October 17, 2019

The Future of RPA in Government (As We See It)

Hand turning a dial from manual process to robotic process automation.The TCG R&D Lab has been working on identifying use cases for Robot Process Automation (RPA) and the challenges of RPA implementations. RPA is an emerging technology with the ability to automate workflows. It appears to have applicability throughout the federal government, and as with other emerging technologies there is opportunity for growth. According to TCG CTO Robert Buccigrossi, while RPA can make laborious tasks trivial to execute, it is not suitable for every workflow and requires answers to questions around security, application stability, and configuration management.

Many of the tasks that can be completed through RPA could also be completed with traditional coding. But that requires learning and bridging application programming interfaces (APIs) — complexity that is simplified with RPA. Instead, the ‘robot’ (actually a little piece of code, rather than Wall‑E) is trained to “click here,” “go there,” “type here,” “scrape data there,” and other actions that human beings routinely perform with a mouse and keyboard. In other words, the robot mimics certain human actions.

RPA fills the gap between do-it-yourself spreadsheets and full-fledged custom development. It is an ideal tool for activities that involve cutting-and-pasting data between applications, manually pulling information from emails, or repetitiously interacting with a web site. According to Gartner, “autonomous things” (including process agents) are the leading trend for strategic technology in 2019. The General Services Administration has set up an RPA Community of Practice and dozens of FedBizOpps listings for “Robotic Process Automation” have been posted in recent months. Clearly, interest in and demand for RPA is growing.

Increased interest in and use of RPA is part of a larger push to use AI more generally across government. In June, Meritalk surveyed 71 leading government and industry officials on AI trends in government—technology trends that include a range of tools from machine learning to RPA— and what the near future might look like. They identified a strong willingness to adopt new tools and technologies but also a lack of understanding in how these technologies can be applied.

The TCG R&D Lab will continue to research practical approaches to implementing RPA in government and how we can best support our clients using RPA. Additionally, the team is looking at other emerging technology including machine learning. Subscribe to our blog to keep up with the latest news from the TCG R&D Lab.