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RPA Expert: ‘Humans Will Always Need to Be Involved’

Amy Hille Glasscock’s latest research suggests that robotic process automation (RPA) adoption is on the rise across state governments. According to Glasscock – a Senior Policy Analyst at the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) – it’s a trend that implies more agencies are lightening their workloads with RPA.

Despite this, Glasscock cautions that RPA use is still in its infancy at state organizations. As RPA grows in popularity, concerns about its impact on the workplace are also growing. These early days are thus an opportunity to address how RPA bots and humans will coexist in the future.

During an interview with GovLoop, Glasscock argues that RPA’s benefits far outweigh its costs.

This interview was lightly edited for length and clarity.

GovLoop: How would you describe RPA to someone who’s unfamiliar with it, and how can it benefit state and local agencies?

Glasscock: RPA is software tools that partially or fully automate human activities that are manual, rule-based and repetitive. Some examples that agencies might use RPA for are virtual assistants and chatbots (Editor’s note: Virtual assistants are software agents that can perform tasks and services based on an individual’s commands or questions. Chatbots are software programs that imitate human conversations using audio and text dialogue systems). Those are a form of RPA. Those are a starting point for governments that are going down the RPA path. You can ask them questions like, how do I renew my car tags? How do I get scholarship money for college? How do I pay my property taxes? A chatbot will respond and send you the necessary links. If there’s a question that it can’t answer, then a human will step in.

We recently did a study and interviewed CIOs [chief information officers] and some people at agencies that are working on technology. One in four of our respondents said that they had deployed these types of solutions. They can answer a lot of the questions that citizens used to need to ask humans. It frees up humans from having to do that kind of work that they don’t necessarily have to be doing.

How does RPA help agencies with their budgets, cybersecurity and workforce?

Across state governments, there are budget limitations. There’s only so much capital to go around. You only have so much money that you can spend on your workforce. Especially when you’re talking about qualified technology or security staff that have the skills that agencies really need, it’s hard to compete with the private sector for those applicants. You just can’t compete with private-sector salaries.

RPA allows humans to be able to focus on more creative things or the things that humans need to focus on. It saves them a lot of hours. It can also increase job satisfaction and make state governments look more appealing if you don’t feel like a human robot at the end of the day.

For cybersecurity, RPA can make it easier for employees to ensure that their passwords are secure, and they don’t have to call someone. It doesn’t have to be 9 to 5. If you’re looking at the future of AI [artificial intellgience] in terms of looking at patterns, machines might be better suited to pick things up 24/7. It helps the cybersecurity personnel do their jobs better. It adds a layer of security without having to attract more cybersecurity staff. As far as security goes, there’s a lot of promise with AI and RPA for state and local governments.

What balance do you see between digital and human coworkers at state agencies going forward?

Humans will always need to be involved. Humans must be there to make sure that these programs are pursuing the right outcomes. They must keep any ethical or bias concerns in check. Maybe there are some people who like entering in the same number repeatedly, but a lot of people would like to do things that are more substantial and fulfilling for their jobs. With lots of the stuff that can be automated, it took up hours before and that time can now be spent interacting with citizens. While there are concerns about replacing humans – like robots taking our jobs and things like that – at this point I think it’s unfounded. It’s mostly going to be a positive thing.

What’s the main takeaway that people should have after they’ve learned about RPA?

State governments are in the early stages of RPA, but the CIOs are moving in that direction. In our latest state CIO survey, 65% of CIOs said that they feel that AI – including RPA and machine learning – will be the most impactful emerging IT area in the next three to five years. It’s where people are looking to for the immediate future.

This article is an excerpt from GovLoop’s recent e-book, “Your New Digital Coworker.” Download the full e-book here.

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