Build-a-bot: DIY Robotic Process Automation for the public sector
A guest article by Chris Huff, Federal Process Robotics Lead, Deloitte US
Ever built your own robot? Does the thought of it conjure up images in your mind of complicated electronics, soldering stations, intricate wiring and a faint but distinct smell of singed hair?
What if I told you that you didn’t need a workshop or a degree in electrical engineering or computational maths? What if I told you that in fact, you could build your first bot in an hour? And Deloitte can show you how. In sessions that are specifically aimed at helping government employees.
For almost two years, Deloitte’s federal government team in the US have been hosting “Build-a-bot” sessions for federal agencies increasingly interested in using cognitive technology to make their employees more efficient.
The workshops focus on creating Robotic Process Automation assistants - rule-based automated bots that can complete repetitive administrative tasks like checking emails, transferring data from one file to another and submitting financial records to auditing groups. Organisations can add new software-based processes on top of whatever processes they currently have, or to eliminate the number of steps required in existing ones. The tools could be especially useful in government agencies often constrained by a lack of ability to perform application integrations across the enterprise.
Deloitte’s role in RPA is not to sell RPA software - the workshops use RPA tools that already exist. We instead advise agencies on how best to implement bots and RPA tools, and which tasks could easily be automated. The goal is to help government build a simple version of these, to reduce the amount of administrative work their employees are tied up with, and free them up to focus on more important work.
From January to April this year, the team have carried out 63 demos in the federal government. One of these agencies was NASA, who now plan to set up a bot management office to offer bot-development services to other parts of the agency. At one US federal health organisation, a pilot project is reducing the labour associated with capturing, archiving, confirming and reporting the data required to monitor the performance of far-flung research labs. Before, in a laboratory, you would have scientists doing this routine work. The scientist would take the data from the Excel spreadsheet and move it into a new database and run some basic analytics to see if there is any correlation. Say that takes 10 minutes per item and they do 100 of these a day; that's 1,000 minutes in total spent doing this. We have taken 1,000 minutes of work and turned it into two minutes through the machine.
Lots of the most simple bots are rules-based bots, which means they don't deviate from a prescribed set of directions, but we expect future versions to have more cognitive capabilities, allowing them to learn on the job. Our goal from these workshops is, eventually, that end-users - any employee whose job involves repetitive tasks - might program their own bots as needed. RPA’s vast potential for use with administrative tasks means it has the potential to be the next word processor or spreadsheet.
RPA is a quick, cost efficient solution for government agencies who, even as they are under pressure to slim down, still have responsibilities that are constantly growing. The bots, which can run 24/7, can help agencies by taking on time-consuming, manual tasks and allowing its humans to engage in higher level work.
Chris Huff is the Federal Process Robotics Lead is Deloitte US. He is visiting Australia to speak at the GovInnovate Summit in Canberra and to run “Build-a-bot” workshops in Melbourne and Sydney.
Published: October 2017