Federal Government Adoption of AI and RPA Spreading; Bots Coming to GSA

Government agencies are adopting RPA along with IPA to wrap legacy government systems in wrappers incorporating AI. (GETTY IMAGES)

By AI Trends Staff

Surround the legacy platforms with a wrapper of automated processes, produced with a combination of AI and RPA — in part to avoid the expense of replacing the legacy platform — is an approach being widely adopted in the federal government today.

RPA is a form of business process automation that “employs” software robots, increasingly imbued with more AI, to do work. The government is also now pursuing Intelligent Process Automation, the application of AI and other technologies — such as computer vision, cognitive automation and machine learning — to RPA.

“Many civilian and federal agencies’ use of information processing, process improvement, and intelligent character recognition have led to the use of AI in robotic process automation (RPA),” stated Anil Cheriyan is Director/Deputy Commissioner, Technology Transformation Services for the US Federal Government, in a recent account in the Enterprisers Project. “We see a significant opportunity to use AI and RPA to automate processes around antiquated systems without the expense associated with replacing the legacy platforms.”

Anil Cheriyan, Director/Deputy Commissioner, Technology Transformation Services, US Federal Government

Cheriyan has experience with AI, having led the digital transformation of SunTrust Banks as CIO. He pursued APIs, robotics, data lakes and cloud computing to help make the bank more efficient. He also worked for IBM Global Business Services, mainly for clients in financial services. Cheriyan earned his Master of Science and Master of Philosophy degrees in Management as well as a Bachelor of Science in Electronic and Electrical Engineering from Imperial College in London, UK.

“AI is a capability that the country needs. Not only is it instrumental in improving the experience and effectiveness of citizens’ engagement with federal services, it also enables core capabilities that strengthen our national security and defense,” he stated.

The GSA has a three-phase framework for moving to RPA and IPA. The first is the evaluation phase, an examination of the end-to-end processes in an agency to determine where “pain points” exist. The RPA/IPA team thinks about whether the process need to be automated or eliminated. Second, process automation tools are employed to implement bots. In a third phase, the bots are monitored and iterated using the automation tools.

“The benefit of using an RPA approach is that you’re not completely replacing the legacy platform, you’re building a layer on top of it to enable automation across those legacy platforms,” stated Cheriyan. “That’s what’s attractive about RPA: Rather than spending five plus years replacing a legacy platform, you can build process automation across legacy platforms using RPA techniques in just a few months.”

Robotics Process Automation Community of Interest in DC

A Robotic Process Automation Community of Interest holds periodic meetings in Washington, to share experiences and challenges. A meeting last fall was hosted by teams from the IRS, the General Services Administration and the Office of Personnel Management.

The IRS could cite six distinct use cases for RPA, according to IRS Deputy Chief Procurement Officer Harrison Smith, who spoke with reporters after the event, according to an account in Nextgov. Smith plans to apply RPA in projects as part of the Pilot IRS program. He is seeing that the automation efforts will not be uniform across the government.

Harrison Smith, Deputy Chief Procurement Officer, IRS

“They’re not all going to look the same,” he stated. “You have to make sure that if it’s an automation solution for another environment, that you have the technology [people] and you have the systems integrators who are able to talk to the people who are actually performing the work.

He encouraged other federal technology managers to engage in a dialogue with the RPA and IPA tool and solution providers, to plug for their own agency’s needs to be addressed currently and in the future. Smith notes that project spending on automation tools is expected to triple in the next two to three years. The current requirements of the IRS are likely to differ from longer-term requirements. “We need to keep those lines of conversation open and moving ahead—making sure everybody is on a similar sheet of music,” he stated.

AntWorks CEO Issues Cautions

Customers of AntWorks are using the company’s intelligent automation platform to pursue projects including call center optimization, passport verification and management, records management and vendor onboarding, said Asheesh Mehra, CEO and Co-Founder of AntWorks, in response to a query from AI Trends.

He added, “But with AI’s great power comes great responsibility. And government must work alongside business to enable Ethical AI by ensuring people use AI engines as intended and not for fraudulent or malicious purposes. I believe government should create and enforce rules for AI at the application level – defining which applications of AI are acceptable and which are not.

Asheesh Mehra, Co-Founder and CEO, AntWorks

“Also, government is a major employer. So, it needs to prepare for AI’s impact on its workforce. Government agencies can do that by giving their workers the opportunity not just to upskill, but also to reskill, so they can undertake higher value roles as well as entirely new jobs.”

Strong Growth for RPA Seen by New Forrester Study

A new study from Forrester commissioned by UiPath, supplier of RPA software, to gauge the interest in RPA from business is projecting strong growth.

In report highlights:

  • Investment in automation will rise: 66% of companies stated they plan to increase RPA software spend by at least 5% over the next 12 months
  • Automation will affect roles in different ways: By 2030, some jobs will be cannibalized, some will be created, others will be transformed – but only a few will remain untouched
  • The digital skills gap is a concern for all employees: 41% of respondents say their employees are concerned that their existing digital skills may not match what their job will require in the future
  • Automation education in the workplace will boost career prospects: Training employees, providing them vocational courses, or encouraging them to pursue digital qualifications allows them to overcome fears around automation and embrace it as a productivity-boosting asset.

(To accompany the study, UiPath will host a webinar on Thursday, February 6 at 9 a.m. ET/2 p.m. GMT that will go in depth about the report findings.)

Read the source articles in the Enterprisers Project and in Nextgov. Learn more at UiPath and AntWorks.