Why is Robotic Process Automation (RPA) such a transformational technology? One reason is that it turns the old axiom, “Better, cheaper, faster – you can have any two, but not all three,” on its head. With RPA, businesses can truly have it all: increase the speed of operations, improve quality, and drive down costs. Unlike other business improvement solutions, RPA lets you take a direct, sure shot at gaining more while actually doing less.
This incentive, which currently sparks aggressive adoption among private sector organizations, is also the key driver for RPA’s rise in the public sector.
RPA could save up to 50% of an average federal worker’s time
U.S. agencies—federal, state, or local—are under noticeable pressure to do more with less. Traversing austerity, they face real cost and budget pressure, finding it increasingly difficult to meet their objectives. With resource constraints, mountains of paperwork, and the burden of backlogs, employee engagement and morale weigh low, ultimately bearing down on the service delivered to citizens.
RPA can reduce the amount of time people spend on repetitive, routine tasks, and shift focus on analysis, problem solving and what matters most – quality services.
In a recent analysis, Horses for Sources estimates that if only 10% of routine tasks for the average federal employee were freed up with automation, it would save the government approximately $16.2 billion a year in resources. If 35% of work was automated, the savings would be valued at $56.7 billion.
Automating 50% of low-value, repetitive tasks, brings savings up to $80 billion.
Following a similar approach detailed here, Deloitte considers that in a high adoption scenario, 1.2 billion hours of work could be freed up today by automating routine tasks, with $41.1 billion in potential savings of time and effort leading to faster execution of tasks by 200%.
Government is catching onto automation
Many U.S. federal agencies are beginning their RPA journey and several early adopters are already well on their way towards deployments.
NASA Shared Services Center (NSCC) is a good example of a federal organization that moved quickly to leverage the ability of RPA-based automation. In 2016, Jim Walker was the NSCC’s Portfolio Manager and one of the visionaries who recognized the potential of this technology. He championed RPA across NASA and conducted pilots to prove its feasibility.
“In the federal space, people that I run across have started looking at the value process robotics can bring, and it’s a perfect opportunity for them to leverage the use of RPA,” Walker told us in an interview during #UiPathForward Americas, in November 2017.
During 2017, NSCC worked with Deloitte to validate RPA technology with customer processes. They automated NASA’s HR personnel action processes for new hire and position transfers, managing to reduce queue completion time from 24 hours to one hour or less.
This and other RPA achievements led to Pam Wolfe, Chief, Enterprise Service Division at NSCC, accepting the 2017 GCN “dig IT” finalist award for Process Robotics in the Robotics, Automation and Unmanned Systems Category on behalf of the NSCC in October.
Here’s how the automation works. A new personnel action requirement auto-generates an email. That email signals an RPA software robot to copy personnel data and then create a new case in the HR system. Finally, the bot kicks off the appropriate process actions within the HR system to complete the new case.
In 2018, NSCC will be rolling out Intelligent Automation Services to help NASA organizations identify opportunities for automation, develop the RPA solution, and deploy an efficient, cost-effective virtual workforce. These services will utilize the UiPath Enterprise RPA Platform.
UiPath commits to supporting RPA adoption within federal agencies
As a US headquartered company, UiPath has invested in a dedicated US Public Service team, under the leadership of Jonathan Padgett, UiPath’s new Vice President US Public Sector.
“We understand the issues and speak the language of US Agencies, and we are confident that by leveraging digital labor, they will have the ability to improve functions fast and see cost savings never before imagined,” said Padgett.
Padgett’s deep experience in providing innovative IT solutions across government agencies makes him the ideal person to take UiPath’s experience with NASA, US Postal Service and Government Services Administration (GSA) to other agencies.
“RPA will take the robot out of the people, freeing them for more critical, rewarding roles,” concluded Padgett.
Essentially, any high-volume, business-rules-driven, repeatable process qualifies for automation.
RPA systems are capable of mimicking many–if not most–user actions. They log into applications, move files and folders, copy and paste data, fill in forms, extract structured and semi-structured data from documents, scrape browsers, and more. RPA is also non-intrusive in nature, helping cut through the complexity of legacy systems, which are difficult and costly to replace.
Government bodies can use RPA for tax calculations, revenue collection, case management, contract administration, intelligence reporting, or medical coding, among many others. Support services spanning HR, IT and Finance are strong candidates for automation as well: payroll, insurance enrollment and billing, claims processing or accounts payables.
RPA is particularly valuable for government customer service functions. In a contact center scenario, an Attended Robot can instantly find information in the systems and automatically retrieve cases while the agent is on the phone with a customer. Attended robots are discreet digital assistants. They work silently in the background while employees simultaneously use the workstation to do their knowledge work.
Email workflows that require predictable information from specific systems or forwarding to certain departments can be processed without the need for staff to interrupt their work. RPA can accomplish this, and other critical work overnight, preparing the day for humans. Unattended Robots run in batch-mode and can self-trigger many types of scheduled work. Once they complete a certain task, they can be automatically re-assigned to a different one. Being idle is not in these bots’ DNA.
Security, arguably the biggest challenge
An immediate question for public services is how do we manage a digital workforce and maintain security? When it comes to sensitive and classified data, no digital system feels bulletproof. But RPA really is quite at home here. By design, RPA systems have a close to zero error rate, and by architecture they operate in an interactive yet controlled environment where they are logged and fully auditable, ensuring robust governance and compliance as errors in performance, malicious code or misuse by an employee are traced as they happen.
Manipulation and oversight of the digital workforce are restricted to authorized users according to their role and authority level. RPA systems generally use industry standard protocols for data privacy in the cloud, and integrate solutions like CyberArk, used by leading financial services and healthcare companies to protect data.
At NASA, UiPath had to meet stringent security criteria across: data privacy & encryption, system access controls, credential management, messaging protocols and system vulnerability (intrusion). Our software underwent security testing, which included conducting application security procedures designated for all NASA’s high risk-priority applications. Using a combination of automated and manual testing techniques, UiPath passed the NIST 800:53 revision 4 standards.
A chance to make an impact
Today, NASA staff begin their working day asking what George has done for them lately. George is the newest member of the team, a software robot designed and deployed to perform digital labor.
RPA is not a panacea for all problems, but it enables faster processes, fewer errors and higher productivity. It provides a timely boost of resources for federal executives to sustain cost-effective government programs and successfully accomplish their missions. One of those is to inspire staff to do meaningful, satisfying work.
Mind this, though. To make RPA work, you will need a good set-up and the right people in place.
Certainly automation is inseparable from the future's workforce, so how early can you start considering it?