By JOLT Experts on Nov 4, 2019 9:30:26 PM
Work is becoming digital, with 89% of businesses reporting an adoption of digital first strategy, the World Economic Forum is predicting that 42% of work in the year 2022 will be performed by robots.
With digital transformation reshaping business processes across all industries, private and public sector organizations are using Robotic Process Automation to solve their most pressing operational challenges including budget constraints, overburdened employees, transactional bottlenecks, ever-evolving compliance requirements, and more. Shifting employees priorities from low-value to high-value work—and eliminating the burden of mundane, repetitive tasks to help public institutions focus on citizen related processes — a key focus for the federal workforce and a key objective highlighted in the most recent federal Office of Management and Budget memo on leveraging RPA to increase high-value work across the US government, with the GSA fully encouraging agencies to leverage RPA and even releasing a federal RPA playbook for gov agencies.
Government Meets RPA
Public sector (i.e., federal, state, and local governments) agencies stand to gain significantly from digital transformation initiatives like the implementation of automation throughout the agencies' core processes, as the need for more data, faster processing and better decision making drives the adoption of predictive analysis and historical data mining with focus in addressing challenges related to budget pressures, aging workforce, siloed infrastructure and security concerns.
Federal and state workers often have to dedicate a large portion of their time in operational tasks such as collecting, moving, cleaning and re-purposing data. While strategic tasks such as data integration and analysis are left in the back-burner.
Why is Automation critical in Government Services
Government agencies are heavily burdened by forms, processes, citizen customers, and evolving policies. Leaders have realized the value that RPA technologies can add to help resolve some of their most common challenges such as the integration of antiquated systems, bottlenecks from manual and undocumented work, aging populations that scale citizen services, lack of agile interactions with citizen services, shifting workforce demographics and increased budget constrains. See below a summarized chart of how RPA can turn these critical challenges around:
With the introduction of RPA, agencies have been able to reduce costs, shift repetitive and mundane work to digital workers, and move employees off low-value work into high-value work. Benefits include:
- Automated solutions free workers from tedious but necessary work
- Analyze customer issues and improve citizen engagement
- Agencies perceive a sizeable ROI with employees working smarter
- Agency users can seamlessly work across multiple user interfaces on multiple platforms
- Facilitate the integration of AI technologies
ROI from RPA
According to Jim Walker, UiPath's Federal CTO, "RPA does not merely promise to provide these benefits. Rather, the past two years have shown RPA does deliver these benefits. Two years of successful IRS results, Federal CIO Executive level support, and mid-level career employees recognized with the FED100, Service To The Citizen and ACT-IAC Ignite awards are proof of RPAs’ importance. The incubator agencies who were early adopters of RPA (Army, DISA, DLA, GSA, NASA NSSC, Navy, NSF, USDA, USPS and 39 others) have shown RPA can work and operate securely. Agency appointees and senior executives, armed with GS-13 and GS-14 innovators are using the direction, policies, and legislation over the past few years to make Automation First a call to action, not a slogan."
Government agencies can calculate ROI by factoring in:
- Cost avoidance / savings
- Reduction in errors and rework
- Elimination of backlog and bottlenecks
- Adherence to compliance issues and enforcement of audit trails
- Flexibility of the 24/7 digital workforce
Where is the US Government Today with RPA
There are slightly more than 1,000 bots in use across the federal government currently (FedScoop), with an increasing amount of agencies announcing that RPA will be part of their digital transformation agenda, for now more than 47 agencies, including NAVAIR, DISA, IRS and USDA, are working on implementing RPA into their workflow. Several public announcements from key agencies have indicated that RPA is going mainstream within the federal government, some highlights below:
- U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Deputy Chief Financial Officer Lynn Moaney oversees a program that built the agency’s first bots and is now focused on reskilling employees
- The Food and Drug Administration has been a “trailblazer” in the RPA space, Drug-intake forms have been automated, CFO processes as well.
