Author: Viswanath Nandanavanam, Technical Director
Let’s face it: to deal with all the data that any local, state, or federal government collects, stores, analyzes, and reports on, workers must often perform rote, repetitive tasks on a daily basis. Employees performing these tasks are often among the lowest paid and suffer from the highest burnout rates in government. More data comes into and flows out of government agencies every day, and the formats and types of content of that data are becoming increasingly varied. As a result of increased data loads and the demands they place on workers, government agencies need to think of more efficient ways to manage data so they can continue to deliver timely information and services to citizens. If governments do not begin to leverage emerging technologies to tackle this problem, they will become buried in data, continue to lose valuable workers, and no longer be able to perform the tasks that help their agencies meet their mandates.
Emerging technologies like Robotic Process Automation (RPA) are rapidly becoming the go-to resources to drive efficiencies and reduce processing time for repetitive, rote tasks. By adopting RPA, agencies can streamline operations, drive down costs, and move government employees into more challenging positions that require the qualities only humans can provide: reasoning, analysis, creativity, and empathy. Using RPA, government agencies can push rote tasks — such as verifying that a form has been properly completed — to systems designed to process standardized information rapidly and with lower error rates.
However, RPA cannot just be “plugged into” an agency. It must be implemented properly to ensure that agencies maximize the benefits it provides. To realize the potential value of RPA, federal agencies need to follow some general guidelines when they consider introducing the technology into their organizations.
● Develop a Clear Future Vision. Envision which areas of the organization could be made more efficient using RPA. Use that vision to establish the business case for RPA, as well as to define automation goals and objectives. For RPA implementations to go well, agencies must make clear what they want automation to accomplish and clearly identify the enhanced capabilities and services they expect RPA to provide to the workforce.
● Select the Right Projects. Once agencies know what they want to use RPA for, they can select the projects and business processes that will benefit most from its implementation. The first projects to execute with RPA should be those with the highest volume of transactional and repetitive activities and that do not require deep analysis to complete. Agencies should select projects that will show real, measurable impacts, choosing as the first project one highly likely to be successful. This will improve employee adoption of RPA technologies.
● Conduct Effective Communication and Training. As with any system implementation, driving workforce adoption and maintaining workforce engagement are musts for success. Many employees fear automation will replace their jobs. Therefore, communicating with employees effectively about the purpose of RPA is critically important. Agencies must convey the agency’s future vision, detail RPA’s benefits to its employees (such as the ability to be able to do higher-level, more engaging work with greater career potential), and implement the necessary training programs to help employees move into those higher-level positions.
● Create a Detailed Project Roadmap. A key communication tool for introducing RPA (or other emerging technologies) is the Project Roadmap. RPA solutions typically fall into one of three levels: (1) basic automation, (2) capable of learning and adapting through the addition of machine learning (ML), and (3) able to manage a high degree of complexity, decision making, and end-to-end solutioning using artificial intelligence (AI). Regardless of which solution they desire, agencies must determine their emerging technology future vision and how fast they want to realize it. Agencies should then develop a detailed Roadmap that describes the steps and timeline for achieving that vision. In addition to providing guidance
for those implementing an RPA technology, employees will know what is coming, what to expect, and when training opportunities will arise that they can take advantage of.
● Conduct a Thorough Risk Assessment. Introducing RPA is going to require organizational change, particularly because of its impact on people. When new initiatives or projects are mismanaged from the people side, they cannot achieve desired outcomes. The impacts of mismanaging such change include increased costs and risks. Agencies must develop thorough and effective risk management plans for RPA implementation, then manage and monitor those risks appropriately.
● Plan for Maturity and Governance. Any RPA technologies that an agency introduces must support the agency’s enterprise goals. To measure the contribution that RPA offers to an agency, the agency must establish process metrics, track costs and benefits, and calculate return on investment (ROI). As the RPA is implemented, the agency must also identify continuous improvement tactics along with “gate checks” to determine the technology’s continued contribution to the agency’s mission. In addition, the agency will need to develop and enforce a governance structure to oversee change management and policy compliance associated with the use of RPAs. Governance might include classifying processes that are ripe for automation as well as those that must not be automated, such as risk compliance monitoring or SOX/IT audits that require human analysis, complex decision making, and some subjectivity such as determining regulatory compliance.
● Plan for Sustainment and Continuous Improvement. It is very important to continually look for ways to improve the value of RPA operations. For example, an agency can track incident and support tickets associated with the RPA implementation to monitor and assess performance of the technology, identifying opportunities for improvement.
Like all other technologies that government agencies have adopted over the years, RPA can yield substantial benefits to federal agencies, particularly for highly repetitive, rote tasks that machines can perform well. As with other technologies, introducing RPA requires developing a vision for its use while managing user expectations for its capabilities; understanding its costs and potential benefits; continually seeking new opportunities to use it for new business purposes; developing governance methods to guide its use; and continually seeking improvements in its performance.
If RPA is implemented thoughtfully and accepted by an agency’s workforce, it can increase overall agency efficiency, reduce worker drudgery, and improve service delivery and mission fulfillment. Because many agency data tasks are repetitive, rote, and of low complexity, they make great candidates for RPA solutions.