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INDUSTRY INSIGHT

Robotic process automation delivers better results for citizens

Talk of robotic process automation -- software that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to handle the high-volume, repeatable tasks traditionally performed by humans -- is becoming increasingly common in conversations about commercial IT and business operations. There is, however, a tremendous opportunity to bring this approach to government agencies as well, using RPA to support IT and business modernization in a way that eases the transition from legacy systems, while improving the citizen experience and creating more efficiencies.

Decades-old legacy systems are still the foundation of a majority of government technology, from the IRS’ Individual Master File to the Department of Veterans Affairs benefits delivery network. While they are still operational, transferring information within (or between) these systems is usually a devastatingly manual task, requiring hours of tedious and repetitive labor, often performed by workers that have much more skill than the task requires. Essential data entry and similar tasks become a slow and resource-intensive process.

Agencies are eager to modernize their IT systems, but the process of overhauling massive legacy systems is slow and often requires large investments when agencies must also maintain existing operations. Modernization puts additional pressures on federal program managers to function as efficiently as possible to allow the necessary resources to be allocated to upgrades, while still meeting increasingly high citizen experience expectations.

Utilizing RPA to manage and perform processes can be a productive tool in the government’s IT modernization efforts. Instead of manually transferring information from one system to another, RPA software can quickly pull and populate data into multiple fields, utilizing AI to make decisions on where to place it, within and across agency systems. It’s a fast, low-cost, low-risk implementation that makes the back-office efforts much more effective. By transferring highly manual, tedious tasks to RPA, freeing up skilled workers for activities that require their expertise and achieving better and faster citizen outcomes.

In addition to cost savings for the agency, automating business process management has a positive impact on citizens. For example, citizens applying for a government benefit or appeal may need to be processed through a system that captures their name, address, medical or employment history, or any number of other data points that impact their eligibility. In today’s system, the government employees tasked with collecting this information -- medical personnel, legal experts, benefits counselors or any number of trained professionals with varying skill sets -- must pull information from multiple systems to  develop a comprehensive profile and make a recommendation. An automated system using RPA could pull that information almost instantaneously. Instead of spending hours of collecting data, staff can simply review the information compiled by the software and apply their expertise to analysis and recommendation. RPA software also eliminates human error and increases the overall quality and accuracy of the data entry. Such a system could tackle something like the VA appeals backlog -- currently topping 470,000 appeals and averaging a five-year wait time -- with ferocity.  

Applying automation to business processes can reduce or eliminate many of the obstacles to delivering fast, efficient citizen outcomes while keeping humans at the heart of government service. By allowing government employees to dedicate more time to tasks that require their skill, we can improve citizen experience, produce better results and create a more efficient government overall.

About the Author

Andy Beamon is senior director of strategic innovation for citizen services for MAXIMUS Federal.

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