Agencies should plan to take whatever money they save from implementing robotic process automation (RPA) and reinvest it in other information technology projects, Federal CIO Suzette Kent said Thursday.
The reinvestments would require a few things to be in place, Kent said. Agencies would have to properly track the budget and workforce effects of RPA, which mimics the keystrokes and mouse actions of employees to automate manual tasks. And any money saved would have to flow into a working capital fund, in accordance with the 2017 Modernizing Government Technology Act.
“There’s a whole structure for how it works,” Kent said after the 2019 Department of Labor Tech Day. “What we still have to do is get more precise in how the benefits are generated and making sure we can capture those and reinvest them.”
RPA might save an agency thousands of hours of manual work annually, but the cost base won’t change if the people who used to perform those tasks aren’t moved to more important work. The savings need to be quantified somehow, Kent said.
Last month, GSA created an RPA community of practice that will track agency savings among other things, Kent said.
Multiple demonstrations at the second annual DOL Tech Day made use of RPA, which was a focus area. The technology is already “pervasive” in industry, Kent said.
Office of Management and Budget memo 18-23 and the president’s fiscal 2020 budget proposal direct agencies to use RPA, and Kent has launched reskilling efforts to address the impacts of automation on the workforce.
Only six agencies have created working capital funds to take advantage of savings from IT modernization projects: the Department of Education, General Services Administration, Department of Labor, the Small Business Administration, Social Security Administration and the Treasury Department, according to an April report from the Government Accountability Office.
The Defense Logistics Agency recently finished a robotic process automation proof-of-concept project that is the first of its kind in government, allowing unattended bots to operate around the clock.