The workforce of the future: humans + machines working collaboratively

By | 3 minute read | June 5, 2018

Photo by Graeme Worsfold on Unsplash

Automation can cause ripple effects through entire industries. And government is no different. As machines rapidly learn how to complete repetitive and time-consuming tasks that take up much of their employees’ workdays, governments will need to get ready for a new future. Today, U.S. adults spend an estimated annual $69 billion and 11.5 hours collectively on government paperwork. Caseworkers spend an estimated third of their day on administrative tasks.

With automation, employees will be freed up to focus on higher-value work. And combined with data and AI, automation will become even more powerful. From caseworkers to infrastructure, agencies across government will be transformed.

To learn how, we talked with Juan Delacruz, Global Digital Reinvention Leader, IBM Global Government.

What challenges are governments currently facing?

Governments are under intense pressure from the public to provide better services. Governments are not moving at the pace of businesses and citizens expect the same level of services they get when interacting and shopping with Amazon or other digital platforms.

At the same time, government discretionary budgets are relatively flat, and they cannot spend as much as they would like on innovation.

Governments are also competing for new talent to replace an aging workforce  in mature economies. The number of U.S. federal government employees under the age of 30 is now around 7 percent, the lowest  in nearly a decade. There is competition for talent everywhere, not just in government.

What role does automation play in digital transformation?

Automation is a common thread across all government digital transformation initiatives and has advanced significantly in the past few years so that it can now be applied at scale.

There are a few capabilities underpinning automation.

One is robotic process automation (RPA), which is software that automates repetitive, rules-based tasks, thereby freeing up time for employees to perform higher value activities. Today, for example, an employee looks for an invoice in one system, logs into another to find a purchase order associated with the invoice, confirms the goods or services were received in a third system, and then authorizes payment of the invoice in a fourth system.

There are tens of thousands of these low-value, repetitive tasks performed daily in government. At an enterprise level, RPA can be high-impact, low cost, and quickly deployed. And it causes very limited organizational disruption.

The other capability is intelligent automation, which is more advanced and integrates AI with operational processes. It provides employees with better insights to help job performance. And it analyzes unstructured data, such as videos and images, that reveal new insights.

What are examples of intelligence automation?

AI-enabled customer care is one. Miami-Dade County won an award from the National Association of Counties for their chatbot solution. The country’s water and sewer departments rolled out AI-enabled chatbots to help people on city websites any time of the day—instead of having to speak with a call center agent to extend payment dates, ask questions, or confirm payment amounts.

The chatbot reduced the customer service workload and improved service levels from the public’s perspective.

Georgia Tech used Watson to deploy an AI-enabled teaching assistant to handle the high number of forum posts and questions from students. Named Jill Watson, students did not realize that Jill was not human.

Staples wanted to make reordering as easy as talking, so transformed their Easy Button into an intelligent, voice-driven interface for reordering supplies and services with minimal interaction. Plus, by learning about a company, it will remember their preferences and anticipate future needs.

The technologies are mature and can be applied at an enterprise level, but governments are just starting to look at automation.

How will this affect current workers?

There is more work to do than resources available to perform it. Governments can spend more time shifting resources to work with, for example, vulnerable citizens. Case workers are overloaded. They spend just 15 percent of their working week face-to-face with clients. And more than a third of their day is spent on administrative tasks.

Alleviating mundane tasks with intelligent automation will allow government employees to focus on higher value tasks.

How should governments approach automation?

Automation is a journey. Governments have to think big, start small, and scale fast.

And consistent and frequent communications with government employees is critical. Employees need to buy into the automation journey. Automation is focused on eliminating mundane tasks and having employees spend more time on dealing with more complex services. Automation is not about taking out costs, instead, it’s about providing higher value to the public.

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