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INDUSTRY INSIGHT

Reimagining work and developing a 21st century workforce

Federal managers have a real opportunity to "reimagine" work with automation, freeing up government employees to focus on high-level assignments that truly support agency missions and outcomes.

Automation should not be solely about offloading mundane tasks from humans. Instead, agencies should look to create an environment in which humans and technology not only collaborate to accelerate workflow processes but to speed up decision-making.

This is possible with artificial intelligence-driven robotic process automation. The goal is to allow technology to do what it does very well: gather, ingest and analyze data, while humans focus on making decisions that align with agency objectives and goals.  

Government initiatives are pushing agencies toward the inclusion of RPA as a key solution to unlock a more efficient, streamlined and responsive government. In August 2018, the Office of Management and Budget issued a memorandum requiring agencies to “[d]evelop and implement strategies for shifting resources to high value activities.” As part of this shift, agencies were specifically directed to introduce “new technologies, such as RPA, to reduce and redirect repetitive administrative tasks.” Furthermore, the President’s Management Agenda encouraged government entities to begin developing a  21st century workforce "to align and strategically manage the workforce to efficiently and effectively achieve the federal government’s mission.”

What is RPA?

First, there are no robots in robotic process automation. RPA uses software or “bots” with AI and machine-learning capabilities to handle high-volume, repeatable tasks that previously required humans to perform. These tasks can include queries, calculations and maintenance of records and transactions.  But beyond just handing off this work to a bot scripted to handle repetitive tasks, true AI-driven RPA can act like a digital assistant, accelerating a human’s ability to gain valuable insight from massive volumes of data.

AI building blocks are combining with RPA features to drive greater functionality and business value, according to Forrester.  The research company cites four use cases that are driving growth: 1) analytics that solve nagging platform issues, 2) chatbots that boss around RPA bots, 3) internet-of-things events that trigger digital workers and 4) text analytics that allow the use of unstructured data for RPA tasks.

Cost savings, revenue benefits and enhanced customer experience will accelerate the RPA market, which is expected to reach $1.70 billion in 2019, Forrester said.

The RPA Community of Practice (CoP) was launched recently by the General Services Administration to facilitate collaboration and problem solving for federal agencies interested in implementing RPA. Many agencies are currently piloting RPA or already have bots in production, but so much more can be learned, accomplished and shared with the collective efforts of industry and government, according to GSA.

How can agencies start reimagining work?

Planning a pilot project is a good first step. Here are some parameters to consider:

  • Choose just a handful of processes to automate -- enough to get an understanding of how the platform works and to have concrete results to share with others in the organization.
  • Choose processes that drive value into the operations and mission of the agency, having a positive impact on citizens or on the employees who serve them.
  • Don’t treat the pilot as an end in itself: Develop it with the intent of taking it into production, which is a low-risk approach, while demonstrating value and having a showcase to ensure buy-in from the rest of the agency.
  • Make sure the pilot can be transferred to other parts of the organization once it moves into production.
  • Don’t expect the pilot itself to have a miraculous effect on agency operations -- it’s just the starting point.

Agency managers also should consider creating an RPA center of excellence to provide a way to capture and build institutional knowledge around the technology and to share insights with different parts of the organization as they embark on RPA initiatives.

Intelligent automation: Change agent

With the proper implementation of RPA, agencies can reimagine where they can leverage RPA with a “human in the loop” and where it makes sense to have unattended digital assistants. By doing so, agencies can do more with less, provide transparency for citizens and focus on agency mission and outcomes.

Intelligent automation is a change agent that will spur innovation. As more employees develop an understanding of what’s possible, they will begin to identify even more opportunities to automate processes and free themselves up to take on higher value work, develop new skills and advance their careers.

About the Author

Ron Jones is head of solutions architecture, public sector North America, at Blue Prism.

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