Canadian public sector organisations drive efficiencies and boost creativity through intelligent automation

By on 16/05/2022 | Updated on 16/05/2022
A woman holds up a drawing of a lightbulb in front of a wall of creative doodles and ideas.
Intelligent automation enables public servants to focus on creative tasks that only humans can do. Photo by Andrea Piacquadio via Pexels

Artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic process automation (RPA) were once viewed as technologies that would replace white collar jobs. But as experts agreed during an SS&C Blue Prism Canada webinar, this is now far from the truth: as well as helping to save time, money and resources, they also free up public sector employees to focus on creative thinking, which in turn boosts job satisfaction

Most government organisations have embarked on a digital transformation program and automated some processes in their operations. Some are at an early stage of this journey, others are more advanced. While circumstances from organisation to organisation may differ, the rationale underpinning the automation push remains the same – to remove friction from business processes and reduce errors that can be introduced by manual keying and rekeying of data.

Challenges are heightened in the public sector and amongst healthcare organisations in particular, many of which are using legacy systems to deal with increasing volumes of data. At the same time, they are operating with diminished budgets that make it difficult to justify investment in new technology unless there is proven ROI.

Public sector organisations’ systems were placed under even more pressure during the COVID-19 pandemic. The lockdown forced government and healthcare bodies to accelerate the implementation of technology to ensure people could access the essential services they needed remotely.

By fully embracing intelligent automation, many organisations implemented a step-change in the way they work and enjoyed significant benefits. These benefits were discussed at a webinar held in April – hosted by SS&C Blue Prism Canada – entitled ‘Accelerating digital transformation: how intelligent automation can set the foundations for government and healthcare of the future’.

One organisation that has already reaped significant benefits from embarking on its own digital transformation journey is ATB Financial, part of the Crown Corporation of Canada, which provides financial services to more than 770,000 residents and businesses.

It started exploring the benefits of intelligent automation in 2017 to support customer journeys, create value for its clients, and at the same time drive internal productivity improvements.

Janka Coppens, managing director, intelligent automation, at ATB Financial, explained that the institution has focused on automating “non-value-added tasks, enabling consistent and reliable customer experiences, and providing clients with choices in how they deal with us”.

The team redesigns inefficient processes by combining RPA with complementary technologies such as machine learning, computer vision and natural language processing. “We leverage design thinking and lean management principles to find sustainable and scalable solutions for the future,” Coppens said.

Hundreds of thousands of hours saved

The ROI that ATB Financial has enjoyed since adopting this approach has been impressive. According to Coppens, it has resulted in 16.5 million cumulative efficiency savings, which equates to 340,000 hours in “work effort” and that number is increasing every month. By embracing automation ATB has also reduced “cycle time” by 99%. “Something that used to take three days to fulfil now takes three minutes,” she said.

Although she readily admits automation is not a silver bullet – “it needs to be fit for purpose” – Coppens added that automating processes has freed up team members and “increased the capacity for them to be able to focus on value added, complex work. So we’ve taken away the mundane”.

It is a similar scenario at Alberta Health Services (AHS), Canada’s leading healthcare organisation, which supports 4.6 million citizens. The intelligent automation work it has been doing initially focused on corporate functions, but going forward AHS intends to transform clinical functions as well by automating processes that employees hate doing. “So we’re trying to enact that kind of ‘if you hate it automate it’ mentality,” explained Jesse Tutt, innovative IT intelligent automation lead at AHS.

Using SS&C Blue Prism software the team led by Tutt has deployed 16 automations and freed up more than 22 full time equivalent (FTE) of capacity in just 15 months.  

“We have freed up in the area of around 20,000 annualised hours to date by implementing intelligent automation,” said Tutt. “In the next month, we should double that, and then in six months we should triple it. That’s our goal. So we’re going to get some really exciting automations in our pipeline.”

‘The robots are coming’ – but is that a bad thing?

Grant Abrams, partner and Ottawa market leader, management consulting, at KPMG Canada, is as excited as Tutt about the improvements governments can make by embracing intelligent automation. Abrams’ remit is to help public sector organisations to optimise their corporate service functions in particular, often by leveraging AI and RPA.

He noted that historical attitudes towards automation and digital workers have changed. “I know that certainly in the early days, there was a lot of reluctance around ‘the robots are coming, they’re going to take away our jobs,’ but from what I’ve seen with most clients, they’re actually quite accepting of the idea of having digital workers come in and take away the boring parts of their job. It frees them up to do the creative things that only humans can do in terms of complex problem solving,” said Abrams.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the benefits organisations can enjoy by implementing intelligent automation. “It is about more than just the efficiency and cost savings,” he added. “The robots work 24/7 so the turnaround times are a really big improvement as well. Also, they always do what you tell them. Humans make mistakes. If robots make a mistake, it’s because you told them to do the wrong thing. So you enjoy significant error rate reductions as well.”

While some of the historical attitudes towards intelligent automation have softened, Steve Picot, vice president, Americas public sector and Latin America, at SS&C Blue Prism, observed that some organisations had been slow to embrace the technology. He felt that the single biggest roadblock for these was figuring out were RPA “first takes root” and exists within public sector bodies. “Is it a business process or is it an IT process? That relatively simple question can be a hindrance for a lot of these programs getting started,” he said.

He added that “there’s no such thing as a job that can’t be made better by RPA” and that if organisations embraced the technology which in turn would help them to “hit the bottom line, increase profitability and productivity, decrease costs and decrease risk,” this would enable them to get cross-functional agreement on widely implementing intelligent automation.

Abrams agreed with Picot that a successful roll-out of intelligent automation requires a partnership between IT and the “business side” of an organisation. And while he advised that the technology may not be the answer to every challenge – “you need to use the right tools for the right problems” – Abrams said that every organisation could benefit from embracing it.

“I think some naysayers would say that in a perfect world we don’t need intelligent automation – all of our systems would be perfectly integrated and we would have end-to-end automation,” he added. “And that may or may not be the case. But what is definitely true is we don’t live in a perfect world, and we never will, so intelligent automation is here to stay and needs to be part of your digital toolkit.”

This SS&C Blue Prism Canada webinar was held on 14 April, with support from Global Government Forum. You can watch the 75-minute webinar via our dedicated event page.

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