Apr 12 2021

Fact or Fallacy: RPA Can Boost Agencies Quickly and Inexpensively

Governments can realize enormous benefits by implementing robotic process automation.

The public sector has embraced robotic process automation to handle high-volume, repetitive tasks that were previously labor-intensive and time-consuming. RPA utilizes software that emulates human actions to carry out rules-based tasks, such as entering data, manipulating spreadsheets and prepopulating responses.

The demand for RPA tools has grown tremendously among federal agencies, which, on average, have 10 to 20 automations in their development pipeline, according to this year’s “The State of Federal RPA” report. Finance was once the biggest use case for RPA in government, but it’s now commonly used in acquisitions, human resources, administrative services and customer service applications.

State and local agencies have dramatically reduced their low-value workloads with RPA. The New York Power Authority, the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Texas Medicaid & Healthcare Partnership, to name a few, have all automated their manual workflows to refocus on delivering public services.

Investing in RPA may seem daunting. Government IT leaders who question whether RPA is a suitable automation tool should understand which claims about RPA are fallacies and which are fact.

Fallacy: Robotic Process Automation Replaces People

One of the most common misconceptions about RPA is that it uses humanoid robots. In reality, RPA cannot replace people or mimic human cognitive functions.

The term RPA is often used interchangeably with artificial intelligence and machine learning, since those technologies are also involved in automation. While AI/ML can develop logic, RPA cannot perform logical or critical thinking. RPA is a tool that assists with basic tasks, such as copying and pasting data into forms.

RPA shouldn’t be viewed as a human replacement. Instead, it’s an opportunity for employees to focus on more valuable work. In the future, it will be possible for agencies to create new jobs for people with advanced information skills to oversee fleets of RPA bots.

Fallacy: Robotic Process Automation Poses Security Risks

Agencies implementing RPA have expressed concerns over the technology’s potential security risks.

The majority of these concerns focus on how bots could be used for malicious purposes (external and internal threats) or potentially expose sensitive data if they’re poorly designed.

In reality, bots are unlikely to go rogue if they are tightly controlled. Agencies can incorporate security into RPA from the initial stage of the software development lifecycle with DevSecOps. Doing so from the start helps agencies avoid the expense of fixing security issues that may come up later on.

60% - 70%

The percentage of business processes impacted by RPA

Source: “How is intelligent automation disrupting the public sector,” Jan. 28, 2021

Leading RPA vendors follow DevSecOps best practices and have strong measures in place to ensure that bots act as they should without compromising security.

Fallacy: Robotic Process Automation Is Expensive

As with any technology, there are costs involved in implementing RPA. However, RPA is less costly compared with advanced AI tools or more traditional options, such as business process outsourcing and offshore manual processing. Legacy systems and existing applications can be automated with RPA, which doesn’t require a complete IT overhaul.

For most organizations, the long-term cost benefits outweigh the initial investment in RPA. Agencies can reduce training costs, free up IT resources and ease software migration. According to a 2019 National Association of State Chief Information Officers report, RPA is useful in government customer service and can save agencies 40 to 70 percent on labor costs.

Fallacy: Robotic Process Automation Never Makes Mistakes

RPA does indeed make mistakes if a bad task is put in place. The bad task will be automated since the tool lacks common sense. The work generated by bots should still be supervised by people. It’s important for agencies to have fail-safes in place along with RPA.

Some tools with process mining capabilities can be used to provide instant monitoring and alerts relating to the outcomes of some tasks, so mistakes can be caught sooner. This frees up resources, since whoever is supervising the bots doesn’t have to constantly look over each output manually.

Fallacy: Robotic Process Automation Will Soon Be Obsolete

Why implement RPA when you can jump straight to AI? That may be the thought process for those who see RPA as technology that will one day be antiquated. Investing in AI/ML instead may seem like a smarter option.

However, shifting manual workloads to AI is much more difficult than moving from RPA to AI. RPA is the gateway to AI for state, local and federal agencies.

Before agencies can successfully make decisions with large amounts of data, that data must be cleaned, standardized and free of errors. RPA is a key mechanism that establishes these processes for AI/ML adoption and makes the transition easier.

Fact: Government Needs Robotic Process Automation

There are several RPA solutions available with lower price points that meet public sector needs. IBM Robotic Process Automation with Automation Anywhere, for example, has two versions.

The economical Express version is designed for smaller RPA deployments that involve multiple bots, while the higher-priced Enterprise version integrates process automation with workflow management, real-time decision-making and data capture capabilities for larger deployments. So, agencies of any size can deploy RPA solutions quickly and effectively.

It’s undeniable that any agency where people perform high-volume, high-transaction functions needs RPA. With RPA, agencies can deliver on government mandates by completing routine compliance tasks faster and more accurately.

Tasha Vector/Getty Images

Learn from Your Peers

What can you glean about security from other IT pros? Check out new CDW research and insight from our experts.