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Workflow Automation in the “COVID-Led” Information Age

Publication Date: May 28, 2020
 

Written by Darren Mizzi 


Darren Mizzi.jpgWriting this article, I am reflecting on all that has taken place in the past weeks. It has been like a dream, one in which the entire society shifted overnight from its high-speed tempo to a much slower stay at home one. This was necessary to protect ourselves, our family members, and the people around us. But somehow there was a craving to keep on doing whatever we did without social distancing, somehow our life had to keep ongoing. The only way to carry on was to create a “new norm” and turn our eyes to the internet.

The internet is what is allowing most of us to work from home, what is helping our students to keep learning, what is helping many to keep on having food and supplies at home. The internet has also significantly helped the people who had to physically go to their place of work because they work in the medical field or serve in essential shops. Perhaps, paradoxically, the internet is also helping us to socialise, whilst remaining physically and socially distant. More than ever, Information Technology has strengthened its position as the source of work, learning, entertainment, keeping fit, shopping, and keeping in touch. In fact, many countries have reported increases in their usage, not only because people are now using it more but also because more people have taken the leap of faith to start using it. People who would have never bought anything online have found themselves buying and paying online. It is equally mesmerising, to have seen so many shops, especially locally, making the shift towards online shopping and accepting payments online and, if one may add, facing new overheads that were not present up until about a month or two ago.

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Which brings us to the topic of the day – how the Maltese Government has also been focusing its effort to also shift its service provision online through automation. Sure enough, this work has started a few years back, when the Government had mandated that all services should be available online, 24x7. This leads the Malta Information Technology Agency (MITA) to invest heavily in the past years to procure and provide the best tools to enable the Government to attain this. One must emphasise though that in the past two years MITA has put a lot of effort in launching a revolutionary platform that aims to achieve automation within the Government: The Workflow Automation Solution.

This platform, that was part-financed through the EU Funds for Malta 2014-2020, forms part of the Connected eGovernment (CONvErGE) project and is enabling departments and entities across all the public sector to analyse, re-engineer, build, maintain, operate and optimise their services. This is thus also enabling the public service and public sector to shift their operations online and there is no limit to the amount or type of sector. Online processes can take the form of culture and leisure initiatives, social benefits, agriculture, and fishing incentives, health applications and referrals, educational services, taxation, and many more.

Furthermore, in the age of social distancing, Maltese citizens will be able to avail themselves of these services without the need to visit Government offices.  Also, the staff at these departments themselves can provide these services whilst having more time to continue to re-engineer and thus provide a better service to citizens. Whilst we are at it, this optimisation can also be done from home and the pandemic will not stop the citizen from making use of the services. The platform itself provides very sophisticated tools that enable an analysis of processes to identify areas that become or prove to be bottlenecks and thus require improvement. Furthermore, tools are also provided to automate not only Government to Citizen (G2C) eServices but also Government to Government (G2G) interactions. The latter would indirectly introduce efficiencies that would automatically be felt by the citizens themselves because Government resources would have more time to focus on service provisioning.

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The platform itself has been designed to minimise code interaction and makes use of visual tools. It also connects to the various services such as the electronic identity platform to allow citizens to authenticate, the email and mobile government platforms to send notifications and the Government Payment Gateway to accept payments online. Above all, the branding has also been standardised so that all eServices would have the same look and feel, whilst capitalising on the already well established Servizz.Gov Super Sector colour schemes. Citizens would, without any doubt, feel more comfortable to use a standardised and homogenous suite of eServices that does not change drastically from one eService to another, other than the information required. Moreover, making use of the common data components encourages the promise to further consolidate the once only principle approach, which put simply means that the Government will not ask for data that is already known.

Hence, whilst the Government is empowered and making this online shift, it is also systematically conducting this rethinking process to optimise processes. With the economy requiring quite a bit of regeneration, after what is happening during this pandemic, human resources are key and so the optimisation acquired through a BPR strategy is essential now more than ever. Optimised online processes through the Workflow Automation Solution will help the Government to continue to provide services in an automated fashion whilst freeing up resources to work on other aspects.

Certainly, no one wanted this pandemic to happen, but keeping in mind that every cloud has a silver lining, one must highlight MITA’s positive efforts in recent years which are now bearing fruit.  It was such efforts that led to investment in tools such as the Workflow Automation Solution. I am proud to have been part of the implementation team of this platform, one that along with the many other tools was successfully put to test under such unprecedented circumstances. If anything, MITA has also proven once again that society can use IT to help us in our daily lives, to digitally transform our processes and that there is no limit as to how much we can and should optimise and automate.​