office automation (Sammby/

How AI can fill in ‘potholes’ in workflow processes

Private-sector firms like medical technology company Becton Dickinson use chatbots and automated processes to fill “potholes,” or interruptions, in an efficient workflow. They fill in forms, scrape content from web pages, collect social media statistics and follow if/then rules to pave the way for the company’s human workforce.

The Government Services Administration’s Justin Herman also sees chatbots as one component of an artificial intelligence solution for the federal government that relies on a “no wrong door” approach.

Herman, who leads GSA’s Emerging Citizen Technology Program Office, wants to create a “unified intelligent backend” for government services that leverages call centers, bots or emails to respond to customer needs. “When it comes to the potholes, we want to make it so eventually someone will not have pick up the phone to get answers,” he said. 

“Once we have the information in that database, people can provide a minimum amount of information and intelligently get the maximum amount in return,” Herman said at June 6 Government Intelligent Automation Forum event hosted by KPMG.

GSA launched the government’s first virtual assistant pilot in April to test how agencies can integrate voice-enabled technologies from Microsoft, Amazon and Google into their everyday customer requests.

KPMG sees three classes or levels of robotics and cognitive automation.  The first class deals with basic rules-based process automation for transactional, routine and mundane tasks that don’t require much human intervention. The second class focuses on enhanced process automation, is used for learning and pattern recognition of unstructured data.  The last class, cognitive automation, features advanced decision algorithms, natural language processing and big data analytics -- platforms similar to IBM’s Watson that can help organizations with decision support.

The largest opportunity for the federal government currently comes from the first class – automating government employee functions.

The  Department of Commerce, for example, is working to migrate services to common platforms to better meet the needs of its 12 different, federated bureaus, Executive Director of Enterprise Services Glenn Davidson said.

“We have 44 separate tools for HR, four legacy systems for finance and three legacy systems for acquisition, so we are challenged with the migration,” Davidson said.  “We are creating futuristic processes and forcing the standardization before we begin to do anything else.”

Davidson sees robotics as a useful tool to help his departments deal with compliance, reduce error rates and increase efficiency and effectiveness.

During a separate discussion, Food and Drug Administration CIO Todd Simpson explained how technology can help manage the vast amount of data coming from inspections.

In 2015, for example, the FDA began work on a program to bring all of the agency’s food inspection processes online through the use of mobile devices.

“We automated all of our field inspection audit processes so we don’t do any paper inspections anymore,” Simpson said.  “We leveraged a [choose your own device] program where everything is done electronically through tablets now.”

With the amount of data being collected through field inspections, one of Simpson’s current areas of interest is using AI to make sense of all of the data.

“My challenge is not only [to] connect with all of these technologies … but also connecting with my customers on the inside to understand their needs.”

About the Author

Sara Friedman is a reporter/producer for GCN, covering cloud, cybersecurity and a wide range of other public-sector IT topics.

Before joining GCN, Friedman was a reporter for Gambling Compliance, where she covered state issues related to casinos, lotteries and fantasy sports. She has also written for Communications Daily and Washington Internet Daily on state telecom and cloud computing. Friedman is a graduate of Ithaca College, where she studied journalism, politics and international communications.

Friedman can be contacted at or follow her on Twitter @SaraEFriedman.

Click here for previous articles by Friedman.

Stay Connected

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.