How automation can completely transform the experience of government

By Yogesh Hirdaramani

Automation promises to transform how employees and vendors interact with agencies like never before, said speakers at a recent GovInsider and ServiceNow event.

Sai Kuan Yuen, Deputy Chief Executive of VITAL, Ministry of Finance and Dave Wright, Chief Innovation Officer of ServiceNow, shared how automation can support agencies in transforming the experience of government. Image: GovInsider

At Starbucks, employee experience and customer experience are one and the same. The coffeehouse chain’s innovation laboratory, The Tryer Centre, emphasises rapid innovation that aims to improve both customer and employee experience in one go, resulting in technologies that reduce employee workload and customer wait time. 


Organisations should aspire towards these total experiences, said Dave Wright, Chief Innovation Officer at ServiceNow, a software provider of digital workflow tools. Total experience refers to improving the experience of not just the end-user, but employees as well as third-party vendors. 


Wright was speaking at a recent event held by GovInsider and ServiceNow, titled “Do More with Less: How Connection and Automation Can Help Public Agencies Overcome Common Challenges,” which brought together government representatives and ServiceNow experts to discuss the future of automation and total experience in government. 

Digital transformation an opportunity for total experience 


In his keynote speech, Wright shared that digital transformation presents an opportunity for agencies to embrace total experience and improve the experience of not just citizens, but also civil servants and third-party vendors that work with the government. 


“How do I make sure digital transformation works? The answer is you make sure you create a better experience that people haven't had before. If you can use technology to make the experience better, that's all you need to do,” said Wright.  


He highlighted that the giants of digital transformation, such as Amazon and Netflix, do not provide any new products. Rather, they innovated in the customers’ experience. The improved experience of watching a movie on Netflix or ordering headphones on Amazon was the decisive factor in converting new customers over. 


But experience is not just about improving the user interface.  


“I don’t use Amazon because it’s got a great user interface. I use it because I know they automate everything in the backend. I don't worry about logistics. I can just place my order and I know that service is going to come to me. How you deal with the backend is almost more important than how you deal with the frontend,” he explained. 


When it comes to improving the backend, agencies like VITAL, which handles corporate shared services like payrolls, human resources, and procurement across the Singapore government, play a critical role. The agency currently oversees 1.5 billion transactions annually for over 100 agencies.  


By automating over 60 processes, VITAL has achieved savings of more than 15,000 hours and enabled staff to focus on more valuable tasks that directly benefit citizens, said Sai Kuan Yuen, Deputy Chief Executive of VITAL, Ministry of Finance, at a fireside chat with Wright. 


Improving employee experience and speeding up tedious tasks can be critical in solving the challenges of talent shortage that Singapore faces. 
“How do you retain and inspire your employees to do better and deliver better public service? Something that I really look up to VITAL for is that it is always on this continuous journey to do that,” said Raymond Wong, Country Manager, ServiceNow​, in his opening remarks. 

An opportunity to revamp processes 


Automation does not just reduce the time it takes to complete a task. It can also help organisations rethink processes and find better ways to accomplish them, shared Yuen and Wright during their fireside chat. 


“The magic sauce is not just automation, but fundamentally rethinking processes, and identifying whether there's a better smarter way of doing it with automation assistance,” said Yuen.  


For instance, automation can help organisations quantify how productive every department is. When processes are digitised and everything can be viewed on a single dashboard, leaders can identify bottlenecks and begin optimising operations, explained Wright 


If a leader notices that employees have a pattern of submitting taxi claims that are time-stamped past 9 pm, that’s an opportunity to review whether officers are working overtime or if there are other reasons at play, shared Yuen. This is one way that automated services can provide value and insights back to leaders, he said. 


However, agencies must be wary of automating inefficient processes. While automation tools like robotic process automation (RPA) scripts can improve the way we work, it is important to review current work processes first, lest automation leads to even more inefficiencies, Yuen explained. 

From low-hanging fruit to long term strategy 


After the fireside chat, roundtable participants discussed the key challenges that agencies face in optimising systems, and the steps agencies can take to reap the benefits of automation and connected systems.  


First, organisations can tap on ready-to-use tools offered by central agencies such as VITAL and Government Technology Agency (GovTech). Last year, VITAL launched an automation platform to support civil servants across the government in implementing RPA and automating tasks, reported GovInsider.  


Additionally, there are numerous courses that employees can take to acquire skills that allow them to actively contribute to digital transformation and innovation within their organisations. For instance, NTUC LearningHub and ServiceNow have just signed an Academic Partnership agreement to bring low-code digital courses to more than one thousand individuals in Singapore from 2024.  


Participants also highlighted that tools like generative AI can be co-pilots which help civil servants complete tasks quicker. Last month, Singapore announced that public sector agencies can access an innovation sandbox to build generative AI tools to solve work challenges.  


ServiceNow also opened its new Innovation Centre in Singapore which serves as a digital incubation hub for enterprises in the city to model, demo and stress-test digital roadmaps – such as generative AI, hyperautomation and low code apps – to deliver a better experience for customers and employees.  


In the longer term, it will be critical to review the operations technology in use and ensure that they are aligned with current needs. It may be necessary to retire or modernise legacy systems that are holding innovation and agility back.  


Leaders who can be digital transformation champions will also contribute in getting the buy-in of civil servants who may be resistant to change. They will need to clearly demonstrate the value of these automation tools and allay concerns that civil servants will be replaced by these tools. 


Yuen also shared that VITAL is working on democratising RPA, so that there will be an ecosystem of users who can build simple RPA scripts, perform maintenance tasks, and even work on automating more complex tasks. 


Finally, collaboration between agencies and the private sector will help in implementing automation faster. Different agencies may be facing similar challenges and can learn from the approaches other agencies have taken. 


This article was produced in partnership with ServiceNow.