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Enhancing Routine Capability Through Robotic Process Automation in the Public Sector: A Case Survey

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Abstract

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) adoption is increasing in the public sector for improving the quality and the efficiency of public services. However, we have not yet gained a sufficient understanding of how RPA advances public service practices and process routines in public organizations. To mitigate this gap, we conducted a literature review and analyzed eight reported cases of RPA in public sector organizations through the lens of technology as routine capability (Swanson 2019). The results indicate that most of the cases are from the public sector in the Nordic countries, e.g., Sweden, Norway, and Finland. RPA creates new “machine” routines and becomes integral to humans’ new routines in public service’s processes and practices. RPA as routine capability advanced practices at individual, organizational, and social levels. The evidence also indicated that changes triggered by RPA were intertwined in the four modes of routine capability: design, execution, diffusion, and shift. The research contributed to a deeper understanding of how RPA changes and cultivates routine capability and advances public service practices. In addition, we applied and critically examined technology as routine capability as the analytical framework for understanding how RPA advanced public service practices.

Keywords

  • Robotic process automation (RPA)
  • Public organizations
  • Technology as routine capability
  • Case survey

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Correspondence to Evrim Oya Güner .

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Appendix: Case Studies Included in the Analysis

Appendix: Case Studies Included in the Analysis

No Author, Year, Public sector, Country Focal level of analysis/Practice Unit of analysis/Routines Key findings
1 Dias et al. (2019), Finnish government shared services center (FinServ), Finland Digital transformation practice (HR and Finance processes digitalization)
Add more which organization, from which country, discuss the differences and similarities
Knowledge workers’ routine in human resources HR & finance processes
This case did not describe any detailed information of specific routines or processes. The case studied the business processes in the Finnish government shared service Centre (FinServ). The goal was to get about 40% efficiency to the processes after RPA implementation
Advance knowledge workers’ practice to focus on more value-added tasks in HR & Finance
Management found that knowledge workers are capable of doing more intellectual tasks than they thought. However, how the RPA fuses with the knowledge work routine and provides capabilities for advancing knowledge workers’ practice needs proper management and coordination. Human attention was still needed to handle highly cognitive problem-solving tasks and develop new knowledge for continuous business development
2 Patil et al. (2019), The Savitribai Phule Pune University, India Examination result analysis practice in a university Routines in data transfer for examination assessments
Old routine: Transferring the examination results in PDF to excel file manually
New routine: Transferring the examination results in PDF to excel automatically without human intervention before the proper analysis for each subject
Advance examination assessment practice by reducing the completion time and errors of data transfer from PDF to Excel
3 Ranerup and Henriksen (2019), Municipality, Sweden Digitalization and automation of decision-making practices in social services Routines in social assistance decision-makings in public organizations
The case study (Trelleborg Municipality, Sweden) doesn’t provide information of practices before and after the implementation of RPA
New Routine generates capability: Beginning in the Spring of 2017, social assistance decisions were increasingly managed by the RPA. By August 2017, RPA, assisted by caseworkers, handled approximately 70% of the applications. Of these applications, RPA made 41% of the decisions and handled the actual social assistance payments. If applications were rejected, caseworkers from the Labor Market Agency handled the decisions manually
Though RPA implementation provides increased accountability, enhanced efficiency, and cost reduction for social services, the practice of decision-making involves human judgment, exceptions, along the values that shape public sector services. The confidence in human worker’s practice is already considered as advanced in terms of professionalism
4 Denagama Vitharanage et al. (2020), University, Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Australia Payroll practices (including payroll process and its sub-processes such as sessional appointments, paper appointments, resignations, invitation to adjunct professor) Routines in data processing and data entry
Old routine: Entering the paper forms to the system manually by the payroll team
New routine: The case provides that RPA implemented into the payroll process. Although there is no further information on practices before and after the implementation of RPA, the case provides the benefits gained by the implementation
Advance payroll practices by improving time efficiency, improvement in the accuracy, improving process transparency, visibility and understanding, decrease in the compliance risk (e.g., protecting the university from potential litigation, being compliant with regards to contracts)
Advance human practice and skills through supporting the employees on the development of new knowledge on automation and engagement in more value-adding work
Advance organizational practices by enforcing organizational policies, increasing customer satisfaction and operational continuity
5 Lindgren (2020), Municipality, Sweden Practice of case handling in social work and administrative processes in local governments Old and new routines aren’t described The authors expect that the automation of the administrative routines will have challenging impacts on the employees’ work life and the content of their work
6 Ranerup (2020), Municipality, Sweden Changes related to RPA in decisions on social assistance Automation of decision-making practices in social work (case handling in social assistance) and dissemination of RPA at national level
Old and/or new routines aren’t described
What changes RPA as routine capability.
Four change modes revealed by the two cases are as follows.
1. Change by design in decision-making routines
2. Change by execution in learning and adapting in different situations
3. Change by diffusion in spreading the RPA as routine capability
4  Change by shift through re-creating and performing the decision-making routines in a broader population
7 Ranerup and Henriksen (2020), Municipality, Sweden Practice of social assistance application and decision-making
Practice of discretion in social assistance decision-making
Current routine:
Routines in social assistance decision-makings in local government (the separate routine for decision)
Social assistance application is a multi-level process including several steps in each level. Following the citizens’ applications for social assistance, RPA routines are performed. The steps in routine are as follows:
1. Routines preliminary to the social assistance decision:
 (a) RPA bot is programmed as a caseworker
 (b) A citizen’s application form is copied and entered into the system (manual routine)
 (c) The robot logs into the case management system ProCapita as a caseworker, copies the information from the form, transfers the information to an Excel document to initiate checking with the social insurance board or another agency.
 (d) the robot checks if citizens have an operational activity plan
2. RPA makes the decisions for the applications (one-third of the decisions are made by RPA). Still, the robot and human caseworker make the final decision jointly in many cases
3. complex decisions are handled by human caseworker and RPA jointly
RPA advanced decision-making practice through:
The improvements in objectivity, accountability and efficiency
Decrease in the errors and cost
Time savings for the caseworkers
However, some of the caseworkers showed resistance to the transfer of responsibility from caseworker to RPA, claiming that responsibility transfer pulled down their professionalism.
Although RPA replaces manual automated decision-making practice, the expertise of the caseworkers is still needed (particularly in complex cases/applications)
RPA as routine capability needs to be improved for making decisions in complex situations
8 Goday-Verdaguer et al. (2020), Municipality, Norway Human resources (HR) practices Current routines in the hiring process (based on the process analysis)
After the position is announced publicly, a new case is created in the recruitment system
Preparation:
The job analysis is conducted by the hiring unit
The job analysis is approved
The job advertisement text is created
A case is opened in the HR system, and the job advertisement is published
A list of applications is created
Selection: Selection is out of the scope of the HR department. After the decision is made, HR stores the final decision consisting of a ranking of candidates, provides an offer for the most suitable candidate and negotiates the contract
Finalization: After the candidate accepted the position and signed the contract
Several systems are accessed, and ordering of equipment is performed
RPA is expected to advance organizational efficiency through improving HR practices

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Güner, E.O., Han, S., Juell-Skielse, G. (2022). Enhancing Routine Capability Through Robotic Process Automation in the Public Sector: A Case Survey. In: Juell-Skielse, G., Lindgren, I., Åkesson, M. (eds) Service Automation in the Public Sector. Progress in IS. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-92644-1_9

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