Austerity drives are now seeing automation gain ground in the public sector. Amelia, the AI employee deployed by Enfield Borough Council in the autumn of last year, is hailed as being 60 percent less expensive than her human counterpart, making AI an attractive option. But is the threat of robot replacements a real one?
According to recent research by Oxford University and Deloitte, 850,000 public sector jobs could be automated by 2030. But there’s a clear inference in the report that automation doesn’t equate to unemployment. The authors suggest that automation has the potential to complement existing jobs by automating repetitive processes or even create new better paid jobs.
The digitalisation of public sector services has already seen many of the processes previously carried out by human hand now scheduled by software. Far from being met with resistance, this digitalisation has had an emancipating effect, freeing up staff from the daily grind to focus on other issues and the reduction in red tape has generated efficiency gains. Automation is already impacting the way public sector staff work… and it’s for the better.
The skills gap
Alongside this there’s another story that’s hitting the headlines when it comes to public sector employment: the woeful lack of digital skills. This saw the launch of the Digital Academies, used to train over 3,000 civil servants in the last two years, with plans to educate that same number annually going forward. However, digitally upskilling the 420,000 civil servants we have would take 140 years!
So if we can’t upskill public sector staff at the rate needed, could we outsource technical expertise? Finding (and keeping) skilled developers can be a challenge and the cost of employing the right people can be high. This is because digital skills are in short supply across the board.
According to the Digital Skills Crisis report published in June the private sector is also struggling with 93 percent of tech companies reporting that the skills gap is affecting their business. Clearly there’s a technical deficit as well as a fiscal one and to overcome that we will need automation.
Technical abilities will ALWAYS vary
Far from being made redundant by robots, technology could empower staff provided solutions cater for rather than replace human operators. Investing in this type of automation makes sense, not least because teams are comprised of a range of technical competencies; a digital design project may include user experience designers, business analysts and developers, for instance.
Imagine, then, if that team could be united through the use of a technically agnostic solution. Even during the digital design process, there’s no need for staff to be proficient in code. What they do need is the vision to design a service that fulfils user need and that’s easier to accomplish if you don’t have to hand over your design to a third party, introducing delay, cost and inconvenience.
Automation provides autonomy
Low-code development such as that offered by Outreach can offer this level of control and flexibility. The team doesn’t need to be upskilled or supplanted by an expensive third party contractor conversant in code. They simply need to have access to some initial support and self-help tutorials to quickly get up to speed to create, design and update digital interactive services independently. And the resulting digital services do themselves automate previously time-consuming laborious processes if deployed on an end-to-end basis.
Automation can break down barriers by enabling staff to collaborate across different departments and across geographical areas. And it can level the playing field between highly technically skilled and the non-technical professionals. Technology can, and should, aid rather than usurp public workers.