The value of technology democratization and wide-scale technology training will only grow over time. Leaders in this area are unlocking more freedom and exploration for employees. Consider, for example, the impact that just one segment of democratized technology — RPA — is having at agencies across government. A low- to no-code commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) technology, RPA can automate repetitive, rules-based, low-value tasks, such as data entry, data reconciliation, pre-populated responses to customer inquiries, scheduled communications, spreadsheet manipulation, automated data reporting, and analytics, to name a few.
“Nearly two years after the first Robotic Process Automation (RPA) application was deployed in the federal government, RPA has become a widespread process automation tool,” said the November 2020 State of Federal RPA report, published by the Federal RPA Community of Practice (CoP). The report found that overall RPA program maturity increased significantly in fiscal 2020 and that RPA programs have reported strong demand for automation solutions within agencies. A use case inventory posted on the RPA CoP website documents more than 300 RPA use cases — mostly in resource management, administrative, and business areas such as logistics, human resources, financial management, IT, and procurement. The use cases cut across the federal government, including the Defense Department, Treasury Department, Veterans Affairs Department, the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services, the Food & Drug Administration, and many other agencies.
Just in the period between 2019 and 2020, the number of automations deployed at federal agencies increased from 219 to 460, a 110 percent gain. The impact of these initiatives are far more impressive: annualized hours saved by automations increased from 285,651 to 848,336, a 197 percent increase. Moreover, the average hours of annualized capacity created per automation increased from 1,335 hours per automation to 1,708 hours.
At the National Science Foundation, for example, an employee had an idea to save time: a bot that automates so-called nag notes, which are notes that remind people of upcoming public meetings. Because the agency plans thousands of meetings a year, the agency estimates the bot will save 25,000 hours a year in administrative staff time. The NSF’s CIO, Dorothy Aronson, said in an interview that she was delighted to see how an NSF employee who didn’t have much prior technical training was able to employ a technology-enabled solution that ultimately benefited the whole agency. “By working as a partner with the IT shop, she learned a lot about how IT people think, so that partnership was really important in her personal growth,” Aronson said.
The pace of transformation will no longer be limited to how quickly IT teams can roll out new solutions, nor will the scope of transformation be limited by non-IT workers’ expertise with tech capabilities. Enterprises equipping their people with democratized technology are building the foundation for greater agility and ability to scale now and in the future.
Without taking steps to empower your people in this way, you’ll be holding back your own digital transformation. Government agencies and industries are adapting and transforming around you, and your employees’ and customers’ expectations are evolving accordingly; your organization must evolve in kind.
Fortify: Is your enterprise poised to take advantage of technology’s growing democratization?
- Pick one area of the enterprise to begin experimenting with technology democratizing solutions. For instance, give your resource management functions the tools needed to design their own apps and automate workflows.
- Evaluate your existing access to democratized technology. Many cloud providers are beginning to include RPA or low-code solutions as part of their services. Identify what tools the enterprise may already have access to, or what additional investments need to be made, to power grassroots innovation.
Extend: How are you training your workforce to think like technologists?
- Establish skilling programs that help workforces become digitally fluent so they understand the basics of cybersecurity, data literacy, cloud value optimization, and more. The more they understand these concepts, the more they will be able to use democratized technologies to their full potential.
- Ensure plans to adopt democratized technologies are accompanied by checks and balances that allow for easy identification of risks in low-code software, Office 365, RPA, and other tools.
Reinvent: How can democratized technologies make IT groups more effective — and vice versa?
- Establish teams to support and guide the use of democratized technologies across your organization. Update IT policies to give employees flexibility to explore the use of new technologies, but have IT play a role in establishing guardrails.
- Bridge the gap. IT will still be leaned on to scale and iterate on innovative solutions. Try using technologies like low-code and RPA to bridge the gap between the business and technical sides of your organization during prototyping and design stages. Also, try aligning IT efforts more with business objectives — such as through shared KPIs — to improve productivity and business outcomes.