Today’s agencies are looking to enlist digital toolkits comprising applied, proven technologies that help them make meaningful change in their organizations. They’ve already embraced a variety of these technologies, including artificial intelligence-powered bots and cognitive computing to manage the more routine tasks, enabling them to shift their staff to more complicated activities that require a human to complete. One of the key applied technologies in the digital toolkit is robotics processing automation (RPA). However, understanding how to leverage this technology and recognizing how it can help enable federal employees is no easy feat.
The President’s Management Agenda (PMA) calls for agencies to shift employees away from simple, repetitive tasks to more complex, high-priority functions that better utilize their time, such as helping the agency design programs to deliver better service to citizens. While this change may seem easy to implement from the outside, agencies have long utilized their valued employees to complete all types of work, including basic functions like submitting files or processing applications; consequently, a move to more automation, while transitioning to staff to higher-level functions, can create a monumental shift internally.
Understanding the ABCs of RPA
RPA is an application of technology, governed by business logic and structured inputs, with the goal of automating processes. It is a scripted, robotic program that automates repetitive, high-frequency business process functions. RPA does not use “intelligence” to make decisions, but rather is “trained” to run through a detailed set of rules to perform a task. It is designed to free up staff from the high-volume, repeatable and less complex tasks such as queries, calculations, and maintenance of records and transactions.
RPA allows agencies to reposition its workforce to focus on more challenging and high value functions, maximizing their effectiveness by focusing them on more strategic mission tasks. In fact, RPA has the potential to improve an agency’s productivity in a variety of ways, according to a recent study from UiPath, including increasing efficiency by 86%, deepening citizen insights by 67% and improving both citizen service and employee engagement by 57%.
Determining the fit: Is RPA right for your digital toolkit?
The short answer is that it’s a key component of any digital toolkit. RPA is an exceptional tool that can be used in many processes. It can be used for something as simple as completing expense reports to larger processes that involve organizing and labeling submitted documentation. The bottom line is that there are invariably a number of tasks across any organization that don’t require human intelligence to complete and which RPA can perform instead.
One of the key factors in determining if RPA is viable for automating a process is to not to expect it to complete 100% of an assigned task. Very few, if any at all, processes run exactly the same way, all of the time – there are always exceptions. So, it’s important to build in a process for exception handling. This will enable RPA to handle the “easy path” items and leave the abnormal exceptions for a human to complete, meeting the goal of freeing up employees to focus on the more complex tasks. With this in mind, agencies can evaluate the complexity of a process against how many exceptions it might generate in order to determine the benefits that would be gained from automating it. A process that has a very high level of exceptions will not return the benefit of freeing up resources. Ultimately, RPA is almost always a great option for any repeatable processes, but it’s important to incorporate these other factors.
Many federal agencies are already introducing RPA within their own digital toolkits. Under the PMA, the General Services Administration (GSA) implemented 10 RPA systems in the past year alone, to automate a variety of agency tasks, including leasing processes and filing invoices, with plans to have twenty-five systems running by the end this fiscal year.
As a critical component of an agency’s digital transformation, RPA enables agency leaders to solve the unique challenges they are facing in achieving it. It also gives them a tool that truly creates more efficiency and allows them to better utilize their resources, especially their staff. Technology won’t be a cure on its own, but it is a set of tools that, when implemented correctly, can help agency leaders make positive changes to their programs.
Tom Romeo is the general manager of MAXIMUS Federal.