NASA says it's pioneering RPA among US Federal agencies. Source: Shutterstock

NASA says it’s pioneering RPA among US Federal agencies. Source: Shutterstock

How NASA is helping the US Federal Government adopt RPA

ROBOTIC process automation (RPA) is quite an exciting technology because it’s simple, affordable, and most of all, reliable.

The technology has already established a foothold in industries such as financial services, manufacturing, and retail — but now, also seems to have a seal of approval from the US Federal Government’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) agency.

According to the agency’s latest journal, its support organization NASA Shared Services Center (NSSC) has started using RPA “bots” to free up Federal employees and contractors to work on more challenging tasks and projects.

“Since 2006, NSSC has provided mission support services to NASA with the goal of reducing resource expenditure, improving the quality and timeliness of service delivery, and providing a positive customer experience,” said NSSC Communication Specialist Doug LeMere.

In order to deliver on these expectations and innovate and improve the delivery of mission support services, the NSSC’s Intelligent Automation Services (IAS) Team has started leveraging RPA to develop automated work instructions.

“RPA software mimics human interaction with computers, enabling NSSC to automate processes and have digital employees perform them. Bots have supplemented and complemented the work of the NSSC’s workforce, freeing up human employees’ time for more complex and higher-value tasks,” highlighted LeMere, in the journal.

It’s important to note that no NSSC employee has lost a job as a result of successfully implementing RPA. Instead, every employee whose previous work is now performed by a bot has been shifted to more challenging work, said the journal.

RPA implementation is easy, but uptake can be a challenge

It’s reassuring to know that as an organization, NASA often faces the same challenges as ordinary businesses when it comes to digital transformation and adopting new technologies into everyday workflows.

LeMere points out that the NSSC’s management was concerned with how the workforce would react to RPA, and especially with employees’ perceptions that they might lose their jobs to bots.

In order to overcome that challenge, the organization used a series of employee outreach events to share its plan for implementing RPA.

The NSSC even created a website to explain RPA and invited employees to give the technology a chance.

“Employees were invited to “think ‘inside the bot’” for a moment and ask themselves, What repetitive tasks bog us down such that we would like a bot to perform them? How can automation allow for greater productivity? How can we increase performance and improve accuracy and customer service?” shared LeMere.

Experts in digital transformation often advise leaders to ensure they communicate the plan for new technologies with employees and get them to understand and welcome the steps being taken to go digital.

“When employees don’t understand why changes are happening, it can be a barrier to driving ownership and commitment and can even result in resistance or push back,” Weber Shandwick Employee Engagement & Change Management Manager Morgan Galbraith wrote in a recent Harvard Business Review article.

“And employees’ resistance to change is a leading factor for why so many change transformations fail,” added Galbraith.

The NSSC, of course, did communicate the changes early and clearly with its employees. “NSSC successfully socialized the workforce to IAS/RPA,” revealed LeMere.

In fact, employees have started actively offering ideas for work suitable to bots through an online tool. So far, the agency has received more than 300 ideas for process innovations and improvements.

“Some ideas become candidates for bots, while others result in simple process reform. Innovation and continuous improvement are encouraged at all levels of the NSSC organization, with award opportunities for those individuals who submit the best ideas,” LeMere proudly concluded.