Hiring robots to help citizens: a chat with Jørgen Brolykke Rasmussen on the City of Odense’s RPA experience

Jørgen Brolykke Rasmussen,
Stabschef for IT & Digitalisering, Odense Kommune

Jonas Groes, Advisory Government and Public Sector Leader, Ernst & Young Global Limited interviews Jørgen Brolykke Rasmussen, Chief IT & Digitization Officer, Odense Kommune

Odense — one of the oldest cities in Denmark with proof of settlement dating back to over 4,000 years. It is the official bicycle capital of the country, and the birthplace of Hans Christian Anderson. With a rich mix of art, culture, tradition and the snazzy, Odense is picturesque, quaint, sprightly and contemporary — all at the same time.

To testament its willingness to stay current and adopt what is new and effective while still being rooted in its core values, the City of Odense recently launched an automation project. I had the chance recently to talk to Jørgen Brolykke about the city’s automation project.

Q: Government and public sector (GPS) bodies are often looked upon as old-fashioned. But projects like Odense’s transform the way people look at the sector. What prompted the city of Odense to consider robotic process automation (RPA)?

A: Government bodies are certainly keen on improving the experiences of citizens they interact with. And they do take action to improve these experiences. However, not all of these bodies might be open to leverage and adopt new and unfamiliar high-end technology like robotics. A certain degree of openness and courage is definitely required, and that degree of openness can add tremendous value. Now, we actually have the technology and software that can enable this value addition.

For the city of Odense, the objectives of turning to robotic automation were to:

  • Improve efficiency and accuracy
  • Save costs
  • Reduce manual and repetitive tasks
  • Give our employees the opportunity to work on creative, value-added tasks and also reduce their stress

Q: Whenever automation is discussed, some people get worried. There is often concern that automation might also result in headcount reduction. Did the city employees have similar concerns? If so, how were those addressed?

A: You are right. But, what we have understood from our experience with RPA is that the robots are more like colleagues to employees, than like replacements. The software bots take care of the repetitive, monotonous tasks while letting employees intervene where emotions, education and experience are required to take decisions. This creates a symbiotic environment where employees and software programs work hand in hand to power increased efficiency, cost savings, higher degrees of accuracy and reduced error. The time and cost we save can be directed toward other activities aimed at improving the lives of our citizens.

Q: How are things now after the RPA project? What difference has it made to the city and its people? What benefits have you drawn?

A: The benefits of RPA go beyond just cost and efficiency savings. Of course, cost and efficiency are important. What is, however, also important are speed, accuracy and safety. Where we brought in RPA, it has improved the security of our data and processes, increased the speed at which the citizens are provided information and service, and made our data accurate. This gives us some very tangible long-term benefits and also improves the experiences of the citizens that interact with us.

Q: What’s next for Odense? Are there more processes that you are looking to automate? Are there other technologies you are considering adopting?

A: There is a lot more processes in our different departments that we plan to automate. RPA is an important tool in our digital toolbox and our organization simply demands these new tools. In the next year, we also plan to get some experiences with machine learning in which we also see a lot of exciting possibilities.

Q: What advice would you give to governments that want to adopt RPA?

A: A key aspect of introducing automation into your processes is identifying the right processes that can be automated. Some processes and departments would have a higher level of automation than others. Different departments process different types of data and, therefore, we might not be able to automate similar processes across departments. Do not hesitate to get help if required.

In the face of increasing costs, governments, much like the private sector, should be open to thinking out of the box to come up with solutions that help them save costs and time. A certain degree of open-mindedness can go a long way. In the coming months and years, adopting latest technology will no longer be a value add, it will be the imperative.

Jørgen, many thanks for the insightful interview!

Legal disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the author only and do not represent the views of any of the member firms of Ernst & Young Global Limited.


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