe AI and RPA will improve their work and not replace them.

Many agencies found that case workers, help desks, and budget offices spend a large percentage of their time with administrative tasks. Workers at the Colorado Department of Human Services spent 37.5 percent of their time on documentation and admin work, and only 9 percent of their time on human interaction with families and children. About 80 to 90 percent of help desk requests at the North Carolina Innovation Center were password resets, something a chatbot can easily handle.

RPA is extremely useful across government service functions because it can be used across multiple legacy systems. It reduces human error, standardizes work, increases efficiency, and easily meets compliance standards. Most importantly, it allows public servants to focus on customer service and more value-added work.

Examples include:

  • Form automation: Cities can capture useful data, reduce processing times, and increase participation in public services through automated digital forms.
  • Invoicing: Governments require a high level of transparency. Automating invoice processing time is an effective way to improve speed, efficiency, and accuracy.
  • Data entry: Eliminating the need for manual data entry speeds up operations, eliminates most errors, and reduces boredom.
  • Compliance: Easily create audit trails with the elimination of most errors, improved data and standardization, as well as operational processes that automatically comply with regulations.

RPA will create more jobs and shift current workers into new positions. State governments should start thinking about how they can build on existing platforms, retrain staff and use RPA to improve citizen services. Instead of playing catchup, look at how automating systems will increase productivity and reduce costs in the long run.

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