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Friday, 17 April 2020 03:00

How process automation is streamlining local government

By Christian Lucarelli Nintex
Christian Lucarelli Nintex Christian Lucarelli Nintex

GUEST OPINION by Christian Lucarelli, VP Sales Asia Pacific, Nintex: In an effort to improve efficiency and reduce operational costs, increasing numbers of Australia’s local governments are embarking on a strategy of process automation. For many, however, a fundamental question quickly arises: exactly where do you start?

With many hundreds of processes already in place, the idea of automating them can seem rather daunting. Do you start with internal processes or those that touch ratepayers directly? Which areas of operation are likely to benefit the most?

Another challenge emerges from the fact that not all existing processes may be working as effectively as they should. Automating a broken or inefficient process won’t add value, and could actually make things worse.

Types of processes

Before any transformation work begins, it’s important to understand the three types of processes that exist within councils. By focusing efforts on the right ones, managers can achieve maximum return on the investment made in the shortest possible time.

All processes at work within a council can be grouped in three ways, and each group has its own criteria and level of impact on operations. The groups are:

  • Moon-shot processes: These processes are large and are often proving a problem for manydifferent councils. However, because they are so challenging, there is a very high return on investment possible if they can be solved.

          Examples include automating complex processes such as building and development approvals. Others might be finding ways to digitise the rates collection process or             automate ratepayer communications.

  • Day-to-day processes: At the other end of the scale are the small processes that support the day-to-day productivity of individual staff members. These processes could be anything from document production and distribution to transaction tracking and record keeping. Fortunately, there are many different tools already available that help streamline these types of workflows. Taking the time to review and select the most appropriate ones can deliver significant benefits in a relatively short space of time.
  • Sweet-spot processes: In between the moon-shot and day-to-day processes lies a largegroup that offers the best opportunity for an organisation to gain significant benefit from a process automation strategy.These processes may not be particularly complex or exciting,but they underpin the important activities of the organisation. Many may have been in place for years and continue to rely heavily on manual steps to function.Within councils, examples might include any from waste management and public space maintenance to dog registrations and the issuing of parking fines.

Encouragingly, processes such as these are relatively easy to automate without the need for massive investments or disruption to day-to-day activity. New automated processes can often run alongside the manual process they are replacing, allowing change over to occur without any downtime or lost productivity.

Focus on the sweet spot

With the three categories of processes in mind, it’s clear that the best rate of return in the shortest period will be achieved by focusing on those in the sweet-spot category. This will improve day-to- day functions of the council without requiring major investments.

There are three steps to ensure the correct sweet-spot processes are identified for automation:

1. Involve council staff: It’s vital to secure buy-in from everyone involved in the processes being automated. Take the time to gain a thorough understanding of the types of tasks being executed every day and how they integrate with other areas of the council.

2. Conduct workshops: Organising workshops is a great way to get everyone on the same page ahead of an automation project. They provide an opportunity for teams to learn about the current state of play, as well as the why, how, and what of the desired outcomes. By ensuring everyone understands what is going on, resistance to change can be minimised.

3. Plan, plan, plan: No process automation project can succeed without thorough upfront planning. Taking the time to map everything out will ensure the most appropriate technologies are deployed in the most effective way.

By taking this approach, a council can significantly improve the way it operates and the standard of services provided to its ratepayers. Rather than being a complex and costly task that consumes vast sums of money and takes extended periods of time to complete, benefits will quickly be realised.

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