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RPA in Procurement: How to Enhance the Government Acquisition Process

Ben Allen, Vice President, Public Sector Solutions
July 21, 2023

Robotic process automation (RPA) refers to the use of software robots, or "bots," that mimic human actions to automate repetitive tasks within business processes. RPA technology can interact with applications, systems, and data sources to automate procurement tasks such as data entry, document processing, and report generation. Using robotic process automation in procurement increases efficiency, accuracy, and productivity, freeing up human workers to focus on more complex and value-added activities.

No API? No problem.

RPA works effectively even without an API or web services because it operates at the user interface (UI) level. RPA tools are designed to interact with applications and systems in the same way a human user would. Bots can navigate through applications, extract data from screens, input information, and perform various actions by mimicking mouse clicks, keystrokes, and screen scraping techniques.

This UI-level automation allows RPA to work with legacy systems, custom-built applications, or systems that lack well-defined APIs or web services—which is why RPA is so useful in procurement, where legacy systems are prevalent. RPA software robots can read and interpret data from user interfaces (even legacy green screens), extract relevant information, and manipulate it as needed. They can also integrate with different software applications by emulating user interactions, such as opening applications, logging in, and navigating through menus.

RPA is useful in government procurement where legacy systems are prevalent.

While having APIs or web services can simplify integration and enable more direct communication between systems, RPA offers a flexible and versatile solution for automating procurement processes across a wide range of applications and systems, regardless of the underlying technology or infrastructure.

[ Read the Gartner report to learn about the automation technologies you should be implementing to improve end-to-end efficiency at your organization. ]

How RPA streamlines government acquisition: A real-world example.

Many large government repositories—like the GSA schedule library or the SBA repository of vendor information—are examples of agency systems that have not yet undergone modernization. 

Currently, contracting teams need to manually search and enter unique identifiers to find a schedule or vendor. Robotic process automation could make this process much easier by deploying a bot to pull information automatically. Using the GSA Schedule repository as an example, here's a general outline of how RPA can help you achieve this:

  1. Access and navigation. The RPA bot is configured to access the GSA Schedule repository. It mimics human actions by navigating through the user interface, clicking on links, and performing searches.
  2. Search and extraction. Once in the site, the RPA bot searches for specific criteria or keywords related to unique identifiers within the GSA Schedule repository. This could involve entering search terms in the appropriate fields, selecting filters, and submitting the search.
  3. Data extraction. After the search results are displayed, the bot extracts the relevant data, including unique identifiers, from the repository. It identifies the desired information by locating specific fields or patterns in the web page's HTML structure.
  4. Data processing. The extracted data is stored in a structured format, such as a database or spreadsheet, for further processing. The RPA bot cleans and validates the extracted data, ensuring its accuracy and consistency.
  5. Integration and utilization. The extracted unique identifiers can then be integrated into other systems or processes as required. For example, they can be used to populate fields in an organization's internal database, trigger downstream actions, or facilitate matching with other data sources. The data can then be presented back to users in Appian and automatically filed in the contract file.

In the Appian Platform, RPA is built into the stack and can kick off from anywhere. The actions take place automatically, invisible to the user.

Benefits of using RPA in conjunction with AI.

RPA and artificial intelligence (AI) can be used together to enhance automation capabilities and enable more intelligent and advanced automation solutions. By leveraging AI techniques such as natural language processing (NLP) to extract information from unstructured data sources like documents, emails, or web pages, AI algorithms can help bots interpret and “understand” the content, allowing them to extract specific data points more accurately.

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RPA can collect and process data from various sources, while AI enables advanced analytics and insight generation. By combining the two, organizations can automate data collection, perform data analysis, and generate actionable insights for decision making and process improvement.

By automating a broader range of tasks, organizations will improve contract management, make more intelligent decisions, extract valuable insights from data, and achieve cost savings. 

Appian Government Acquisition solutions use a variety of automation tools, including RPA and AI, to streamline your procurement process.