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This article was initially published in July 2019 and was updated in June 2020.

In the past, the public sector has been considered very slow in adopting digital processes. However, over recent months our lives have changed, and all sectors across the world, including the public one, have been confronted with several challenges. Both employers and employees had to adapt to the new situation, and technology has been one way this was possible.

While public healthcare has been at the forefront of the pandemic, multiple public agencies have been flooded with extra work due to the government measures that have been taken to help curb the effects of the pandemic. From rapid law changes and systematic closures to hundreds of thousands of applications for multiple government subsidies, the public sector needs to adopt technology faster than ever.

Let’s look at an example from the UK, where the government offered a furlough job retention scheme, with about 25% of UK employees benefiting from the wage subsidy program. This number is expected to increase, as more businesses will seek support in the coming months. But as the number of applications for support increases, so does the pressure on the public workers to process said applications faster, in order to provide timely financial support to those in need.

Robotic Process Automation can help concerned public agencies to become more efficient in processing applications while mitigating risks. As the battle against coVid-19 is still ongoing, RPA could also help in cutting down costs.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can lift the burden from overwhelmed agencies as an increasing number of applications is likely to fall on their laps. By digitally transforming the sector, this will help government agencies become more efficient and mitigate risk. Not only will staff become more effective in their roles, RPA can also help struggling public sector organisations cut costs as they continue in their battle against COVID-19.

The public sector is in a continuous turmoil, due to various challenges. Economic shifts and the corresponding pressing need to control costs, recurrent changes in the administration, or constantly fluctuating public priorities which makes the provision of effective service to citizens a difficult to attain target.

Just to get a concrete idea as to the cost issue, consider the fact that the global public debt is currently US$61 trillion and growing, while the annual global public-sector budget deficit reaches 5% of global GDP.

Data such as these can be taken as a call for action, and the private sector with its superior ability to provide adequate services can be used as a model for improvement. The adoption of robotic process automation in the public sector, for instance, is a step towards digital transformation which is likely to save government working hours, cut down costs, improve productivity, and temper citizens’ dissatisfaction by better addressing their oscillating demands.

A paper from the McKinsey Global Institute estimates that the automation potential of half the activities in the public sector is large.

What impact does this have on the Australian public sector?

It means that as much as US$76 billion can be saved by streamlining the processes by means of automation, according to the Latrobe Valley Express. This money could be used in an attempt to resolve problematic public services and to improve the budget.

Some examples of successful RPA deployment are NASA’s robot George Washington which speeds up funds distribution to a matter of hours instead of days. Another one is Truman, which can accurately complete pre-negotiation tasks in just a few seconds.

A recent Deloitte report refers to the use of RPA in the public sector as the ‘the new machinery of government’. The benefits it is likely to bring about are the main reason for this appreciative phrase.

Consider the reduction of staff’s time spent on routine, monotonous tasks and the consequential opportunities to allow more time to get involved in interactions with the public.

The positive outcome is twofold. For one, improved customer service, and second, more satisfied staff, with increased self-efficacy perception just because they know that their efforts do serve well their fellow human beings.

RPA can also lead to data improvement, and thereby support more effective management decision-making. Because RPA implementation is low cost, fast, and significantly less risky than other kinds of digital transformations, it’s a preferable solution to other proposals for dealing with the above mentioned challenges faced by the public service.

Use cases of robotic process automation in the public sector

Assuming that the brief argument from the benefits of RPA has rung a bell, we will go along with our pragmatically oriented approach to business and mention some application areas in the public sector.

Questions such as those that we mention here provide a general guideline for selecting the most appropriate processes to initiate the automation journey, e.g., processes that are high volume, repetitive, time sensitive, and have a high cost impact.

There are by and large five domains of the public sector where the outcomes of RPA deployment are simply unmissable: central and local government, policing, health, and education.

The use cases below, however, cannot be categorically divided between them, since the list of processes is far more versatile than a univocal perspective of the domain of applicability. The bottom line is that software robots can provide the necessary assistance to bypass more effectively departmental, procedural and technological silos, irrespective of the public sector domain where they may occur.

1. Document handling and validation

Such transactional tasks are crucial for proper functioning of the sector, yet a significant cause for migraines for the staff members who have to scrupulously carry them out. The good news is that, with a little help from your software friends that can work fatigue-free 24/7, the performance of the government program can be significantly improved.

A further consequence of RPA deployment for document handling and validation is the reduction of operational costs.

2. Reconciliation and reporting

The need for reconciliation processes is highly variable and so are the resource demands. Therefore a scalable workforce is what is needed for most efficient goal attainment when it comes to reconciliation and reporting.

Whether you have in mind reporting as a whole, general ledger reconciliation, or the activation of fixed assets, passing these tasks onto the shoulders of software robots results in efficient resource utilization, which automatically translates into significant cost reduction.

Below you can watch a video with an RPA demo, where an UiPath bot is used for reconciliation purposes.

3. Form processing

Adapting to the 21st century trend, local government services offer residents the possibility to access and fill in forms via web portals and email contact, in order to apply for various civil services (e.g., permit applications, contract administration) and support.

Service inquiries from the public are highly standardised, so the process is stable and rule based. Use of RPA can streamline the process and lead to most accurate results in the least amount of time, advancing customer service way beyond what human staff would be able to do.

4. HR tasks

HR tasks that can be automated are data management, compliance, payroll administration, onboarding and offboarding. RPA promises a more efficient data management, and consequently it streamlines rule-based HR processes.

Fast update of relevant files with accurate information about current and past employees, applicants, contractors, or new hires regarding, wage deductions, contractual or temporary modifications, payroll, attendance, etc. is a key benefit of robotic process automation in the public sector. It simplifies the process and frees people working in governmental HR departments to focus on other value-added activities.

5. Financial management and audit trail

Automating these processes in the public sector is like following the good example from the private sector. We also mentioned invoice processing among the typical use cases of RPA in finance.

The steps towards financial management are an epitome of automation because they are rule driven, error prone, and unfortunately highly intolerant to error. Software robots can routinize decision logic and eliminate keystroke errors, resulting in quasi risk free audit readiness.


Whether we talk about records update, data validation, payroll, etc., robotic process automation can bring them to completion in a third of the manual processing time, and perfectly accurate.

By incorporating bots in the workforce the processes are streamlined and the effectiveness and productivity of governmental institutions is boosted to such an extent that the Shared Service initiatives may become simply redundant. This is definitely something that we, Australians, should be happy to hear about, given the failed Shared Service project of the federal government from two years ago.

We wish to highlight once again the importance of being 100% clear with respect to the expected benefits from RPA deployment from the very beginning. Assess the situation with your critical eye wide open, and estimate the results accordingly. You can read more on this here.

We end by mentioning once again that this is part of a series of articles about the particularities of RPA in different sectors like insurance, transportation and logistics, or telecommunications, pragmatically oriented towards application areas. If you find the information useful, subscribe to the newsletter below to make sure that you stay updated with news about the fast-evolving automation services.

We recently launched a Guide to Implementing Robotic Process Automation (RPA) Across 11 Industries, including the public sector, finance, healthcare or HR. You can download it from here.

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