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Improving the citizen experience with business automation in government

Business process automation has been flying high in recent years, and it has not been limited to the private sector. The enthusiasm is shared by public servants in technology leadership for many reasons, including efficiency, being able to do more with less, offering new services, or creating a completely new digital experience for citizens.

Digital government-driven transformations are not new. Many programs have been in motion to digitize, from the US Federal government, to Estonia, the UK, and now emerging economies such as India.

Throughout these examples, government managers build citizen self-service and straight through processing of government workflows. This requires integration, efficiency & the efficacy of human in the loop brought together for each government service.

The excitement about the technology is not unfounded - after all, all these approaches can be addressed with automation to:
  • help address the talent shortage, which affects government disproportionately higher than private sector companies
  • save thousands of labor hours
  • ensure faster delivery of services
  • reduce waste
  • empower agencies and organizations to offer new services with the same resources

Each of these benefits are growing in importance as the cost of labor increases with inflation, and governments come under pressure to do more with the same funding and headcount.

We often encourage businesses to broaden their horizons on automation, and we also encourage government entities to do the same. The list above represents the most common reasons automation is used by government entities, but they all fall into a single category: efficiency. Automation is commonly seen as a synonym for efficiency, and most vendors are happy to reinforce that for their customers.

The honest truth is that automation has much more to offer than efficiency. Efficiency is valuable, but automation is a catalyst for other equally valuable outcomes.

There are also ongoing changes in the technology landscape that accelerate and unlock new value for state, local, and national governments. Let’s take a closer look.

A new group creating new value

The talent shortage problem is especially painful in the government, it is all more exponentially painful if the technologies require heavy skilled people, as it is difficult to compete for expensive talent with capped public salaries. This used to mean that government use of technology was doomed to lag behind, but things are changing.

This liability can be turned into an asset with the adoption of low-code / no-code (LCNC) and embracing citizen development paradigm, yet with full IT driven governance. Instead of spending time searching for the most expensive and hard-to-find expertise, LCNC allows government entities to empower creative people with a knack for building. This is a fundamental shift in technology that is unlike anything that has come before, and it enables anyone - from small companies to large organizations - to build things that were impossible without code just a few short years ago.

Government entities should adopt a low-code technology strategy. That means prioritizing solutions that are easy to use - but it does not mean adopting tools that are not secure, scalable, or safe to use. A low code strategy should only embrace tools and platforms that have reached an acceptable level of maturity and pass rigorous proof of concept testing. Only then can the outcomes of automation beyond efficiency surface.

Better government outcomes from a low code strategy

We talked earlier about the value of automation beyond efficiency. While efficiency outcomes are potent, especially for government firms where resources can be tight, it is still worth broadening the horizons to other values. To structure these thoughts, I would bring a 3E Framework for government automation: efficiency, efficacy, and experience. These provide a more holistic vision of what deserves focus in an automation strategy, and helps organizations avoid a myopic perspective on the value of efficiency at all costs. Let’s take a closer look at each of these.

Efficiency: In the light of the challenges that were laid out in the beginning of the post, there is nothing wrong with pursuing efficiencies. As governments are so often stereotyped as inefficient and wasteful (especially in the West), taking opportunities to overcome this negative view is always worthwhile and beneficial.

I always encourage organizations, whether government or private, to not just get caught up in saving hours of time or headcount without looking at the bigger picture. Doing so means asking questions and thinking hard about the answer, such as:

  • Is this really the best way to do this process
  • Have we considered all of the variables and options
  • Can we save hours AND improve outcomes with a fresh process design

Efficacy: It’s not just about doing things fast, it is about doing them right. Government firms must also strive to reduce fraud, exception handling, or return visitors. For example, DMV wait times certainly can improve with faster service, but they can also improve with less foot traffic. Notorious problems like these can be overcome in this new era of automation.

Sometimes embracing efficacy means looking outside the box. While the popular trend of automation will encourage agencies to mimic human behaviors, it is likely that the human actions that have made up government processes to date are not worth mimicking - it may be worth innovating something new. In some cases, these processes are a frankenstein patchwork of changes and updates that have happened over 10+ years that have become loaded down and inefficient over time. Embracing low-code automation is a chance to try something new.

Experience: Experience can be a counterintuitive value in discussions of government and technology infrastructure. After all, many would stereotype the government as cold or unfeeling. However, examples abound of government-led exercises in technology intended to communicate values such as care to recipients of key services. The value extends beyond the singular experience. Common perceptions of waste or inefficiency are less likely when the “customer experience” is good for recipients of government services.

We can call this the “citizen experience” and it is seeing wider embrace. For example US president Biden recently signed an executive order on the citizen experience, focusing on placing the public first when making technology and process decisions. This means the United States will be increasing the number of customer experience roles within government agencies, which is hopefully a positive step in the right direction for a more effective government overall.

A holistic view of government automation

Government automation is an exciting area of opportunity, but even the best laid plans have the ability to get caught up in distractions. An overexuberance for efficiencies, concerns about the optics of automation & job creation, or staffing challenges can plague even the best programs.

But optimism about the advent of low-code / no-code should carry the day forward. The opportunities are endless when more people are empowered to build and creativity is embraced. I’m confident that in just a few short years, we will see many popular examples of governments successfully improving their processes with low code automation, leading to more efficient, effective, and experiential outcomes. This new era of automation is a great opportunity- it is up to state, local, and national leaders to lean in and embrace it.

Workato is the leading Integration and Automation Platform. Recognized as a leader, Workato enables both business and IT teams to integrate their apps and automate business workflows without compromising security and governance. It enables companies to drive real time outcomes from business events. There is no coding required, and the platform utilizes Machine Learning and patented technology to make the creation and implementation of automations 10X faster than traditional platforms.