COVID may leave a positive legacy for government

The COVID-19 virus has caused widespread disruption across Australia, yet its legacy for governments could well prove to have a positive side, writes Christian Lucarelli.

With citizens and businesses in lockdown, federal, state and local governments have been scrambling to deliver support as quickly as possible. As a result, many have been forced to adopt new processes that streamline internal functions and improve service delivery.

The burden of paper

Christian Lucarelli

Making such changes in a very short period of time is not easy. Administrative processes that have been in place for years have needed to be quickly overhauled or replaced with new ways of working.

Much of the challenge stems from the fact that many government departments and agencies are still heavily reliant on paper. Everything from spending authorisations to leave requests often require a paper form that is passed along a chain of people for processing and approval.

Now, in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, such ways of working are under great strain. When staff are required to work from home, following paper-based processes becomes difficult if not impossible.

For the federal government, the challenges are amplified by a sharp increase in the need to provide support payments. With unemployment rates predicted to reach 10% later this year, more than 1.4 million Australians will be out of a job, putting further pressure on agencies.

The addition of the new JobKeeper payment has also added to the administrative burden. With an estimated 6.6 million people likely to require this support, the volume of applications will climb for months. Relying on paper-based processes to help complete this workload would be impossible.

Local government also feeling the pain

The need to scrutinise and improve processes in a post-COVID-19 environment will also apply to local government. As well as their day-to-day operations, many will soon begin rolling out extensive new projects designed to support business and breathe life into local economies.

For example, a stimulus program has been announced by the federal government that is designed to provide funding for road construction projects across more than 400 local councils. The councils are asked to nominate which projects they deem a priority so they can receive funds to get the works completed.

A national program of this nature will require the processing of large volumes of applications and careful monitoring of how and where funds are spent. Using digital, rather than manual and paper-based procedures, will be vital.

The power of digital processes

By adopting digital processes and automating existing manual methods, governments at all levels will be much better placed to support citizens during the COVID-19 emergency and as the world slowly returns to normal.

Encouragingly, achieving this goal does not have to be a complex or expensive task. By making use of low-code or no-code platforms, new digital processes can be readily created by staff with little or no programming experience.

Digital forms can replace paper and be used to capture required information from both internal and external parties. That information can then be channelled through digital workflows that enable decisions and approvals to be given much faster than is possible in a paper-based environment.

Such workflows can also be integrated with existing applications and databases, further streamlining operations and boosting efficiency. Often, staff will find they can successfully fill their roles just as easily from home as they can in the office.

The COVID-19 virus has clearly had a severe and long-lasting effect on modern life. Even when lockdowns are relaxed, the human and economic impact will be felt for years.

However, the work being undertaken now by governments around the country to digitise workflows will deliver some long-term benefits. Improved efficiency within the public sector will be a positive spinoff from the battle with the virus.

*Christian Lucarelli is Vice President of Sales APAC at Nintex

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