RPA pilots abound
Automation is a concept gaining a lot of attention in the acquisition community. Several agencies from the IRS to the Army to GSA have applied RPA to the procurement process.
One IRS tool is a contract clause review.
“It’s a tool where you can upload a procurement document of any kind, answer seven easy questions about that document and the tool provides a compliance report in seconds. The tool is able to identify text that is missing or misapplied, maybe it’s out of date, maybe it’s incomplete so it’s checking the Federal Acquisition Regulations, the Treasury acquisition regulations, IRS acquisition policies and things like that,” Winans said at the Acquisition Excellence event. “That tool already has been able to identify and correct over 10,000 errors for our procurement operations. It has a huge return on investment, huge time and cost saver for our acquisition employees.”
The second tool the IRS is testing focuses on contractor responsibility determination, which automatically verifies a company is eligible to do business with the government before awarding a contract.
“We built a bot where the acquisition employee can just email the DUNS number for the company that they want to check to the bot and the bot automatically searches public databases, downloads some documents, captures some screenshots and auto populates a responsibility determination Word document, and then sends everything back to the procurement employee in a streamlined report in roughly five minutes. This is a process that normally would take an employee, depending on their workload and the complexity of whats happening, two to three hours and have to complete it manually by hand. We think it saves us approximately 2.5 hours per responsibility determination and over 11,000 hours per year.”
DORA the bot, not the explorer
The Army also launched a bot, called DORA—determination of responsibility assistant—to do contractor responsibility determinations based on the IRS pilot.
“We divided our bot into two different areas. The first one is under the simplified acquisition threshold (SAT) so when acquisition officials query that version of the bot, they will receive more streamlined policy output that is just one form,” she said. “Then the over SAT bot, which is a much more detailed policy output form and is about three pages long. It goes into more details. The bot is not able to fill out all the areas on the form because we do not have non-personnel common access card credentials yet, but we are looking into that for the future.”
She said the Army tested the bot out with 1,000 contract specialists last year. It concluded before January and within a few weeks the Army decided to make it permanent.
She said the Army also is looking for a bot to do Section 889—prohibition of Chinese made telecommunications products—look up once it goes into SAM.gov.
Phase 3 of automation
Marc Mancher, a principal with Deloitte Consulting and who leads the call center and automation business, said these and other examples across the government shows using RPA or intelligent automation has few significant barriers to entry and gives a huge ROI.
He said the public sector is entering wave 3 of RPA, which he said means widespread adoption in the business areas.
“I think the fear of RPA or bots taking your job is down. I think the hype is down too, but software approvals are up,” Mancher said. “I don’t think RPA has hit its peak yet. The number of bots will continue to grow for a couple of reasons. If you look at bots alone, if you can take 30 seconds out of average handle time of a document, that can drastically reduce your spending and improve your customer service. There are so many examples not touched yet in that space.”