City, State, and Government Offices Are Overwhelmed. It's Not a Problem - It's a Public Sector Crisis

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Visited a local, state, or government office lately? If you do, you'll be met with a worrying picture - exhausted employees, long lines, and mountains of paperwork. So who's doing all the critical work like processing your licenses, permits, claims, benefits, and tax returns? Well, no one. Or the few workers you do find are so overworked they're completing tasks at a snail's pace. 

Make no mistake, the public sector is in crisis and is in serious need of technological disruption. This means automating decades-old business processes with robotic process automation (RPA), Optical Character Recognition (OCR), and smart bots. 

How Bad is the Public Sector Crisis?

How did we get to this depressing situation, and just how bad is it? Simply put, public sector workers have been lured away into the private sector, which also suffers from a worker shortage. 

Private sector jobs often pay a higher salary, offer higher quality benefits like cars or gym memberships, and are far less dictated by political swings. And these benefits are proving all too tempting for public sector workers. For example, MissionSquare Research Institute found that 52% of workers in the sector were thinking of leaving their jobs. 

COVID-19 has also had a dramatic impact here, with around 42% of public sector workers considering leaving their jobs due to pandemic-induced burnout. Or in other words, public sector workers are stressed, and stress levels are only increasing as more work is piled on the remaining workers.  

As you would imagine, this mass exodus of government workers is terrible news for everyone. US State and city payrolls are still far below pre-pandemic levels, and currently, there are close to a million vacancies. This eye-watering deficit could take a whopping five years to fill, if they are filled at all. And for the people that rely on local and state government services (us!), it means delays and poor customer experiences. 

Their short-term solution to this dire situation is short-sighted and short-lived. Federal government stimulus funds for hiring, salaries, or raises might work as a short-term band-aid, but they don't address the deep-rooted issues in the system. 

But there's a better way forward - investing in RPA, OCR, and smart bots. With this in mind, let's look at the top five use cases for RPA and related technologies in the public sector. 

5 Use Cases of RPA in the Public Sector

At present, many public sector organizations are hierarchical, labor intensive, and don't sufficiently leverage digital tools for routine processes. The result? Sluggish and unresponsive organizations and widespread public dissatisfaction. 

But with RPA, both local and state governments can make huge improvements to productivity, effectiveness, and, most importantly, citizen experiences. Robotic process automation is highly effective at handling high volume, high-structured, and repetitive back office tasks. Moreover, smart bots can help improve government authorities further with next-level data analysis and intelligent communication solutions.  

Application Processing and Validation

Local and state government offices have a long list of obligations they must fulfill for citizens. Plenty of these processes are still done on paper, but increasingly, citizens use online portals to complete different documents and applications. You'd think switching to online portals would solve many of the drawbacks of the paper system, but you'd only be partially correct. Often, government offices use inefficent workflows or rely on manual data entry once the digital information comes in.

Luckily, RPA bots can make this process smoother with automated data collection and validation. Here are some of the documents RPA can help with:

  • Driver's license applications and renewals.
  • Tax forms.
  • Business licenses.
  • Parking permits.
  • Permits related to building, construction, and zoning. 
  • Professional certifications (For example, a teaching certificate from the state department of education). 
  • CourtHouse administrative tasks. 

Not only does RPA allow government employees to save precious time on these tasks, but it also supports much higher accuracy. Accuracy is everything when it comes to error-sensitive tasks. For example, a small error in a driver's license can see the process set back several weeks or make the critical document invalid. 

Look no further than The Australian Tax Office (ATO) for an example of this automation-driven accuracy boost in action. The ATO now uses a highly automated tax service that prefills annual tax returns, so citizens don't have to reenter information from elsewhere. Furthermore, any figures entered by citizens are automatically validated against people in similar circumstances. When discrepancies are found, the bot prompts users to review the anomalous data. 

Other governments around the world are also being swept by the RPA bug. For example, in June 2022, the UK's Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency signed a £4.16m ($4.76m) deal to introduce RPA to some of its key services. 

Data Migration and Data Entry

It should come as no surprise that governments rely on legacy systems and often outdated platforms. This presents several challenges. For example, older systems are often inflexible and unresponsive and need significant workarounds as times change. In addition, these systems are often siloed and don't talk to other systems very well. This means that government workers often have to manually enter data across several platforms, which is both time-consuming and increases the probability of errors. 

RPA can solve this issue by transferring data between systems as needed, eliminating the need for repeated manual data entry. Bots can also cross-check data for duplicates and delete unnecessary data. 

Similarly, companies can leverage RPA for data entry. For example, bots can take data from various sources, including claims, memos, reports, and documents, and enter it into legacy systems or spreadsheets. And RPA can do this with structured data (forms) or unstructured data (using OCR for scanned documents and images). 

Public Sentiment Analysis

Public sentiment analysis involves using bots to pull data from online platforms to get a view of how the public feels about the government offices' performance. This can be especially important for local governments that have more power to act quickly to address negative public sentiment. 

Local governments have a lot on their plate. They typically deal with parks and recreation services, police and fire departments, housing services, emergency medical services, municipal courts, transportation services, and public works like sewers, signage, snow removal, streets, and so on. 

As you can imagine, the way citizens engage with the local government about these services is as varied as it is complex. Citizens might have a request, a complaint, or an urgent problem that needs addressing. Information can come in through various channels and take some time to arrive at the right place. But with RPA and OCR, we can route information to the right systems and people without any human involvement. This speeds everything up and allows government workers to focus on what really matters - fixing citizens' problems. 

Surveys, Census, and Report Generation (Data Capture and Analysis)

Government offices must regularly generate reports about their operations, budgets, spending, grants, and citizen requests. The data used in these reports can come from structured and unstructured sources and from various systems across the organization. RPA pulls relevant data from anywhere and can leverage OCR to read the text in documents and images. 

And then, there are other types of data capture and analysis that RPA can help with. For example, local and state governments can drive public survey and census programs with RPA, ensuring data is collected and validated quickly for analysis. Smart bots can then crunch the data to find valuable insights into how the government is performing and how it can better serve its citizens. 

Critical Back Office Tasks

Beyond the government process-specific use cases, RPA can help save time and boost efficiencies in other critical areas of government offices. Public sector offices are still organizations, and this means they have to handle the same back office tasks as other organizations. This includes functions like finance, IT, and HR. Here, we can use RPA to handle a wide variety of processes, including:

  • Finance operations: Accounts Payable, Accounts Receivable, client reporting, payroll automation, and record keeping. RPA can also help with internal and external compliance auditing. 
  • IT operations: Automating software requests and approvals, monitoring server performance data, server issue alerting, data backups, batch processes (deleting and emptying folders, sending notifications to users), managing service requests, automating onboarding and offboarding. 
  • HR operations: New employee onboarding, collecting data for performance reviews, candidate sourcing, and interview scheduling. 

Using RPA across these functions helps reduce administrative errors, enhances communication between business departments, and results in a high ROI during increasingly uncertain times. For example, licensing a new RPA bot is significantly cheaper than hiring a full-time employee (FTE). Not to mention, many government offices no longer have the option of hiring new FTEs (they're struggling to fill these roles!). 

Wrapping Up

Automation should be a top priority for local, city, and state governments now and in the future. Faced with colossal worker shortages and increasingly demanding workloads, automation offers a way to get back on track.

Author

Alex Zekoff

Alex is the co-founder and CEO of Thoughtful. He’s spent his career working with Fortune 50 clients developing streamlined processes, enterprise applications, and digital workers. Now, he wants to bring this revolutionary technology to everyone with Thoughtful's pioneering model: automation-as-a-service.

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