By Zakir Ahmed
IT’S safe to say that many federal agencies are stretched like never before. In the wake of a relatively unprecedented global pandemic and economic uncertainty not seen in this country for generations, agency CIOs (chief information officer), CFOs (chief financial officers) and other leaders face expanding workloads, constrained budgets and staff resources. Their only choice is to find more efficient ways of operating.
While technology has started to streamline workflows, most government agencies still have huge amounts of repetitive, manual data entry and other time-consuming processes straining available resources. With an improved strategy, these resources could be better directed to more valuable work by employing intelligent automation.
Robotic process automation is just the beginning
The Office of Management and Budget has pinpointed robotic process automation (RPA) as an essential low-cost way to achieve the goals laid out by the PMA. Defined simply, RPA is a process automation technology automating manual tasks largely rules-based, structured and repetitive – including copying and pasting information between sources. The technology utilizes software robots, or “bots,” essentially used as a robotic workforce to complement human teams.
The opportunities for automation to digitally transform federal operations are enormous and have the potential to yield billions of dollars in savings. Many agencies have already started to employ RPA to automate tasks across a number of areas – including finance, acquisition, IT, human resources, mission support and security assurance.
In one example, a federal agency that deployed RPA in its financial shared services center saw 40 separate processes become 100 times faster. It’s estimated the bureau will be able to reallocate US$7 mil worth of labor over the next five years.
That’s a significant amount of savings to be sure, but it’s really just the tip of the iceberg when you consider what a deeper automation stack can deliver. RPA technology may be great at performing simple, tasked-based processes, but it can’t fully address more complicated processes delivering even greater value to organizations.
One of the most common automation use cases at government agencies, for instance, is transferring and processing data from PDFs, emails, images and hard-copy formats. RPA alone simply cannot process high volumes of this unstructured or semi-structured data.
Harnessing the full value of automation
When agencies get up and running with RPA, there are a number of reasons they may struggle to further advance and scale their automation efforts, including:
- They quickly learn that processes and workflows are more complex than expected;
- They may have multiple automation systems in place that are difficult to manage and integrate;
- Automatically processing unstructured or semi-structured data is difficult because data is spread across many systems that don’t “talk” to each other;
- They may lack the necessary governance to ensure automation is done properly and reliably; and
- Automation efforts that utilize standalone components and solutions make it hard or impossible to scale to any degree.
To truly advance and scale automation efforts to maximize return on investment (ROI), government agencies need what the industry analyst firm Gartner calls hyperautomation, which refers to a varying roster of complementary tools that can integrate silos to more effectively automate business processes.
Generally speaking, the capabilities of hyperautomation include business process management, artificial intelligence (AI), advanced data analytics and cognitive data capture.
When implemented strategically, these complementary capabilities can be natively integrated into a unified system so they operate seamlessly and collectively function in a way that tackles a much wider set of use cases.
Specifically, these additional capabilities must be well integrated to manage a digital workforce of bots. The bots must be smart, ingesting knowledge from AI and analytics technologies including natural language processing (NLP), machine learning and cognitive automation.
Yet they must also be orchestrated smartly and adhere to a set of rules or governance framework, particularly key in government, stemming from business process management capabilities.
Finally, the actions of bots must be continuously monitored and to ensure auditability and performance supported by AI, analytics and workflow governance capabilities.
Making the jump to hyperautomation
As an example of how a government agency can capitalize on the power of hyperautomation, look no further than the eligibility verification process of the Affordable Care Act health insurance program. The program processes tens of millions of consumers each year, along with up to 45 million documents annually.
To pull this off successfully – and most importantly, efficiently – the program uses an intelligent automation platform to automate the eligibility verification process and AI-enabled, data-capturing tools to extract data at massive scale.
Meanwhile, analytics capabilities monitor the processes and workflows, while a robotic workforce uses the same case management systems, rules and governance as human employees – but at rates up to six times faster.
In the end, hyperautomation completes as many as 300,000 processes per month, saving substantial labor hours and providing surge capacity that otherwise would have to be manual.
This is just one example, but it’s not hard to see how these capabilities are increasingly vital during uncertain times such as those presented by the current pandemic.
When the needs for government resources suddenly shift at massive scale, and workflows change due to teams increasingly working remotely, hyperautomation helps ensure government agencies can effectively handle this increased demand.
More importantly, it gives them the ability to quickly address and serve everyday citizens during times of need.
All in all, with an integrated approach to hyperautomation at their disposal, federal agencies can meet their goals as they relate to digital transformation while simultaneously empowering their workforces to focus on more meaningful, high-value work.
Delegating repetitive, lower-value work starving federal agencies of their productivity and effectiveness to an AI-enabled digital workforce is a win for federal employees, and also for taxpayers. – July 20, 2021
Zakir Ahmed is Kofax’s senior vice president and general manager for Asia Pacific & Japan.
The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.
Photo credit: Spin Corp