Citizen Service Robots are coming …!!

Ever heard a municipal software robot filling your applications for Birth Registration, Marriage Registration, Building Permits, Trade License or Building Inspections? How about the turnaround time being reduced from current 2-14 days (in some municipal corporations) to 2-15 hours for citizens to be serviced? For municipal employees, imagine the red tapism and procedural delays replaced by a software robot at each level of hierarchy and performing the tasks such as application scrutiny, documents verification, application approvals, citizen service roll out and a chat bot seeking the service quality feedback from citizens once all is done?

Seems flimsy?? Not anymore. Read on…

Automation means “The technique, method, or system of operating or controlling a process by highly automatic means, thereby leading to significant reduction / complete absence of human intervention”. Automation has been around since the turn of century. For many years, we have heard and practiced various forms of automation. Automated testing through tools (like Selenium, Appium, Cucumber etc) and BPM at enterprise level Or Custom scripts, Macros, VBA code snippets at in-house level are just some examples.

There have been some remarkable developments in the area of automation in last 5 years and the most significant one is “robotic” automation of business processes at enterprise / organization level. The business processes at an organization level fall into 3 broad categories-

  • Repeatable and largely rule based processes with a predictable outcome
  • Business processes which are unique, require complex decision making and decision based outcomes
  • Automation of Human Interaction

The first set of business processes can be automated using Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and the software robots that would be used to automate these processes are called RPA Robots or simply RPA Bots.

The second set of business processes require mimicking human intelligence and behavior and can be automated using a fusion of Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence algorithms. The software robots that would be used to automate these processes are called Cognitive Robots or simply Cognitive Bots.

The third set of business processes require a human CRM agent to be replaced by an automated process that mimics a human agent and interacts with customer to take their complaints / suggestions or feedback on a provisioned service. The automated CRM agent would ask and respond to standard questions and queries as a CRM human agent would do. The software robots that would be used to automate these processes are called Chat Assistants or simply Chat Bots.

While I will delve deeper into Cognitive bots and Chat bots for Municipal / public services sector in my next article, I would focus for now on RPA bots.

RPA for Municipal / Citizen Services

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is the automation of back and front office processes that are largely rules based, structured, and repetitive. The automation takes place when software “robots” (not physical robots) carry out processes or tasks normally completed by humans.

The adoption rate of RPA has been gaining momentum over the past two to three years largely due to the increasing attention it has received from tier one consulting firms, and from the increase in IT vendors providing RPA solutions and delivering more sophisticated software.

Some processes will be better suited to RPA than others. The general characteristics of a process which is ready for robotic process automation would be:

  • repetitive and rules based
  • accesses structured data sets
  • utilizes applications on a Windows or Web based platform
  • the process is documented and has been standardized in practice
  • three or more staff are hired to complete the process
  • data input is prone to human error

RPA could be a good fitment in context of Municipal services. Municipal services follow predefined policies / rules which evolve only over a period of time. Most of the municipal information systems are standardized over windows platform. Municipal services require entering sensitive data about citizens which is prone to error due to high level of human intervention.

Robotics Business Case for Citizen Services / Municipal Sector

Most of the government bodies struggle with staff shortage in India. Blame it on hiring inefficiencies, procedural issues or simply lack of motivation to hire and retain quality talent. But the reality is that this has a disastrous impact on overall quality of the citizen services.

Imagine a situation where most of the rule based, repetitive and time-consuming work could be done by 5 software robots rather than 5 human workers with one of them being a supervisor of these robots and other 4 being routed to some more high visibility and intelligent assignments? This would have following benefits to the municipal corporation:

  • Getting it “First time right” thereby step function improvement in the quality of citizen services. Since the human intervention is replaced by robotic intervention, possibility of errors while provisioning citizen services (e.g. entering in correct details of the citizen for marriage certificate, avoiding citizen footfall for corrections, correct information property tax calculations leading to speedy recovery of property taxes etc.) is almost zero leading to happy citizens and happy municipality
  • Staff crunch is a reality especially for the municipal sector which is generally understood to be cash strapped. Imagine, first rate customer service with the same number of staffers who were struggling to meet citizen service demands due to skewed citizen vs. municipal employee ratio
  • Step function reduction in time to fulfill citizen service requests. A service request that takes 8 hours by human agent can be done in flat 8 minutes by a software robot.
  • Robots don’t have employee unions, thankfully!!
  • Robotic agents don’t have to be off on Sundays. and they work 24 hours too, unlike their human counterparts.

Some of the business process that can be automated using RPA include but not limited to:

  • Complete customer care process including the complaint management and citizen grievances redressal system
  • Provisioning of licenses and permits (Birth, Death, Marriage, building completion, Building Plan approval, Mutation certificate etc.)
  • Fire and Building inspection

The possibilities are endless. We have not even delved into a fusion of analytics and robotics to bring a revolution in the way citizens are serviced today. We will write next on

  • Cognitive Bots for Citizens
  • Chat Bots for communication automation between government to citizens
  • Top Robotics vendors out there
  • A fusion of analytics and robotics and the possibilities
  • IOT for citizens

Stay tuned and happy reading!!

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