Five nuances informing the RPA opportunity in the public sector

Financial pressures continuously challenge organisations to explore new technologies that enable them to deliver more for less. Forward thinking public sector organisations are adopting a digital agenda which aims to make government services online, examples include self-service platforms. Robotic process automation (RPA) is set to play a leading role in transforming back office tasks that present employees with a huge administrative burden.

At a technical level, there is no difference between delivering RPA in the public versus the commercial sectors. Public sector agencies use the same ERPs, technology platforms and share many of the business processes seen in private enterprises. However, the ‘above the line’ investment case for RPA does differ. Below are the five key examples –

1. The public-sector never off-shored business and administrative processes

RPA is credited with enabling businesses to on-shore business activities that were previously off-shored at a significantly lower cost.

Public sector agencies did not pursue the off-shoring of business or public administration processes. As a result most of the repetitive manual work, considered ideal for robotic process automation, is still performed by Australian Public Service employees. This makes the Return on Investment case significantly more attractive in the public sector than in businesses that may have previously leveraged an off-shore workforce.

2. Public-sector agencies often have strict employee count caps, making new sources of staffing efficiency more attractive

Public-sector executives, at both a State and Federal level, are under pressure from Ministers to constantly do more with less. Federally, the Coalition target is for the public service to require no more employees than it did under the Howard Government in 2006-2007. Population of Australia has grown by 20% in the last 10 years (from 20.7 million to 24.6 million). This has resulted in an increase in services across all areas of the state and federal governments. RPA is one of the technology based avenues that can help the public sector achieve their target.

public sector3. Investments in RPA – capital or operating costs

RPA provides flexibility to go capital (new system) or operational (process consulting). The adoption of international accounting standards by most State and Federal agencies has resulted in two distinct budget ‘buckets’, capital and operating. To the frustration of many Executives, little flexibility exists in terms of their ability to move funding between the two buckets and for most agencies, it is much easier to find capital funding than it is operating.

Unlike most management consulting service offerings, establishing an RPA program can represent a capital investment and provides for an asset on an agency’s balance sheet. Even the development of a Proof of Concept can be capitalised (AASB 138.57).

4. The business of public administration is inherently rule based

Public sector departments require defined, rule based business processes to address the risks associated with scale and complexity. A large percentage of the workforce follow prescribed Standard Operating Procedures relating to the administration of grants, welfare, immigration and other programs. Robotic process automation solutions can execute these rules based tasks, enabling employees to work on value-added tasks that uplift service levels and experiences of citizens.

5. Attention and care is needed toward an Agency’s approach to change

Federal and state governments are facing budgetary and regulatory disruptions as they manage budget constraints while responding to an increase in mission objectives.

Additional factors — increasing regulatory compliance, and demand for greater government value— adds fuel to these challenges for the government departments. As such, embedding RPA in the fabric of government operations need to be treated with significant care from a change management perspective.

The ‘above the line’ case supporting RPA in public sector agencies therefore needs to acknowledge this sensitivity and provide appropriate, ‘what does this mean for me?’ focused change and communications strategies whilst providing leaders with the tools and insight required to continue to lead during a period of change.


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