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INDUSTRY INSIGHT

Building the new digital assembly line for improved government operations

To date, many government agencies have been slow to digitize, relying on paper- and people-intensive processes or outdated, legacy technologies that impede their ability to process requests and respond to citizens in a timely manner. And while agencies continue to amass vast amounts of valuable data, they struggle to leverage it because it’s trapped in paper storage warehouses, unstructured document formats or legacy software.

The good news is that the opportunity for improvement is enormous. According to estimates from consulting firm, McKinsey, “as many as four out of five [government] processes in HR, finance, and application processing are at least partially automatable, with the potential to reduce costs by at least 30 percent.”

Government agencies at all levels have the opportunity to leverage artificial intelligence and automation, creating more streamlined processes for citizens and employees. But this change hinges upon the strategic adoption of AI and the fostering of a new digital workforce.

Establishing the new digital assembly line

For agencies to effectively leverage AI, they must establish and champion the creation of a new digital workforce that operates alongside machines.

In this new digital assembly line, work is divided between software and employees based on the task and the strengths of each type of worker. For example, while machines are adept at crunching numbers and processing repetitive tasks faster and more accurately than humans, they are lacking in higher-functioning areas, such as the ability to consider data in context, think creatively and apply judgment. AI-enabled workflows strategically involve humans in the loop for higher-order decision-making or to review data anomalies that require human insight into context and meaning. 

In the not-too-distant future, intelligent software will increasingly handle the busy work of reviewing applications for federal service and extracting and packaging the relevant information in a digestible format that humans can use to render faster and more informed decisions. This eliminates manual work and increases the quality of decisions, leading to performance-driven organizations with superior outcomes.

Getting to this AI-enabled digital workplace requires vision, strategic planning and ongoing support to maximize human and machine potential. Below are four best practices to begin the journey:

1. Align on the overall vision. Before undertaking any digital transformation initiative, it’s important agencies clearly define their larger goals. Agency leaders should solicit input from various departments and levels – particularly operational professionals, technology staff and employees whose day-to-day roles and responsibilities will likely change – and work to ensure buy-in on the overall strategy, including the specifics of what they want to accomplish and why. Digital transformation not only involves objectivity but also creativity and vision to imagine new ways of working, solving challenges and serving constituents.

2. Review -- and re-envision -- existing processes. Agencies should map out current processes, from data input to outcome, to identify areas that can be optimized or re-engineered by removing superfluous or redundant steps. They should consider the capabilities of any new technology, as well as how it needs to be deployed and integrated with other systems to drive operational transformation. Agency leaders should not only think about the end outcome and reimagine the best way to get there, but also consider how faster processing, more accurate and complete data or greater visibility and analytics can open entirely new possibilities for the organization, employees or end customers.

3. Train human and machine resources. Humans aren’t perfect and neither are machines. To increase machine accuracy and output, AI must continually “learn” by receiving more and more data. Similarly, people need ongoing training to learn how to use new technologies and work alongside software co-workers. They may require cross-skilling to gain necessary expertise or up-skilling to assume higher level responsibilities, such as customer service, planning and analysis. Training should be an ongoing priority, not a one-off initiative. Leaders should focus on intuitive tools that are designed for non-technical staff and look for built-in reporting or metrics to measure operational performance and help coach employees.

4. Ensure ongoing transparency and buy-in. While automation can save employees from more mundane, repetitive and time-consuming tasks so that they can engage in higher-level assignments, some resistance is inevitable. It’s important that agency leaders educate and involve everyone about the goals of new technology, its role and the benefits it provides. They should underscore the cost savings, efficiencies and flexibility that AI will offer, including the ability to deliver more innovative services that better serve constituents.

With the right strategy to ensure that AI and humans can collaborate effectively, government organizations can unlock the benefits of AI-driven automation and enable a new digital assembly line that reduces waste, improves services and outcomes for citizens and shepherds in a new digital era.

About the Author

Charlie Newark-French is the chief operating officer at Hyperscience.

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