- The Defense Logistics Agency has finished a robotic process automation proof of concept that’s the first of its kind in government, allowing unattended bots to operate around the clock. It estimates RPA will save its about 50,000 hours in its first year by taking over routine functions.
- DLA successfully had an unattended bot run on its own certification by reaching out to the agency’s ERP system, where it has an account, to receive its own credentials granting it access. The agency also created a bot to clean up spreadsheets so names of employees are standardized during onboarding and computer access can be more easily granted. (Until now, most agencies have used attended bots given credentials from the laptop of the person they’re working with — as long as they’re on the clock.)
- Office of Management and Budget memo 18-23 and President Trump’s proposed 2020 budget proposal direct agencies to use RPA.
- Federal CIO Suzette Kent has launched reskilling efforts to address the impacts of automation on the workforce.
- DLA automated five processes in six weeks to help handle all the data associated with standing up G-Invoicing, the Department of the Treasury’s solution for money transfers between agencies.
- RPA will also help DLA respond to audit requests because, when a bot grabs information, all the steps are logged with time stamps.
- The NASA Shared Services Center (NSSC) deployed 'George Washington', 'John Adams' and 'Truman' robots, which was implemented at the General Services Administration (GSA).
- A robot named Lincoln bot is currently onboarding at the Veterans Administration (VA)
- Army’s Financial Information Management “Bot Squad” continue to pioneer RPA.
- GSA's Chief Financial Officer is calling for the automation of 5000 processes, aiming to save one billion dollars by 2021.
Challenges to Scale Adoption in the Public Sector
With all of the momentum highlighted above, there is still a lack of scale within the government space as leaders are unsure how to get started, the lack of the skills required to successfully implement the technology and the continued resistance to change from workers worried that the robots will take their jobs. Below we highlight the main barriers that have slowed down the adoption for automation in the public sector:
- Government leaders are unsure how to get started with RPA, many government organizations face challenges when it comes to selecting the processes for automation, as they often don't know which departments or processes they should automate first, who should be involved in the automation initiatives, or how to measure ROI.
- Workers' resistance to automation, many government workers are lifetime staffers used to legacy standards, holding a high resistance to new technologies, on top of a general fear towards automation which they perceive as a threat to their own jobs.
- Government organizations lack the skillsets needed to fully adopt automation, many agencies do not feel they have the necessary skills to implement automation and fully realize its benefits.
So when it comes down to actually executing RPA, it’s tough for agencies to know where to start and how to scale. Without the right people and strategy in place, RPA ends up being deployed in a fragmented manner, which can lead to automation failures specially if different departments are using different tools and not documenting the processes.
How Can Agencies Adopt and Scale RPA Rapidly to Yield Impactful Results
With the restraints mentioned in the section above, public sector agencies need to dedicate time to involve operations teams and executive management upfront and set up a detailed plan and timeline of their automation goals, below we highlight some of the key aspects they need to prioritize in their RPA program:
- Buy-in and alignment between the executive team, IT team and operational units
- A robust change management & communications plan to mitigate resistance to change and cultivate a culture of automation from the grassroots, ensuring a successful adoption of an 'Automation First' mindset across the board
- Workforce upskilling program to train workers to become citizen developers
- Center of excellence to establish governance structure, automation standards, integration mapping, and a reusable components library as well as keep track of ROI, performance monitoring & reporting, and change management plan
To support the automation goals that public sector agencies aim to achieve with RPA, we have joined forces with leading RPA platform UiPath and leading IT solutions provider in government Carahsoft to help the federal government unleash the power of their digital workforce to better serve citizens, generate operational efficiencies, and be prepared for work in the workplace of the future.
Join us for our Live Webinar: Preparing for the New Digital Workplace with RPA this upcoming Thursday, Nov 14th 11AM ET to learn what a robot on every desktop might look like, how agencies are preparing their workforce for the new digital workplace and how you can gain access to training and free workshops tailored for beginner and advanced robot developers.
Contact us now if you have any questions regarding resources you can access to start your automation journey today.