AI and public sector – combining to create high performance governments

Written by Joel Cherkis on 4 October 2019 in Opinion

Joel Cherkis of UiPath examines why governnments should not be thinking about whether to deploy either robotics or AI – but how the two can work in unison to deliver greater benefits

Credit: Adobe Stock Images

AI or RPA, which one do I use? That’s the number one question asked about the role robotic process automation (RPA) plays vs. artificial intelligence (AI), especially in the context of applying technology to support the challenges of public sector.  But I don’t see this as a ‘vs’ conversation.  It’s more of an ‘and’ discussion. Here’s why….

Public sector organisations are constantly facing challenges. Budget constraints, antiquated systems, and an aging workforce are among the various issues for many governments. Citizens and businesses demand faster access to expanded services, and they want a one-to-one relationship with governments. To get this to scale, technology can certainly be an enabler, and this is why I see these challenges as opportunities instead. 

Keep in mind that RPA mimics human behaviour when it comes to simple repetitive tasks and that, by using RPA as a backbone for AI algorithms, we can move into automating more complex processes. This to me is a way to augment human behaviour, and the ideal path to success – since we don’t want to just add technology for technology’s sake, but instead deliver a pragmatic approach to using AI to solve actual problems within an organisation. 

We are at the beginning of the automation evolution in many public sector areas, but there is immense interest in bringing additional AI focus to topics like tax fraud, benefits eligibility, and improving public health services

For an organisation to get started in the RPA and AI space, focus should be on highly repetitive, mundane tasks that if automated, can deliver faster results, dramatically reduce errors, and relieve workers from tedious daily activities. We are at the beginning of the automation evolution in many public sector areas, but there is immense interest in bringing additional AI focus to topics like tax fraud, benefits eligibility, and improving public health services.These can be typically found in finance and accounting activities, HR processing, call-centre activities, and also in mission-centric tasks. Matched with RPA, AI can accelerate this process by simplifying the way documents are consumed and interpreted, screen and data fields being identified and understood, conversational intent being recognised, and process flows derived from analysing user patterns. By combining RPA and AI, you have systems that can deliver results and they get smarter over time.

As these concepts are being discussed inside organisations, the typical response from leaders is excitement about the potential to deliver faster results with greater accuracy, but many of the existing employees become fearful that their entire roles will be automated and thus there will be less need for humans in the workplace.

To the contrary, most public sector organisations end up increasing their output by automating the repetitive tasks and thus giving their employees the time needed to focus on processes that humans are great at solving. For example, by automating standard HR on/off-boarding activities, HR representatives can now focus on more cognitive tasks like ensuring new employees have the right training programmes and individualised assignment of mentors that will give new employees a great jump-start in the organisation.  

Clearing the backlog
Most public sector groups are eager to use new technologies and RPA and AI are of high interest, but typical budget concerns and governance requirements can slow the adoption process. This is where the issue of ‘work backlogs’ is becoming an aid to speeding the RPA and AI usage as many organisations have long lists of work needing to be done, but they don’t have the staff to get the work done in a timely manner. This results in problems like overpayment of funds, under/over-assignment of benefits, and fees for late processing of important transactions.  

By automating these processes, governments are now able to remove their backlogs, speed up response times and data accuracy, and improve morale and engagement among employees that now have access to a digital workforce comprised of software robots with AI skills.

We are at the beginning of the automation evolution in many public sector areas, but there is immense interest in bringing additional AI focus to topics like tax fraud, benefits eligibility, and improving public health services. But it doesn’t end there, as RPA and AI solutions are being delivered across government, from the administration groups, to public safety, education, tax/revenue, public works, utilities, and many more.  

The time is right for RPA and AI to support many aspects of these government functions and the public and private sectors are working together to achieve success.  There are great examples from governments around the world, at both central and regional level, that show rapid results to their RPA journeys.  As AI becomes easier to use, expectations are that RPA and AI adoption will continue to accelerate and help to deliver capabilities enabling more public sector organisations to become high performance governments.

For a deeper discussion on this topic, make sure to read the 'Automation is Enabling Digital Transformation in Governments Around the World' blog post and associated white paper from UiPath.





This article forms part of PublicTechnology’s dedicated AI Week, in association with UiPath. Click here to read lots more content on a wide range of issues. We are also hosting an exclusive webinar discussion – in which a panel of private and public sector experts debate all the major issues related to government's use of AI – is now available to view on demand. Click here to register to do sofree of charge – to view on demand.




About the author

Joel Cherkis is vice president of global public Sector industry at UiPath

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