Government faces well-chronicled fiscal and performance challenges. At the same time, the art of the possible is being transformed through intelligent automation. We are seeing the automation of mission delivery and business processes using digital technologies that operate like humans. Organizations are replacing mundane, costly, repetitive tasks with higher-value analytic work. What about automating call center operations to better serve the public or seamlessly closing the books at year-end?

In a nutshell, intelligent automation tools can enhance:

Productivity/performance, by working 24/7, 365 days a year, performing ever-more complex tasks at digital speeds and doing it better and at less cost.

Employee satisfaction, by allowing staff to focus on strategic initiatives that more profoundly impact the mission.

Recruiting, by addressing the world of millennials for technology rich environments.

Scalability, by instantaneously responding at digital speeds to fluctuating and large workloads.

Consistency/predictability, by avoiding inconsistent decisions and judgments, such as what’s approved or not approved under a policy or rule.

Quality/reliability, by always doing what they’re told to do, bots essentially eliminate mistakes and human error.

Auditability, by automatically keeping a complete, readily retrievable audit trail documenting every action taken and the corresponding outcome.

Citizen engagement, by appreciably improving citizens’ access to and experience with government services through reduced wait times and more accurate and prompt assistance and response.

Evolving tool sets

We view the spectrum of intelligent in three classes, recognizing that each of these continues to evolve and others may emerge:

Robotic process automation, or RPA. Software robots, or “bots,” automate very rudimentary processes and thinking tasks that are typically repetitive, involve multiple systems, and follow very explicit steps. Research by the London School of Economics and Political Science identified a 650- to 800-percent return on investment for certain back-office tasks over three years.

Enhanced process automation. These tools understand natural language processing and, thereby, can interpret unstructured data. With 80 percent of the world’s data being unstructured, the ability to bring in high volumes of information from any source in any format provides much deeper analytic capabilities.

Cognitive automation. This software mimics human activities, such as perceiving, inferring, gathering evidence, hypothesizing, and reasoning. Cognitive systems, such as IBM’s Watson, ingest massive amounts of information on which to quickly formulate hypotheses that a human brain (or a hundred human brains) could never handle.

Embracing ‘virtual workers’

Think of the complexity of program eligibility requirements, or the 75,000-page federal tax code. What if, through reasoning cognitive technology, government had an army of “virtual workers,” with the world of knowledge at their fingertips 24/7, 365 days a year and the ability to intelligently apply that knowledge and communicate with a citizen just as if the caller was speaking to a human? This dramatically changes the citizen experience.

Also, basic technology enablers have systematically replaced the need for auditors to manually scour mountains of paper. What if auditors were able to completely analyze massive data sets that include financial and non-financial information real-time without sampling individual transactions?

We offer eight points to reference on the road ahead:

Challenge the myths. Demystify what can be daunting terminology by segmenting into the three classes and their practical applications.

Here to help and streamline. Address a common misconception that intelligent automation’s primary purpose is workforce reduction by focusing on streamlining mundane, routine tasks to allow staff to spend time on more meaningful, strategic and rewarding tasks.

Expanded public interaction. Leverage the ability to interact with citizens who now face limitations in communicating with government.

New answers, unprecedented insights. Use intelligent automation to harness massive and disparate datasets to uncover previously undetectable patterns and solutions.

Prioritize governance and business case processes. Develop a technology integration plan and governance model since disciplined processes make a difference.

Start small and move toward more sophisticated toolsets. Incremental change, such as first implementing RPA which is relatively low cost, offers early performance improvements and cost savings.

Break down barriers that impede innovation. Guard against cultures that perpetuate the status quo by eliminating stovepipes and fostering collaboration, open communication and accountability.

Embrace intelligent automaton – understand it, get ahead of it as an early adopter. In the words of John Kennedy: “Change is the law of life. And those who look only at the past or present are certain to miss the future.”

Jeffrey Steinhoff is executive director of the KPMG Government Institute and former assistant comptroller general of the United States for accounting and information management; Andrew Lewis is a KPMG federal audit partner; and Kirke Everson is an advisory managing director and government intelligent automation lead.

The information contained herein is of a general nature and is not intended to address the circumstances of any particular individual or entity. This article represents the views of the author only, and does not necessarily represent the views or professional advice of KPMG LLP.