Automation pays off

Chatbots, robotic process automation and artificial intelligence are all helping federal agencies save thousands of hours of labor.

Bots and automation are saving thousands of hours of labor at federal agencies.

The return on investment at the General Services Administration is clear, according to Ed Burrows, former GSA robotic process automation program manager, with GSA's 33 automations having generated 70,000 labor hours.  Speaking at ACT-IAC's Jan. 22 Intelligent Automation and Artificial Forum, Burrows, now vice president of intelligent solutions at Brillient Corp., credited the role played by the ACT-IAC intelligent automation playbook and guide released last October.

Harry Lee, GSA's assistant commissioner for Technology Transformation Services, touted the success of an email notification bot for accounts-payable services that "automates email notifications for outstanding invoices pending a receiving report."  Another bot pulls information on micro-purchases to create a purchase card log, he said in his keynote speech at the forum. The new automations are publicly available in repositories on GitHub.

The Treasury Department is looking to use artificial intelligence and RPA to help direct callers to the right resources.

"There are 21 call centers across the U.S., which receive over 4 million calls, emails and faxes year," Jennifer Hill, a management and program analyst at Treasury, said in a presentation. A "huge pain point" is the 75% of those calls that are misdirected, forcing workers to spend more than 80,000 work hours getting those calls resolved.

"What we learned is that AI technology and other technologies as well as RPA can also play a role here … and not just helping a user find the form that they need,” she said. "It can also help [the user] reach that form with their information [already included], and help them get it completed and submitted, so they never have to make a phone call."

GSA's USA.gov website is using a chatbot to answer common questions about potential fraud.

"People say, 'I got this letter,' or ‘I got this call, is this a legitimate situation or is it a fraud,'" Marietta Jelks, the research lead for USA.gov, said at the event. "We decided that this was an opportunity to try to use automation to answer these questions about scams and frauds. Scams are consistently one of the top topics for our call centers."

Beginning last February, the team engaged with users, interviewing 33 consumers about their experiences with navigating scams and whether they were able to get their money back. Since then, some 45,000 people have used the chatbot feature to report or inquire about fraud and scam questions, with a 75% success rate. Success is measured by whether a person received an answer to their question, Jelks added.

ACT-IAC is hoping to stimulate similar successes with artificial intelligence. The group released its AI Playbook at the event, the product of collaboration among private sector companies, academics, and federal agencies and departments aimed at helping government implement technologies that would help them better serve their customers and mitigate risks associated with human operation.

This article was first posted to FCW, a sibling site to GCN.

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