Putting Robotic Process Automation to Work in the Federal Government
In response to the strong emphasis on modernizing technology and utilizing artificial intelligence (AI) throughout the Federal Government, the General Services Administration (GSA) has partnered with Federal Chief Information Officer, Suzette Kent, to establish a governmentwide Artificial Intelligence Community of Practice (CoP). The AI CoP enables leaders to share lessons learned and new ideas for implementing machine learning, human-centered interactions, natural language processing, rule-based automation, and robotic process automation (RPA).
Artificial Intelligence in Action
Among the various forms of artificial intelligence, RPA stands out for its potential to significantly increase workforce productivity by reducing or eliminating the need to do repetitive tasks manually without extensive preparation or cost.
Let’s take a look at some of the ways Federal agencies have identified to use RPA in finance, acquisition, IT, human resources, and mission-focused organizations to free the workforce from carrying out repetitive, rule-based processes:
- Accounts payable email notifications for outstanding invoices can be sent out automatically
- Scheduled retrieval of micro-purchase information can be used to create purchase card logs automatically
- Names and addresses can be transferred from one system to another, eliminating duplication of effort and the chance of human error
- An RPA can be used to close out an acquisition contract
- When applications come in, they can be scanned and, if found complete, they can be assigned a unique identifier
- Individual users can create rules to direct their incoming email messages to subfolders automatically
- Instead of auditing a 10% sample, an RPA automation that runs 24/7 can audit all the records and report which records are noncompliant
- An RPA can be used to vet a DUNS or Unique Entity Identifier (UEI) when validating offers
- Other popular applications include data entry, data reconciliation, spreadsheet manipulation, systems integration, automated data reporting, analytics, and customer outreach and communications
These are just a few examples of the ways RPA is being used to remove the burden of manual, repetitive, and duplicative tasks from public service workers so that they may apply their skills and talents in other ways. In addition to reducing workload, RPAs can increase quality and compliance while reducing human error and strengthening controls.
Where to Begin
While it may not be difficult to appreciate how beneficial RPA could be, the prospect of navigating from proof-of-concept to deployment can be quite intimidating. To assist agencies in this process, the Federal RPA Community of Practice recently published the RPA Program Playbook, 70 pages of guidance for RPA program management from initial considerations through increased performance and maturity with detailed guidance for major decision points, best practices, and lessons learned. Here is a quick summary of the wealth of information detailed in the Playbook:
RPA Program Technology
During the initial planning process, and as an RPA program matures, the same IT policies that govern tasks conducted manually by users must be considered when automating those tasks:
RPA Program Management Strategy
- Technology Infrastructure – Before launching an RPA program, an agency must first establish a secure, scalable IT platform to develop, test, and produce RPAs
- Security – Authority to Operate (ATO) is an initial software approval that must be addressed within the agency’s IT environment to ensure that the proposed functionality fits within the agency’s standards, policies, and requirements
- Credentialing – Just as a human user must follow a formal process of authentication, provisioning of access rights, and operating under agency security policies, so too must each RPA
- Privacy – The RPA must operate within the standing privacy policies to ensure it maintains the privacy of personal information
- Operating Model – Based on the agency model, the strategy, size, and complexity of an RPA program must be in alignment with the culture, risk tolerance, and organization of an agency and its management
- RPA Program Design – Taking an RPA program from concept through optimal performance will likely require an RPA program manager, developers, as well as process, program, and performance support staff
- Reporting and Business Value – Because RPA programs require buy-in from multiple stakeholders, reporting will be crucial to ensure accountability for performance and value demonstration
RPA Program Management Capabilities
- Process Selection, Assessment, and Improvement – Learn the characteristics that a task or process must have to be selected for RPA development or improvement
- HR Planning and RPA Impact – Understand the importance of clearly communicating that RPAs have the potential to improve quality of life and job satisfaction by creating space for professional growth
- Operations Management – Established RPAs will need to be maintained and updated when technology, regulation, and process changes occur.
It is clear that the Federal RPA Community of Practice, which consists of 750 members from more than 50 Federal agencies, has considered every aspect of establishing and maintaining an RPA program. While the Playbook does not profess to cover every possible circumstance, it certainly provides a strong foundation that can be used to begin building a more effective and efficient government.
Natalie Komitsky is the Content Marketing Manager at Management Concepts. For more than ten years, she has been creating compelling content that tells stories, communicates ideas, and captivates readers. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English, Nonfiction Writing, and Editing from George Mason University.