The Federal workforce of the future will most likely consist of supervisors, the human workforce, contractors, and a new kind of worker–the digital employee that is equipped to reduce the burden of repetitive, simple tasks on humans.
There are so many repetitive, manual tasks across government that could be easily programmed to be done automatically, from the forwarding of emails to the right department to automatic case retrievals in call centers. Such automation could free up the human workforce to handle more mission-critical tasks. Name the task and there is most likely a bot to perform the function.
Enter the world of robotic process automation (RPA). RPA refers to software that can be easily programmed to do basic tasks across applications just as human workers do. Traditional RPA software is rules-based, where the system picks which rules to use in order to act upon a set of assertions. However, modern RPA is starting to incorporate more artificial intelligence, machine learning, and intelligent chat capabilities, experts say.
Deloitte Consulting brought RPA to the Federal government by delivering an automated prototype for NASA’s Funds Distribution Process where they conducted a vendor analysis to help NASA make an informed decision about the next steps for integrating a process robotics capability.
“We assisted them in the complete selection, build, design, and implementation of the first bot launched in the U.S. Federal government, which NASA named George Washington,” said principal Deloitte Consulting and U.S. Government and Public Service Robotics and Cognitive lead Marc Mancher.
Using RPA, NASA’s Shared Services Center “automated the creation of personnel cases in its human resources system for new hires and position transfers within NASA. The bot receives an auto-generated email message when a new action is required and then copies personnel data and creates a new case in the system to initiate subsequent processing actions,” according to GCN, which awarded NASA a GCN DigIT award in 2017. The automated process reduced the time it takes for a case to make it through a human-processed queue from 24 hours to an hour or less.
There are several RPA software packages on the market. NASA used Automation Anywhere and UiPath because the agency wanted to compare two commercial packages for their strengths and weaknesses, Mancher noted. Other RPA solutions are offered by Blue Prism, Kofax, Oracle, Redwood, and WorkFusion.
Mancher described robotic process automation going through three waves within organizations. Wave One is the stage when an organization is finding out basic information about RPA, where it’s working, how it can fit into the organization, and what processes should be automated. Wave Two involves the building of the bot to see how it works in an operations environment. Wave Three involves scaling the bot or bots across the organization.
Most of the Federal agencies that are using RPA have advanced into the Wave Two stage, Mancher noted. “We have not yet seen robotics scale in the U.S. Federal government. There are some commercial companies with 800 bots in production,” he said. But government agencies will get there. “The adoption cycle in government is slower because of security, privacy, union, and labor issues. We are working through those,” he said. “The technology has proven itself, and now the ability to scale, and policy, is catching up.”
“Every government agency has routinized tasks that are not adding value today.” Both Deloitte Consulting and HFS Research have conducted separate studies to determine how many resources agencies would free up by using digital employees or robotic processes. Estimates range from $40 billion to $80 billion in terms of resources that could be reallocated to more value-added activities that improve citizen services, Mancher said.
Agencies looking to better understand RPA do not have to go it alone. The Federal Robotics and Cognitive Consortium (FRCC), which includes 46 agencies, is a government-to-government sharing forum that meets virtually each month. The FRCC is having a widely attended face-to-face meeting on August 14th in Virginia, Mancher said. For more information, please contact Marc Mancher (firstname.lastname@example.org).