The new back office transformation
The back office has traditionally involved repetitive, high-volume activities. In today’s digital world, there are shifting expectations. Digital experiences are shaping how back-office staff, end-users and citizens want to work, receive information and interact. Data is pervasive. The pace of change is fierce.
Digital and the user-centricity it enables create an obligation and an opportunity for a new government back office—a value engine, not a cost centre. By harnessing automation and other digital technologies to shrink and optimise non-value-added tasks, back-office resources, capacity, and investment can be redirected to advance the core business. That is sustained value for the whole organisation.
But developing this value engine is a different kind of undertaking for public service organisations. It requires transformation beyond typical approaches that target speed, productivity and cost savings. What’s needed is an evolution to an intelligent back office, which has three fundamental characteristics.
When people think of the back office, they often think about technology and process. But there is a critical human element. The workforce produces services that people across government consume. The better people are at doing this, the better positioned public service organisations are to meet citizens’ and users’ needs. Yet the focus on human needs is getting lost. Back-office staff spend a good portion of time on repetitive tasks that may make their jobs tedious, unchallenging and ultimately unsatisfying.
Introducing intelligence into the back office eliminates this dynamic—one that rarely delivers user-centric processes in an efficient and productive way. The intelligent back office is designed to reflect user journeys, factoring in present, expected and aspirational ways of working. How does this work in practice? It is finance staff using predictive analytics to forecast budgets based on peak demand. Or human resources helping business managers recruit top hires to win the war for talent with the private sector. Or procurement’s spend strategy going beyond savings goals to power business objectives.
The intelligent back office transforms operations by automating basic and repetitive tasks so people can do more complex, interesting, and therefore, more fulfilling work. Back-office personnel become business focused, delivering new value to end users. To enable this shift, organisations must define new back-office roles, hire top talent and train and develop their people to support the business in a different way. The new value focus will alter the profile of the future workforce.
Digital on the inside
The value engine depends on fuel from digital. This is why investing in digital solutions is a key criteria to create an intelligent back office. However, deploying intelligent back office solutions is not about magically making change happen with the latest hot trend in digital. The magic comes from how the solution interacts with the broader context of people, process and culture to drive transformation.
When it comes to investments in digital solutions, many governments have already begun exploring automation and analytics for the back office. They are developing prototypes and proofs of concept, and working toward moving to scale those with the most promise. As important as they are, however, these investments are just the first wave of digital transformation for the new back office.
The second wave includes more cutting-edge digital solutions, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning. These and other emerging technologies will impact how the back office operates at a foundational level. While today’s public service organisations are at the very early stages of this exploration—if at all—emerging technologies are always advancing fast and cannot be ignored.
The traditional government back office has a love-hate relationship with data. Finance, human resources and procurement all have a wealth of data. In fact, finance is “mission control” for data in many public service organisations. Even so, the back office often finds itself struggling to turn data into insights because of issues with data access and quality or because advanced analytics skills are not widely available.
In contrast, the intelligent back office is built on a data-driven backbone. Structured and unstructured data from both internal and external sources bring breakthrough insights. These insights can benefit specific functional areas, departments and ultimately citizens. Digital platforms make it possible to integrate and share this diverse data in a secure environment designed for collaboration.
Another distinction is how the intelligent back office engages with data. Digital tools and analytics extract relevant patterns more efficiently. Back-office staff—who are now attuned to business needs, not transaction processing—use their judgement and experience to make sense of it. They offer analysis and advice to the organisation enabling strategic decision making and wiser investment decisions.
Change comes in different forms
There is no one-size-fits all approach to building the intelligent back office. The journey is unique. It depends on an organisation’s readiness, resources and appetite for change. For example, some organisations prioritise an individual functional area. They begin with very specific exploratory projects and scale them across other functions achieving multiple successes across the organisation.
Other organisations take a much more comprehensive approach from the start. This broader transformation often begins with clean sheet design, which is revolutionary for government. Think of it as building the new back office from scratch. Collecting data on requirements, skill sets, outcomes and more reveals the desired future state. This “should-be” view guides the transformation from the ground up.
Regardless of the approach that an organisation takes, every back-office function in government should direct the transformation with a value-oriented mindset. After all, it is impossible to create a value engine without knowing the desired outcomes and return on investment from the outset. Leaders must know what they want out of the transformation, how they will get it and how they will measure success.
Accenture guides public service organisations along this journey to the intelligent back office. With a flexible, adaptable approach that combines business insights with leading innovative solutions, we build a more connected back office that operates as a true value engine—in ways it never did before.