State financial agencies say they're falling behind on process automation technologies

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In early use, robotic process automation through tools like artificial intelligence has been shown to save government’s auditing and financial agencies countless hours of work, but recent survey results show that government officials believe they are actually falling behind when it comes to this emerging technology.

In a report published last week by professional services giant Deloitte and the National Association of State Auditors, Comptrollers and Treasurers, or NASACT, agency leaders revealed markedly higher levels of dissatisfaction with their organizations’ reactions to digital trends in automation as compared to results from a similar survey conducted in 2015.

In 2015, 64 percent of respondents said they were satisfied with how their organizations were adapting to emerging automation technologies like artificial intelligence, but in 2018 that figure has dropped to just 35 percent. The share of those surveyed who explicitly expressed dissatisfaction has also more than doubled — 12 percent in 2015 has climbed to a 27 percent dissatisfaction rate in 2018.

Kinney Poynter, executive director of NASACT, told StateScoop that he was surprised to discover the rapid decline in satisfaction with how government agencies are able to respond to rapidly advancing trends in technology.

“I think we’re kind of at a crossroads where our members are wanting to use technology to the maximum extent possible and when they can’t get there as fast as they’d like to, I think they feel a sense of dissatisfaction,” Poynter explained.

In July, officials from a group of five cities in Minnesota shared with StateScoop how automating payroll and onboarding for election judges is expected to eliminate a biennial torrent of tedious tasks for their agencies. The project was driven by an enterprising clerk who had sought out a more efficient way of handling the intermittent but burdensome work.

“They hear all these great things, but they’re just not there yet,” Poynter said of many government agencies that want to adopt new automation technologies. “They’re not able to utilize those to the fullest to realize the efficiencies that those technologies can bring.”

Agencies lack self-confidence despite increased funding. More than half said their technology budgets have increased since the previous year, and far fewer named “insufficient funding” as a barrier to adoption compared to 2015.

“We’ve got more dollars. Things are fairly good right now with state budgets, but we need to have a strategy to leverage those dollars and those resources to get the biggest bang for the buck,” Poynter said.

In 2015, about 20 percent of agencies said they didn’t have a digital strategy but that figure has now dropped to 13 percent. Agencies that have a digital strategy reported far higher levels of confidence in their capabilities and their leadership’s understanding of the trends. Poynter said strategy is key for agencies looking to advance with automation.

Automation tools can be used to replace human tasks that are tedious and repetitive. The survey points out that automated audit sampling, for example, can both improve the quality of the data of an audit but also free up staff to focus on other tasks.

Eighty-eight percent of survey respondents agreed that greater automation sampling was needed, but automation is still not viewed as a viable investment for many. Only 29 percent said robotic process automation is a possible area of investment in their organizations.

Kinney said he believes government’s inability to capitalize on this technological opportunity often comes down to a workforce issue.

“A lot of it deals with their staff and getting their staff up to speed to be able to use some of these technologies,” Poynter said. “That’s an obstacle we’re going to need to overcome through continuous training.”

The full report can be found here .

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AI, Emerging Technology, robotic process automation, Tech News
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