Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic this year, shifting public sector IT priorities has brought the IT departments of many government agencies into close contact with RPA concepts and solutions. These developments surrounding RPA in the public sector were part of an effort to identify the best path toward a forward-looking Information and Technology management policy.
For instance, a large portion of The President's Management Agenda released in 2018 is dedicated to IT reform, and Cross-Agency Priority (CAP) goal six specifically articulates "Shifting From Low-Value to High-Value Work" as a necessary step toward the overall reduction of administrative burden. In alignment with this, the General Services Administration has been at the forefront of the federal drive to introduce RPA to agencies as a means of fulfilling their objectives; establishing a Federal RPA Community of Practice and publishing a playbook to guide agencies in incorporating these technologies.
In 2021, the National Association of State CIOs (NACIO), reported the results of a survey that 74% of state CIOs “believe the biggest driver for state governments' need to digitize is to provide a better online experience for citizens. The COVID pandemic demanded a rapid response by government to citizen needs. While a difficult time, it did provide a great opportunity to simplify and innovate”.
IT modernization and automation were already seen as necessary to adjust to a changing workforce, and a rising proportion of government employees approaching retirement age. However, robotic process automation adoption has been brought into even tighter relief by COVID-19. The pandemic hasn't just underlined the useful nature of automation but has introduced an incredible sense of urgency into the discussion of IT modernization efforts. Automation efforts are no longer simply good advice to agencies which have had to keep with huge swells in demand for their services without being able to rely on manpower or critical resources.
Repositioning to facilitate teleworking and maintaining levels of service within crisis conditions has required major steps in the direction of automation. RPA is one of the most flexible, powerful, and quick to implement digital automation solutions that the public sector could have to adapt to a changing landscape.
Examples of Government Digital Automation During COVID-19
Here are a few examples of how Digital Automation has helped agencies to adapt to the unforeseen crisis.
"Get My Payment" Platform for Economic Impact Payments
One of the biggest tasks of the Federal Government in response to the COVID-19 pandemic was to address the economic impact that the virus has had on the American economy. One such effort was the distribution of Economic Impact Payments by the Treasury and IRS.
With the goal of supporting a large section of the country through a time of extreme economic uncertainty, the departments faced huge administrative challenges in delivering payments, but also in communicating with the public about the nature and status of these payments.
It's not unfair to say that almost immediately following the announcement of the Economic Impact Payments questions such as "What are they?", "Am I eligible?", and most importantly "What is the current status of my payment?" became vital questions for almost every American. This involved an enormous undertaking.
To solve the logistical complexity of delivering these payments, the Treasury developed the "Get My Payment" web based application to allow users to query the status of their payment, and update bank details if necessary. It was developed quickly, and within its first three weeks of service handled over 368 million visitors.
SBA Intake Portals for PPP and EIDL
The Small Business Administration (SBA) also had to act quickly to address the concerns and hardships of business during this period. The Administration had to launch numerous Economic Injury Disaster Loan Programs to help mitigate some of the worst economic effects of the pandemic. Of special note, is the Paycheck Protection Program, which was implemented within the space of a week, processed and approved $500 billion in loans to support payroll costs during this time of special need.
The successful rollout of this program was possible, at least in part, due to a rapid and major expansion in automated tooling in support of borrowers and lenders. The SBA created new intake portals and expanded their existing cloud-based solutions support tools quickly to give them the added bandwidth necessary to deal with the sudden spike in activity.
HHS PROTECT for White House Coronavirus Task Force Policy Guidance
Another major initiative in response to the Coronavirus crisis was the HHS PROTECT system. This White House initiative was designed to pull together an ecosystem of over 200 datasets to create a "common operating picture" of the spread and behavior of the virus for use by the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
Data can potentially be one of the most valuable resources available to both government and enterprise departments but only to the extent that it is put to work, which can itself take significant investment in time and energy. Information which is not used or shared effectively is at best useless, and at worst an expensive, and potentially harmful liability. HHS PROTECT was established in only nine days and was able to produce valuable data insights with which to analyze policy options using data modeling.
3 Opportunities for Digital Automation Implementation
With that, we haven't even touched the major efforts taken by many departments to solve employment related issues such as the widespread switch to Telework and accelerated virtual onboarding and offboarding which needed to be put into action in response to the virus. The key takeaway from all of these examples is that the implementation of automation solutions is by far the fastest, most cost-efficient, and simply effective way for organizations to massively increase flexibility and bandwidth in order to meet their goals.
What is also important to note, is that we don't have to wait for huge spikes to take place under adverse conditions to undergo digital transformation. If anything, the automation initiatives taking place during the current crisis are only acting as a catalyst for changes already underway.
There are still a host of opportunities to rise to challenges much less dire than responding to a global pandemic. Consider how the following digital automation and RPA use cases can improve the workflow and efficiency of government agencies.
1. Moving DMV Processes online
One such opportunity is in the mandate for DMVs in every state to prepare citizens for a new requirement for possession of a passport or REAL ID to board domestic flights in the US by October of 2021. This has been relaxed by a year in response to the COVID-19 crisis, but there is still a great deal of work that many states will have to do to meet this goal.
It is also significant that due to DMV closures for the duration of the crisis many departments will face a considerable backlog while also attempting to meet their modernization goals. Some parts of the ID issuance process such as verifying identification are difficult or sensitive to automate but much of the overhead involved in the process comes from other sources such as manually keying in or checking data, which is a perfect opportunity for RPA ROI to shine through.
2. Automate Government HR Processes
This is also true for Government HR processes. Many departments have had to swiftly convert large sections of their work force to working remotely in response to the crisis. A prime factor in making this possible has been the introduction of streamlined virtual onboarding and offboarding processes. As this has shown, these processes, as well as various ancillary processes such as credentialing and IT access, can and should be automated where possible.
3. Use Chatbot/ Virtual Assistants to Supplement Workforce
One of the most exciting new innovations in the sphere of automations is the use of Chatbot integration with traditional automated processes to make automation not just powerful in what it is able to do, but who it is able to reach as well. Navigating complex services can be daunting and navigating complex services while navigating complicated and unfamiliar User Interfaces can be even more so.
As People, we come "pre-programmed" with a certain interface and problem-solving technique with which to navigate these complex situations: conversation. Conversational UI uses more of what every human being is good at to combine the convenience, speed and precision of automation with the reassurance and simplicity to accomplish unfamiliar tasks independently, reducing the amount of support necessary to sustain service on a major scale.
NITCO Offers Comprehensive Digital Transformation and RPA Services for Government Agencies
At NITCO, we possess the necessary expertise, experience, and partnerships to support all aspects of your Digital Transformation journey, from Robotic Process Automation to Artificial Intelligence and Intelligent Process Automation, Conversational AI, Chatbot Integration and beyond. Perhaps even more importantly, we are experts in delivering RPA programs and developing cultures of automation ingrained with the insights and best practices that allow these solutions to thrive and scale, no matter what the challenge.
If you serve in the public sector and want to learn more about how RPA can help your organization boost efficiency, reduce human error, and free up time for staff to focus on higher-value tasks, contact us today!