SAP NEWSBYTE – June 17, 2020 – The authorities in the Swiss cantons of Aargau and Zurich are using digital aids to speed up the accounting and payment of reduced working hours compensation following a surge in applications due to the coronavirus pandemic. At the heart of their digital solution is a Web form with a bot that transfers data to the Swiss federal government’s accounting system. The software bot, which is based on the SAP solution for intelligent robotic process automation (RPA), automates various steps in the payment process and thus ensures that compensation for reduced working hours reaches applicants quickly. At the same time, the solution massively reduces administrative workload. The solution was commissioned by the Canton of Zurich and is now also being used in the Canton of Aargau.
Zurich initiative fosters digitalization and automation
When lockdown began in mid-March, the number of applications for reduced working hours shot up to more than 10,000 almost overnight: That meant that, over a period of three months, about 30,000 payments would need to be processed. Fabian Ruhlé, head of the public unemployment insurance fund in the Canton of Aargau, knew straight away that the fund would be unable – with its existing personnel resources and processes – to handle the predicted volume quickly enough. “Nevertheless, we must aim to process approved applications as quickly as possible, so that money can be paid out swiftly and cases of financial hardship avoided,” says Ruhlé, summing up the purpose and rationale of the Swiss government’s COVID-19 compensation payments for employers.
Instead of spending months developing its own solution, the Canton of Aargau was able to access a digital solution that the Office for Information Technology and the Office for Economy and Labor in the Canton of Zurich had developed with SAP and Prodyna and had begun operating successfully. During this project, the existing – entirely manual – process between companies applying for reduced working hours, unemployment insurance funds, and the systems at the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) (as the payment agency), was enhanced with intelligent technologies and extensively automated. In cooperation with SAP and Prodyna, an e-form was developed from which a software robot extracts the necessary information, feeds it automatically into the SECO payment system, and enters the payment data, thus avoiding manual transmission errors. Overall, the solution being used in the Canton of Zurich is ensuring that the unusually large volume of applications for reduced working hours compensation can be processed quickly.
Payouts within two days
It took just two weeks – from kickoff to go-live – to implement the digital solution. “We were able to reduce our workload by about 75%; we only need additional staff resources on an ad-hoc basis, and we can get payments to applicants within two working days,” says Ruhlé, summing up the outcome for the applications processed using the e-form. He is also delighted with the consistently positive feedback companies have given. And he describes the experience that other government authorities and SAP were able to pass on from the project in the Canton of Zurich as “very helpful” – evidence that the federal style of innovation works: One canton develops something and shares it with the others.
Web form and software robot
As Switzerland’s economic powerhouse, the Canton of Zurich felt the impact of lockdown particularly strongly. In economically calmer periods, the Office for Economy and Labor there receives about ten advance notices of reduced working hours every month. That figure shot up to 30,000 applications in March and had reached more than 32,000 by the beginning of June. Given an average processing time of 25 minutes per application, it would have taken weeks to process them all – even if there had been a massive increase in staff numbers. Hansruedi Born, head of the Office for Information Technology in the Canton of Zurich, helped make the idea of using digitalization and automation a reality: “We recognized immediately that a robotics approach with a link to the government’s accounting system was a promising solution.” In a joint effort involving the various government offices and authorities, and in collaboration with SECO, the canton was able to digitalize its manual process in 14 days and avert the threat of a backlog.
The new digital process is based on end-to-end automation powered by two components:
- When users have signed in using two-factor authentication, the Web form takes them through the application steps, verifies the individual field entries, and validates them while the application is being made. The data is saved in XML files. As soon as all the necessary documents have been uploaded, the application can be transferred directly in digital form.
- The SAP software robot gathers the files and extracts them. The quality of each application is then checked for compliance with the business rules that apply in the Canton of Zurich. The robot then enters the application in the unemployment insurance fund system, where payment is approved, and stores the application and accompanying documents securely in the document management system.
Project pays for itself in less than a month
The end-to-end automation of the application process – including quality check – has cut the personnel workload for processing reduced working hours applications in the Canton of Aargau by 75%, and in the Canton of Zurich by as much as 85%. At 30 seconds per application, the processing speed has increased by a factor of 50. And all at low cost: The investments in the digital solution paid off in less than a month. According to model calculations, the cost of digitally processing an application for reduced working hours is just 76 Swiss Rappen.
“These projects in the Cantons of Zurich and Aargau are further proof that SAP has the platforms and tools to swiftly create innovative solutions for urgent challenges,” says a delighted Michael Locher-Tjoa, Managing Director of SAP Switzerland. “It’s incredibly important to me that we are there with our expertise and our products to proactively support our customers around the clock in the good times and the bad.” In this vein, SAP opened up access to selected software and services to help companies meet the challenges they face in the fight against COVID-19.
The core element of robot-controlled data transfer from the Web form to the Swiss government’s accounting system is SAP Intelligent Robotic Process Automation, a set of technology services for developing smart bots that use machine learning and artificial intelligence to handle dialogs accurately and reliably without the need for manual data entry. In the projects conducted in the Cantons of Zurich and Aargau to automate the processing of reduced working hours applications, the robot simulates a real user.
“Valuable input for the future”
Once the coronavirus crisis is over, the number of applications for reduced working hours will return to normal levels. Nevertheless, while the solution currently in use in the Canton of Aargau is only a temporary measure, it represents a key breakthrough. “This project has shown us what is possible and achievable,” is how Ruhlé sums up its long-term value. “Document uploading, for example, is something that we’ll take away with us and look at again when the pandemic is over. We’ve gained a whole lot of valuable input for the future.”
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