RPA takes on more services delivery

One positive outcome of the coronavirus pandemic has been agencies’ increased ability to quickly adapt to new circumstances, thanks, in many cases, to their use of robotic process automation (RPA) and chatbots to deliver internal and external services.

In Missouri, the Office of Administration’s IT Services Division, the state’s consolidated IT organization, launched a chatbot to help handle vastly more inquiries about unemployment insurance.

At the federal level, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services launched the CMS Employee Roll Call Bot that can flag when employees aren’t logging in or are having trouble accessing agency systems. It gives senior leaders a single, up-to-date visual source of information about the health of its internal IT systems, communications networks, and personnel.

Steele said the pandemic has not necessarily fast-tracked RPA projects, but it has heightened interest in the technology’s ability to solve problems quickly. That’s because bots can be created and implemented within weeks, whereas most systems take years to build, particularly when starting with a new solution.

“That is absolutely revolutionary. It doesn’t happen with any other technology,” she said.

“With RPA solutions, yes, they have to buy the platform that gives them the bot licenses, but the solution itself is not off the shelf,” she said. “It’s so inexpensive to develop a custom solution that it makes more sense to build than to try and buy something off the shelf that’s only going to [meet] part of their needs.”

Bots and bot components may be shared across and within agencies, typically with the help of a commercial implementation partner. The IRS, for example, is setting up an RPA library of reusable components that any developer within the agency can use, Steele said, and InterImage is helping seed that library with components for error logging or performing certain kinds of searches.

The General Services Administration has started an RPA community of practice that has 900 members across the government. Through that, there may be opportunities for sharing information and technology.

RPA has staying power, especially as workloads increase, Steele said. “Once people start working with bots,” she said, “they see that value firsthand and honestly they don’t want to go back.”

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