Feds Eye Technical Skills to Support Increased Automation in 2020

Enhancing automation capabilities in the federal government will be a key focus area going into 2020, specifically around the technical skills, privacy and security policies required to support automated workflows, according to the nation’s top Chief Information Officer.

Speaking at Wednesday’s ATARC IT Modernization Summit in Washington, D.C., Federal CIO Suzette Kent said that the Trump administration is focused on continuous learning and development around automation and understanding its impact on the workforce as employees are introduced to new commercially available tools.

“We are choosing the use cases and the applications that augment and empower our human workforces for [the] mission,” Kent said, adding that the focus is on bringing IT out of the shadows and having inclusive conversations across departments about the use of automation.

“I think that’s something that’s very different with our path forward is there’s some of the things we do in the IT community probably no one else in your agency really knows about,” Kent said.”But there’s a lot of the things that we are doing going forward that are at the core of how we better achieve mission, and that requires a different type of working together and interaction and a different kind of engagement with citizens.”

So what does this mean for non-IT employees who are needed to help drive and embrace new ways of working in an automated environment? A big focus for agencies going forward will be on continuous learning and development, Kent said.

At the Agriculture Department (USDA), for example, the agency partnered with the University of New Orleans to reskill finance professionals on how to use robotic process automation (RPA) bots in their everyday work. Think of RPA as software bots that can be programmed to automate repetitive and instruction-based tasks.

“What they’re going to do is actually help us to promulgate the RPA success across all of USDA,” Venice Goodwine, USDA’s Chief Information Security Officer (CISO), said about the workforce reskilling program.

USDA’s RPA efforts began with the Office of the Chief Financial Officer and initially focused on manual payment disbursements as a task ripe for RPA. To formalize that work, the RPA initiative recently moved under the purview of the Office of the Chief Information Officer to ensure that the technology and how it’s secured are standardized.

“It’s really teaching them how to do their job using automation,” Goodwine said about the reskilling program. “So we didn’t replace their job. We now just elevated them to… [be] overseers of those activities. Their job is also to serve as the SME [subject matter expert].”

USDA is partnering with RPA provider UiPath, and according to the company, the “training program will conclude with the employees being certified as RPA business analysts and developers delivering production-ready RPA bots relevant to the USDA OCFO mission, instead of being contracted to outside developers.”

Goodwine reiterated that these are non-IT employees who were reskilled to understand the technology. The department has also developed playbooks around RPA to share lessons learned with others in government.

Her advice to agencies looking to implement similar efforts: You need to have governance around every process because not every process is ripe for RPA.

Looking for additional use cases and information about RPA? Check out GovLoop’s top five RPA resources here

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