How State and Local Governments Can Benefit from Robotic Process Automation

How State and Local Governments Can Benefit from Robotic Process Automation

Innovative state, city and local governments are using robots to improve enterprise processes and enhance interactions with residents. But these aren’t the humanoid machines or modern manufacturing equipment many of us think of when we hear the word “robot.”

Rather, agencies are benefiting from robotic process automation (RPA). RPA applies computer code to automate otherwise manual workflows. In many cases these software bots run on top of legacy applications, streamlining rote tasks such as entering invoices into enterprise systems.

In fact, some CIOs feel the term “robotic” is misleading, instead preferring “repetitive process automation.” But whatever they call it, a growing number of agencies are using RPA to accelerate processes, realize measurable cost savings and free up workers for more value-adding activities.

RPA Goes Mainstream

RPA is a key digital automation technology, along with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). But while AI and ML rely on intelligence and learning, RPA uses scripts and algorithms to automate rules-based, repetitive tasks.

Just how many agencies are using RPA, and how beneficial are they finding it? Some 41% of state governments are already applying RPA tools to improve operations, according to a March 2021 survey by StateScoop and UiPath. And 64% of states plan to deploy RPA in the next 12 to 18 months, says an October 2021 report by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO).

In fact, almost half of states list RPA among their top automation applications, NASCIO reports. One reason is the practical nature of RPA. Deploying RPA solutions doesn’t typically require major technology investments or hard-to-source technical expertise.

Yet the benefits of RPA can be wide-reaching. Key among those advantages are the ability to accelerate service delivery (46%), save costs (41%) and avoid errors (37%), according to StateScoop. Saving time on recurring manual processes is another important boon, with 41% of states in the StateScoop survey using RPA tools to avoid 5,000 or more hours of routine work per year.

The first step toward success with RPA is identifying processes – or in many cases, discrete portions of processes – that can be automated. RPA is especially well-suited to simple, repetitive tasks. It’s also helpful in cases where data must be replicated across systems, users need to log into multiple applications to complete a workflow, or complex workflows are bottlenecked by manual steps.

Government Use Cases for RPA

Most agencies appear to have realistic expectations for RPA – and to have achieved positive outcomes. While 18% in the NASCIO report say RPA and other AI tools underperformed or were “significantly challenged,” 69% indicate they have delivered results as promised or exceeded expectations.

NASCIO cites numerous real-world RPA use cases in state agencies:

  • Pennsylvania is automating electronic funds transfer to deliver pandemic benefits to residents.
  • North Carolina is inputting medical data.
  • Utah is processing large volumes of financial and insurance data.
  • Massachusetts is automating applications for child-services benefits.
  • Arizona is matching invoice data, creating agency security scorecards, and automating accounting tasks.
  • Texas automated an invoice-reconciliation process, slashing regular processing time from nearly 20 hours to about three minutes.

GovLoop cites additional success stories:

  • Virginia is tracking snowplows, fine-tuning snowplow routes and reimbursing snowplow services.
  • California is migrating data for the multiple organizations that partner in its statewide accounting, budget, cash management and procurement system.
  • New York Power Authority is automating tasks such as paying invoices, onboarding vendors, scheduling job interviews and forecasting budgets.

Deployment of RPA in one area can encourage agency employees to consider other tasks that could be automated. That can build momentum for growing use of RPA and other automation technologies, such as AI, ML, and natural-language processing (NLP), to improve operations and services.

In fact, 49% of states view RPA as a building block for additional AI and ML, StateScoop says. Nearly one-quarter say RPA and AI are already transforming their organization, while 64% say the technologies will enable transformation within three years, NASCIO reports.

Ultimately, RPA has emerged as an essential part of modernizing government systems and digitizing resident services. Your agency can benefit from RPA, as well.