• Martin Düsterhöft, Partner |

Highlights

  • Amendments to ordinances and laws are forcing changes in processes and specialised procedures with increasing speed

  • Non-automated checks for plausibility and completeness are time-consuming and error-prone

  • A software robot can relieve the burden on employees

Demographic change, tight budgets due to the coronavirus crisis and increasing pressure to digitalise administrative services as a competitive factor: public administration is facing enormous challenges. The resulting issues are further affected by the expectations of citizens and companies regarding the offer and use of digital administrative services. 
Overall, the advance of digitalisation is placing increasing demands on public administration in terms of user and service orientation. Citizens, businesses and employees demand transparency about processes and responsibilities and simple provision of information and services. 
The digitisation of the service catalogue in the context of the Online Access Act (OZG) is intended to help break down barriers to use and promote acceptance for digital administrative services through a user-centred design.
To achieve this, the first step is to make the application process for administrative services more transparent, efficient and simple. Complex specialised procedures play an essential role here. However, these procedures are often not yet linked consistently with portals, registers and e-file systems and can therefore only be processed with manual work steps.

Current issues in application management:

  • Are changes to laws and regulations necessitating modified workflows and specialised procedures?
  • Do you have paper-based applications that have to be entered manually?
  • Do your staff have a high workload dedicated to repetitive activities?
  • Do your staff spend a lot of time clarifying input errors?
  • Does the complete entry of an application take up a large amount of time in the overall application processing?

Repetitive tasks inhibit creativity and flexibility

In many public authorities, floods of paper are still processed manually. Especially in form-based application processes, the manual transfer of information for case processing takes up a lot of working time. Moreover, this type of data entry carries a high risk of input errors. Ultimately, repetitive routine activities inhibit employees' creativity and flexibility and can have a negative impact on mental health. 
It is therefore necessary to transfer paper-based communication between citizens and the public administration into the digital space. 
There is often reluctance to implement such transformation projects because the required implementation effort and associated costs are expected to be so high. However, there is a solution that makes it possible to relieve public authority staff of routine work without invasively intervening in existing specialised procedures and e-file systems. And that is through the use of software robots as digital assistance systems.

Software robots reduce the workload of employees

Software robots can permanently change the nature of application management for the employees of a public authority, as many repetitive tasks are eliminated through automation. The diagram in Figure 1 shows typical automation potential in the context of application management and is described in more detail below. 

If an application is received by email as a PDF or digitised by post as a scan in PDF format, a software robot can open the application, read the metadata, such as name, address, and file number, and assign it to the corresponding file. The document is checked for completeness and plausibility. If attachments are necessary, the software robot can check whether they have been provided. The document is then automatically stored in the e-file observing legal security provisions. Afterwards, the respective case handler is automatically notified or the administrative procedure is initiated.

Digital assistance in application management

These individual process steps are run through several times within a short period of time. And all the while, employees retain full control and can check each process step and correct it if necessary. Software robots thus complement the human workforce as a digital assistance system. This allows the employees of the authority to devote themselves to those processes that are complex in terms of content and take more time to process.

Typical automation potential for software robots lies in the context of application management:

  • Automated completeness checks and content checks or evaluations of submitted applications (completeness/plausibility check)
  • Automated analyses for reporting
  • Automatic data transfer between different systems and procedures through optical character recognition (OCR). 

Experience shows that employees increasingly accept the software robots in use and recognise further areas for digital assistance systems. By shifting repetitive tasks to the software robots, the employees' focus changes to more complex work steps. Furthermore, the software robots can increase process quality in a supporting function through automated plausibility routines and reduce susceptibility to errors.

At the same time, software robots have a positive influence on process efficiency. They work 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, take no holidays and perform tasks at digital speed. In doing so, software robots can scale to respond immediately to fluctuating workloads. 

The implementation of innovative solutions poses great challenges for administrative authorities due to the existing specialised procedures and a lack of interfaces. Software robots circumvent these hurdles by integrating into existing application landscapes and using the application interface of current systems. Legacy systems and individual solutions can almost be left unchanged.

Thanks to our user-oriented and field-tested project approach, the added value of process automation by means of software robots can be realised in a short time and with comparatively little effort. A proof of concept can be realised within a few weeks. A prototype with central processes can also be developed and tested in a matter of weeks. Compared with large IT projects, therefore, significantly lower adjustments, costs and risks can be expected.

From ideation to GoLive