How to balance automation & human touch in the public sector

As a result of an increased focus on affordable governance, the public sector will have a larger emphasis on automation in order to optimize the service-level efficiency in the coming years. But how can the public institutions effectivize without compromising the human touch?

The choice to automate services and other functions is a strategic dilemma in the public sector. While some industry experts see automation as the only way forward, others claim that the human element is the bedrock of public sector delivery, and that it should not be compromised.

Public institutions have begun to automate the back offices

There have only been few objections to automating back office processes and much of it is occurring already. Automation is applied to improve efficiency and coordination but also to streamline labor-intensive administrative duties. FM providers, for example, are installing Facility Management information systems, automating all of the help desk functions and many areas involved in the maintenance of a building.

The UK healthcare is a great case of a well-functioning ICT implementation. From a historical perspective, a meal order would be taken by the nurse or ward hostess on a paper form and sent to the kitchen. If the meal was not in stock the patient would be sent whatever was available. To streamline and effectivize this process, ISS started to roll out an electronic Patient Meal Ordering System (PMOS). This system enables a ward hostess to take a meal order on a tablet at the bedside. The aspirational element is to move to “real time” menu ordering whereby the patient is only offered what is available in stock and therefore has a choice every time.

As another example, the hospitals in Singapore have developed the Antimicrobial Resistance and Utilization Surveillance and Control (ARUS-C) to provide electronic decision support for the prescription of antibiotics in order to reduce unnecessary and inappropriate antibiotic use in Singaporean hospitals. The system tracks antibiotic use and its effect on patients, and allows for the monitoring of clinicians’ compliance.

Adopting new welfare technologies

While these technologies have created tremendous success for the non-citizen facing back-office processes, many public sector professionals are hesitant about pushing the technologies out on the front line. For many, it is believed that the best care can be done by individuals. However, FM providers should be aware that there are a number of new technologies that are emerging from welfare technology research that are blurring the definition of what counts as human touch. Welfare technologies can support and reinforce such areas as safety, security, social networking, activities of daily living and mobility. These technologies intend to help patients:

  • Connect to others
  • Speak, facilitate expression and communication
  • Use parts of the body that do not work
  • Improve memory (time and place orientation for completing chores)
  • Express feelings and more existential needs
  • Develop a sense of calmness, confidence, experience and enlivenment
  • Achieve independence or assisted-independence with freedom and dignity

Examples of existing welfare technologies include:


Considering the potential of these welfare technologies that can make the lives easier of many individuals for a lower amount of resources, it is is imperative to question whether citizens prioritize efficiency instead of personability when receiving particular services?

Creating the balance

For public services, the decision to automate requires a careful consideration of all stakeholder needs or even some kind of consideration of ethics which is invariably sector- and context specific. Striking the appropriate balance between automation and the human touch requires evaluating the internal and external value for a given service. FM providers will need to leverage their experience in service excellence and intimate knowledge of the people-facility-service interaction. This approach is needed in order to develop automated and human-based solutions tailored to the needs of a particular sector, department or facility.

If you want to know more about, facility management and the future of public sector services, read our blog post: Why the next 10 years matter for FMs and the Public Sector or download the ISS Whitepaper- Future of Public Sector Outsourcing.