CGI’s annual Momentum® Day gathers hundreds users of our federal financial management solution suite to share best practices and learn about new technology and solution developments. It is a busy event, with concurrent sessions on numerous topics. At our December 2018 event held in Crystal City, with about 500 attendees, the topic of robotic process automation (RPA) was prominent on the agenda.
It is important to understand what RPA can—and can’t—do. As session attendees heard in “RPA 101: How the Robots Can Set You Free,” software robots can improve the efficiency and accuracy of certain kinds of work immensely. This includes tedious and repetitive tasks that require no decision-making or judgment.
By freeing employees from rote chores, RPA allows them to spend more time on more interesting work―the matters that require greater discernment, judgment and innovation.
In the RPA 101 session, I and Senior Consultant Varun Ghatge—also of our Federal Emerging Technologies Practice—demonstrated an example of RPA that made clear its liberating power.
The use case was submitting monthly invoices to a secure, vendor invoice management system. This task typically takes a person anywhere from five to 30 minutes to complete, depending on the complexity of the invoice.
It is a multi-step process that starts with moving the data from the enterprise accounting system into the invoice system. The invoice must include a header with specific points of data and an entry for each contract line-item number (CLIN) being billed in the invoice.
The RPA solution automatically enters the appropriate data into each field, along with business validation information. It then automatically submits the invoice to the payer, with a copy saved for the biller.
When we demonstrated the RPA solution to employees at a large Momentum-based payment center, the most common reaction was relief at no longer having to work late to complete the manual data transfer and entry steps on the first and 15th of every month.
Invoice processing is an ideal task for RPA because it’s a simple task of copying data from one document to another into fields that are common to each new invoice. While software robots are good at doing things like that, they are not good at taking in new information and figuring out what to do with it. If an invoice-processing robot encounters an anomaly, it can flag that one for human evaluation without interrupting its workflow, but it can’t make the judgment call.
Of course, RPA is just one manifestation of Intelligent Automation (IA). The discipline also includes artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and natural language processing, all technologies that enable machines to interact more easily with humans and learn as they accumulate more and more data.
CGI has developed a comprehensive Intelligent Automation Service Framework to help agencies fully capitalize on automation through our services.
Read more in our white paper, Intelligent Automation Opportunities in the Federal Government.
About this author
Sean Connell is a leader in CGI Federal’s Enterprise Resource Planning practice, including the proprietary Momentum® suite of solutions. He brings more than 20 years of experience helping federal agencies solve a variety of IT challenges, across all three branches of government. His diverse experience ...