Commentary

A closer look at accelerating digital process automation

process automation (Zapp2Photo/Shutterstock.com)

Digital transformation remains a top priority for federal agencies. As many are learning, achieving this digital state requires significant work to reengineer the existing enterprise. At its most fundamental level, it means agencies must find ways to digitize business processes and service delivery to enable more intelligent, adaptive and efficient operations.

Given the criticality and complexity of the work, we at Accenture Federal Services wanted to assess current digital process maturity and the progress the federal government has made to date. We conducted a survey of 200 government executives at both defense and civilian agencies, and it revealed valuable insights into the scope of the challenges agencies face in digitizing their operations and into the emerging best practices. 

The current state of DPA in federal agencies

Federal agencies are increasingly measured by their ability to deliver highly personalized services and benefits, administer complex policies and regulations, and update field operations at a moment’s notice -- all of which can be accelerated by digital process automation. Given this reality, DPA was the main focus of our study.

We found that federal agencies are constrained by low DPA maturity. Nearly 60% of federal government processes were either fully or partially manual, which means they are at increased risk for human error and experience higher costs. By contrast, just 18% were integrated, automated and making active use of analytics to shape and improve performance.

With few processes automated, let alone optimized, operational data is not being widely leveraged. With the vast majority (81%) of business processes externally focused, these performance gaps are widely felt.

Barriers to adoption

In our survey, we found that nearly all federal agencies are pursuing or have undertaken genuine efforts to modernize and digitize business processes and service delivery. Only 6% of those surveyed reported that they have no plans or efforts currently underway.

Progress on these initiatives, however, remains slow. Not surprisingly, lack of funding and resources spent supporting legacy systems are the top reasons for the limited movement. But increasingly mature and adaptable solutions are now available. For instance, cloud-based digital platforms -- available on a pay-as-you-go basis -- offer promising options for agencies looking to overcome funding and legacy technology issues. 

Our survey showed that unless business processes are digitized and modernized, agencies believe they will face challenges meeting their performance objectives (41%), supporting escalating program demands (30%) and addressing heightened user demands (27%). Other key benefits of DPA highlighted in the survey include lowering operating costs (26%) and mitigating cybersecurity or digital trust vulnerabilities (25%). Just 4% of respondents believed that there would be no significant impact if they didn’t act. 

Moving the needle forward

While there is no silver bullet for transforming and digitizing operations in federal agencies, we found that integrated approaches that bring people, processes and technologies together drive the most sustainable success.

As a result, 10 factors in the survey were ranked as “very important” to modernizing business processes and service delivery by 40% or more of respondents. The top four include workforce training and upskilling (72%), having measurable program objectives (68%), use of real-time analytics and performance monitoring (63%) and organizational or workflow redesign (62%).

Ultimately, the research showed that respondents believe DPA has a real ability to improve processes and service delivery for federal agencies. This is fundamental to better customer experiences, improved operational agility and bending the cost curve toward a more sustainable path.

Absent compelling business drivers, progress on IT modernization has been admittedly slow and uneven in many agencies. A focus on digital process automation can ensure that efforts are concentrated in areas where they have a rapid and bottom-line impact, with results fueling ongoing investments that enable continuous improvement and modernization. 

About the Author

Dave McClure is principal director, Federal CIO Advisory Services, Accenture Federal Services.

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