Tennessee State Capitol in Nashville, Tenn.

May 04 2023

NASCIO 2023 Midyear: Tennessee IT Official Details State’s Adoption of Automation

Bob Pucci and his colleagues analyzed requirements holistically to minimize workloads for back-office functions.

The state of Tennessee sought to revolutionize the processing of back-office tasks, and so it began transformation through automation to streamline common assignments across its 23 executive branch agencies.

The largest areas of opportunity for the state were in customer experience and business process efficiency, Tennessee Executive Director of Intelligent Automation Bob Pucci told a panel Tuesday at the midyear conference of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers.

Automation also could improve employee morale and process quality while generating a greater return on human capital and introducing greater levels of flexibility and scalability, Pucci told NASCIO 2023 Midyear, which was held in Maryland’s National Harbor outside of Washington, D.C. 

“The automation doesn’t take a vacation; it doesn’t have time off,” Pucci said.

Essentially, process automation allows state employees to configure software to complete transactions, manipulate data, communicate with digital systems and do other tasks, Pucci explained. Automation enables the shift of employee time from mundane tasks to high-level creative tasks. It handles high-volume back-office processes where standardized execution can help.

“We went people to enjoy coming to work and not having to do the same thing,” Pucci said.

Meanwhile, because the quality of automated data remains consistently high, automation also helps with accuracy, compliance and auditing, Pucci added.

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Identifying Needs Upfront Helped to Assess Agencies Holistically

Tennessee identified three independent work streams for the first statement of work when engaging process automation.

  1. Infrastructure assessment and architecture design. Develop an infrastructure that supports process automation and future needs.
  2. Process inventory and prototype development. Prioritize a backlog of 40 opportunities and design, build and showcase process automation for four processes.
  3. Define the center of excellence and operating model. Develop the recommended mechanisms to support the state of Tennessee.

“The software we chose was very mature in the marketplace,” Pucci told the NASCIO 2023 conference. 

With its software, Tennessee established an enterprise-level automation program and began onboarding its 23 executive branch agencies in fiscal year 2022. The state plans to onboard all agencies by the first half of fiscal year 2024.

DISCOVER: Here Are 6 Significant Ways in Which RPA Helps State and Local Agencies

In determining how to deploy automation, Pucci and his colleagues looked at state government agencies holistically, not individually.

“We did an analysis and found that each agency has three to five divisions that are the same,” he said. Agencies typically included a division dedicated to human resources, another dedicated to communications, etc. The legal office in an agriculture office shared the same back-office concerns as the legal office in a child services office.

“We were identifying common enterprise automation that we can use across agencies,” Pucci said.

Stabilizing Processes and Costs Across Agencies with Automation

As a result of its process automation program, Tennessee reduced infrastructure costs, footprint and maintenance by running all automation in the cloud, Pucci said. The state saw an 80 percent reduction in servers and achieved nondisruptive economies of scale. (The state initially had roughly 40 servers and an additional 20 for disaster recovery, Pucci said.)

“It is important to have not many unknowns. It was important to us to ensure the infrastructure cost was going to be constant,” Pucci said. With the flat costs of infrastructure, as well as operations and maintenance, the Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration was able to successfully make a business case for enterprise automation.

The state also reduced operations and production support costs thanks to the reusable enterprise automation processes deployable across multiple agency divisions.

Up to 40 divisions, for example, use an automation for enterprise Family and Medical Leave Act processing. Many divisions likewise use automation for employment verification for active employees. Each automation represents an end-to-end process that “stays the same and is used across divisions,” Pucci said.

The process automation for employee verification is a common service that saves about 300 hours per year for each organization that uses it, for example.

Keep this page bookmarked for our coverage of the NASCIO 2023 Midyear conference. Follow us on Twitter at @StateTech and the official conference Twitter account, @NASCIO. Join the conversation using the hashtag #NASCIO23.

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