How Federal Agencies Can Maximize Productivity—and Save Billions

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Automation isn't the stuff of fantasy but agencies should take note of best practices to make sure their projects are successful.

For the federal government, automation technologies bring unlimited potential for increased efficiencies and cost savings.

From a hiring perspective, for example, these solutions enable managers to call up the entire work histories of thousands of job candidates with the click of a button, and conduct instant, initial grading of them through artificial intelligence-driven analytics.

In buying equipment, agencies traditionally pursue a dozen steps—product evaluation, quote comparisons, purchase authorization, sign-offs, performance assessment, etc.—within separate silos via tedious, manual processes. But, through automation, a “single plane of glass” dashboard completely integrates the acquisitions, so users immediately execute the steps while maintaining 100% visibility of progress from start to finish.

For IT, these advancements allow teams to—again, with the click of a button—call up everything they need to know about their servers to make good decisions about replacing them. This information includes when the servers were purchased, their estimated lifecycle, the number of users supported and the frequency of server outages.

These and countless other scenarios aren’t the stuff of fantasy—currently available solutions are transforming them into reality. Yet, less than one in five agencies are deploying advanced automation tools, according to research from ServiceNow. Only 3% of federal CIOs consider automation as a top “game-changing” technology, according to Gartner.

This is leading to significant lost opportunities, as the 2018 Federal Workforce Priorities Report from the Office of Personnel Management cites research which indicates that three of five government occupations could have at least 30% of their activities automated. Overall, 45% of total work activities can be automated, according to the report. 

If agencies committed to a “high” level of investment into automation, it would save 1.2 billion in “person-hours” and $41.1 billion in salaries, according to research from the Deloitte Center for Government Insights. Recognizing the potential impact, the President’s Management Agenda has directed the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Federal Procurement Policy to designate three government areas most suited for automation pilots to identify cost savings and return on investment. It also calls for a reskilling plan to develop ways for employees affected by automation to do other work.

Given the vast range of task and budget-related benefits, we can expect a growing number of agencies to explore the adoption of automation solutions. When they do, they should consider the following best practices to ensure successful outcomes:

Invest the time needed to make the tools work. While automation empowers agencies with an “easy button” to streamline and integrate tasks, they shouldn’t try to press that easy button when vetting and implementing the products. A rushed effort could result in negative experiences—such as product failure, unmet expectations, system outages and/or security vulnerabilities—which may result in barriers to future investment. So take the time to investigate, test and effectively deploy the tools. Take advantage of free resources by reading white papers and watching webinars to find out about capabilities and implementation details.

Leverage lessons learned. It’s very likely that your agency won’t be the first one to use a particular automated solution, especially if there’s a mandate to acquire such products. Given this, you should reach out to outside agencies which have already adopted the solution, to identify lessons learned and establish improved standard operating procedures. It makes sense, after all, to explore “what’s already out there” as, again, a free resource of valuable information.

Don’t depend upon vendor support. This can get pricy, and vendor representatives often aren’t allowed inside secure areas. So it’s best to “train the trainer,” i.e., designating and developing an internal expert on the solution and then having that expert train other staffers to do the same.

By cultivating in-house expertise, you may avoid expensive vendor support while keeping tech team members engaged and motivated … They’ll love staying current with new advancements while achieving the status of an “automation guru.” This should prove beneficial for retention/recruitment as well. If tech professionals sense that their skills are getting stale, they may look for another job. If they’re constantly working with emerging, exciting innovations, they’ll stay and often serve as ambassadors for your agency by bringing in new IT talent and growing the existing talent within.

We live in the age of digital transformation, and automation enables the government to take a “smarter, faster, better” approach to any conceivable function. True, there will be cultural obstacles to adoption (e.g. job security concerns and a general resistance to “something new”). But, by demonstrating the clear cost-savings and improved efficiencies while thoroughly and strategically vetting and implementing the tools, CIOs and their teams will win needed buy-in and lead their agencies to endless possibilities of peak productivity and superior performance.

Robert Schofield is director of enterprise solutions for NetCentrics.

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