Smart tech is key to solving Canada’s service failures and ending passport seekers’ woes

All true and necessary, but government has mixed record on such large and complex IT projects.

Even harder is the necessary simplification and streamlining of programs and processes that would facilitate IT and related modernization:

Canadians are missing flights, cancelling trips and even camping out overnight at government offices as the passport application process has utterly failed to keep up with post-pandemic demand.

With anger and frustration over the delays flaring into a national issue, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau named a task force of ten cabinet members to try to address the problem and figure out how to end the backlogs on passports and immigration processing.

This comes not long after Auditor General Karen Hogan found veterans seeking disability benefits also face unacceptable delays in the processing of their applications by Veteran Affairs Canada.

Hogan found veterans applying for disability benefits waiting almost 40 weeks for a decision on their first application compared to the 16-week average processing time for other benefits packages. And she reported that the department’s inability to meet timely delivery standards has been going on for seven years.

As governments struggle to fix these problems, it has to be pointed out that a simple automated solution is readily at hand. It’s just a question of the government’s ability to take advantage of it.

Better data management

In fact, the current backlogs on passports, immigration paperwork and veterans’ applications are nothing less than case studies in the need for digital innovation to enable government departments to quickly and efficiently upgrade service delivery and deliver a better experience for Canadians.

Organizations around the world are increasingly leveraging intelligent automation, particularly Robotic Process Automation (RPA), to tackle business challenges, including the need for greater efficiency, reduced processing time and better data.

Addressing shortcomings in data operations is one of the hallmarks of RPA, a software technology that uses digital workers for repetitive tasks like data entry and validation. RPA reliably captures and handles data faster and more accurately, while streamlining the client experience. As importantly, RPA frees employees from repetitive, mundane work, allowing them to be more productive and focus on better solutions.

Solutions seen globally

For example, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has adopted RPA solutions to address persistent service problems similar to those faced by Veterans Affairs Canada. Among other improvements, the U.S. VA has saved over 500,000 hours by leveraging RPA in its mailroom. It has successfully automated the review and classification of more than 8,000 physical mail packets on a daily basis, representing 277 unique document types.

Such examples of positive RPA implementation are myriad. For instance, ATB Financial, Alberta’s Crown-owned bank, has used RPA to achieve a 99 per cent improvement in turnaround time for end-to-end processes, as well as other upgrades. Other sectors worldwide have successfully implemented RPA technology, including in accounting, retail trade, government, professional services and manufacturing.

The Canadian government is, of course, well aware of the game-changing potential for service delivery through intelligent automation, and is committed to digital transformation in its 46 departments and agencies. But it started this process from a weak position, with officials informing Prime Minister Trudeau that critical federal computer systems and applications were “rusting out and at risk of failure.”

The federal government has committed billions of dollars to new digital operations, and Shared Services Canada has been mandated to modernize these systems, but accomplishing overall change in such a massive, traditionally-siloed organization has proven challenging. Despite its efforts, the government acknowledges that some of its services are still hard to access and use.

Changing expectations

The demand for processing improvements is on the rise. The pandemic has produced a transformation in services and online access across the socio-economic landscape, and Canadians increasingly expect governments to meet this standard.

“We’re at a point where digital matters so much … we saw that amplified in the last two years,” Catherine Luelo, who was appointed the federal chief information officer last year, recently told In Budget 2022, the government promised legislation allowing it to expand availability of its digital platform services, including in other jurisdictions in Canada, and Luelo is working on ways to accelerate the institution-wide transformation away from legacy technology at the federal level.

Indeed, as thousands of frustrated would-be travellers can attest, the opportunities for RPA-based improvements have never been greater as the government tries to reopen services in the face of post-COVID demand. RPA is able to be procured by individual government departments and could quickly assist in speeding up passport and immigration processing. Intelligent automation could also provide solutions to the service problems now causing long wait times at airports in Toronto, Montreal and Calgary.

When service providers modernize their administration processes using RPA, they are not only able to realize solutions to specific needs but also make their operations scalable. This scalability through intelligent automation is the key tool needed to respond effectively to the surge in demand that has been so badly tying up the country’s passport offices and airports, with no end in sight.

Michael McGeehan is the North American Intelligent Automation Leader at SS&C Blue Prism.

Source: Smart tech is key to solving Canada’s service failures and ending passport seekers’ woes

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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