Process Automation FAQs
Robotics Process Automation (RPA) is the use of computer software to execute mundane, repetitive rule based tasks such as filling in the same information in multiple places, reentering data, copying and pasting or querying financial data from accounting systems. Think of RPA as a "Digital Worker" that assists with daily tasks.
Commercial and government entities across all industries and lines of business are using RPA tools to streamline most repetitive or mundane tasks. The federal government is keeping up with it's private sector partners with more than 85 federal organizations implementing RPA technology to make government more efficient.
IBC stood up the Process Automation Branch in 2019 to partner with both internal and external clients to identify business processes that could benefit from Robotics Processing Automation (RPA) tools and realize organizational efficiences and cost savings.
RPA allows businesses and their workforce to improve their processes by enabling them to get more work done in less time. The idea is to give the workforce more time to focus on those tasks that require creativity, problem solving, strategy, and other skills while eliminating human error.
A "BOT" (short for Robot) is a software application that is programmed to do certain tasks. Some bots run automatically, while others only execute commands when they receive specific input.
This link will take you to some Interior Business Center RPA demonstrations: https://ibc.doi.gov/FMD/Automation/Resources
RPA tools have the ability to automate many of those repetitive tasks that humans regularly perform. The benefits of RPA are numerous and offer a wide array of competitive advantages such as:
- More effective use of staff resources is probably the greatest benefit of RPA for most organizations. With the workforce free from many tedious, low-value tasks; they can focus and provide higher value added services to clients.
- Increased productivity and business process efficiencies are driven due to RPA processes being faster and more accurate than human staff.
- Improved analytics for workflow management. A clear grid of activities and timelines can be established, and an RPA tool's effectiveness can be tracked down to the most minor tasks and smallest time increment.
- An RPA driven system complies with a clear, standard, and precise governance. RPA can check and monitor systems continually and flag an activity in an enterprise infrastructure that does not comply with the current governance framework.
- An RPA tool never forgets to make a log entry, never forgets to log out, never posts its password. With respect to system security, a complete log file of all of its activities exists, so any potential dangerous activity is recorded.
- RPA allows for ease of scalability for an organization. A group of automated robotic processes can be duplicated and programmed to accomplish a similar but slightly different set of procedures.
The bots that IBC has in production utilize the following applications either individually or coupled together to perform tasks: MS Word, MS Excel, Oracle Federal Financials, SAP (FBMS), Outlook, Adobe, all browsers, Treasury-IPAC, other web pages, local drives, Sharepoint, and OneDrive.
The Interior Business Center provides Permanent Change of Station (PCS) services to DOI and Federal Agencies. A BOT currently performs 2 different tasks for the PCS group:
- Logs into the Virtual Employee Network (VEN) system and downloads certified relocating employee travel voucher payments. The BOT then logs into the offiical record keeping system (Enterprise Content System (ECS)) and uploads the pdf file's to the appropriate employees travel authorization folder. This process ensures 100% of payment vouchers are filed accordingly and available upon request for audit or random sampling reviews.
- This bot accesses a shared Outlook email account. Opens each email and downloads the attached Government Bill of Lading (GBL) invoice. The invoice (pdf format) is opened and specific data is parsed out and used to populate a SharePoint spreadsheet.
Click the below link to access and submit a form to the Process Automation Branch. Once our office receives a request, an intial discussion will be scheduled to determine if this business process is a good candidate for RPA. https://ibc.doi.gov/FMD/Automation/forms
The amount of time it takes to automate a process depends on the number of steps in the process, complexity of those steps, and how many applications (systems) are involved. On average the devlopment to automate a clients process that utilizes 2-3 systems or applications takes 1-2 months.
A good candidate for RPA are those processes that are rules based, established frequency of performing the task, tasks that have defined inputs and outputs, and the volume of work is repetitive in nature.
The Process Automation Branch (PAB) within the Interior Business Center monitors and maintains all automations. Output logs are maintained and provided to process owners upon request. If something happens during the automation run that causes the process to fail, the PAB is notified. Our team reviews the error and works to get the automation back up and running as soon as possible. If the error cannot be corrected quickly the PAB will notify the process owner to let them know there was an error and provides an estimate for when the automation will be back online.
Unattended bots operate in the background. They are triggered and complete tasks automatically, without human intervention. Attended bots need to be triggered by a human to complete programmed tasks.
RPA is quickly becoming a default software for both private and govermental entities. RPA will create efficiencies and cost savings for organizations resulting in a more enjoyable workplace for employees due to the automating and elimination of mundane tasks.
A citizen developer is a business process that encourages non-IT-trained employees to build automations locally. RPA software allows these citizen developers to automate non complex business processes for themselves as well as collegues. Logging into accounting systems each day to retreive specific reports or opening up email to download attachments and place into SharePoint folders are examples of non complex yet repetitive tasks that a citizen developer can automate.
Since our first bot went into production the Process Automation Branch has partnered with Department of the Interior and other federal agencies to save more than 5000 annual hours realizing an annual cost savings of $190K. Our bots continue to produce efficiencies for our clients with dozens of processes currently in development.
This link will take you to our Process Automation Branch points of contact: https://ibc.doi.gov/FMD/contact-ibc-rpa-team.