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The automation of bureaucracy

(Image credit: Image Credit: Geralt / Pixabay)

Covid-19 has impacted the way we live and work, and this is no different for the civil service, who, like the rest of us, needed to fast track their move to remote working practically overnight

Despite the gradual shift to flexible working that we’ve seen at CGI in the UK over the last several years, the lockdown accelerated the need for people to adapt and learn to use technologies and online platforms to keep in touch with friends, family, colleagues like never before. In the UK government, civil servants have also had to adopt these new ways of working whilst supporting the unprecedented demand for citizen services created by the pandemic.

However, it has been ongoing learning for citizens, as governments at all levels move to these new ways for working using digital tools and technologies. Some lessons have been learned the hard way in some cases, with an increase in ransomware and cyber-attacks.

Digital technologies enabled by AI and Automation can help the public sector provide critical citizen experience within economic & time constraints. One of the immediate challenges we face is high unemployment levels, and we need to use technology to support people in their journey to find economic opportunities and support them effectively during these challenging times.

Technology and recovery

I don’t think anyone would dispute that technology can aid our recovery from the pandemic’s impact, or that it couldn’t be utilized to improve the situation for citizens in the longer term. The question at hand is, how?

At CGI in the UK, we predict that digital technologies can help open up the economy in a controlled way to get people back to employment and the economy back to normal under CGI’s respond, rebound, and reinvent strategy. Our President & CEO shares three key organizational capabilities to address the current crisis:

  • Mastering business agility: In our global survey, most executives stated business agility as a key priority this year but only 18 percent report their business is highly agile.
  • Rethinking technology supply chain: The pandemic highlighted the importance of the technology supply chain to pivot to new realities with agility and elasticity and to build more resilience into how organizations deliver their products and services. When asked to rank top innovation investments, executives cite modernization, automation and robotics, and cloud technologies, which are the key elements of modern and resilient technology supply chains.
  • Enabling future of work: Digital engagement with customers and citizens has taken on new importance. Executives cite “digital employee tools” as their second most important digitization initiative. In addition, 88 percent of executives are not yet seeing results from enterprise digital strategies.

Remote working and technologies to support various citizen services will accelerate and become more prevalent. Online services and commerce have increased substantially, and we need to think out of the box to help solve challenges such as testing services. Local authorities and communities should be leveraged to overcome many of these challenges. Technology could be used to improve traceability and sharing of data between organizations in a secure way. The convergence of technologies like mobile, AI, and big data could help in achieve these outcomes e.g., secure sharing of data and insights. We should also seek inspiration from other places where countries have used technology successfully to improve services. For example, Sixfold has published a free live map of border crossing times for trucks to enable all of Europe’s supply chains to understand expected delays in receiving shipments.

Advanced analytics can help in identifying and tracing infected individuals to protect further spread of the virus. AI can be used to monitor video feeds and alert excess concentration of people in public places. This could help civil services apply more localized strategies for hotspot identification and resolution to control the pandemic’s spread in local communities. 

The UK should be looking at other countries for inspiration on how AI and Data can serve to protect our people and businesses alike. Take Taiwan CDC as an example. They are combining health and travel data to build a monitoring system to provide real-time alerts for example: alerting if a patient visiting a clinic has recently been in an infected area or has been in contact with high-risk individuals. In the UK, we should be developing a consolidated view of individuals who might have visited high-risk areas.  This could help civil and healthcare services to take necessary preventive steps.

Technology, the public sector and public health

AI-based analytics and predictive modelling can help healthcare professionals to understand more about the pandemic. Government bodies can use AI techniques to understand the changing patterns in a more detailed manner to improve our risk assessment and forecasting models.

Use of technology to maintain social distancing and drive business continuity can already be seen with pubs and restaurants using QR codes and mobile apps for orders and payments. This could be extended to many other public places to help businesses remain open and hopefully open other parts of our economy.  

We should also leverage digital technologies to provide consistent and concise information for citizens in the current evolving environment. Mental health is a big challenge during this crisis, and we should harness technology for supporting citizens across the country by providing the right support and guidance via digital channels.


One of our key challenges is to avoid further lockdowns by containing the spread of the virus by improved test and trace services and proactive management of emerging hotspots. We need the economy to be back on its feet by supporting people back to work, support students to continue on their learning journeys, and provide citizens with critical services in an effective manner as we come out of the pandemic. Digital Technologies combines with some out of the box thinking is our best option to respond to these challenges.  

Great improvements can be made in the public sector by harnessing new digital technologies such as automation & AI to help improve services that are failing because of poor processes. Technology enables us to deliver better services at lower costs. Citizens and consumers should continue to embrace the change and the better services and products it will deliver.

Sumant Kumar, Director Digital Transformation, CGI UK (opens in new tab)

Sumant Kumar is Director of Digital Transformation at CGI UK.