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L.A. County Enlisted Vendor, Won Data Battle With ‘Army of Bots’

“One of the key lessons of this success story is the importance of gaining executive buy-in from the start … and L.A. County Internal Services is proof of that,” says Mike Daniels, UiPath’s senior vice president for public sector.

A robotic hand pressing the spacebar on a laptop keyboard superimposed on a blurry distant city skyline.
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In the spring of 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic was taking its deadly toll, the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner needed help fast: Mortality data was piling up and it needed to be shared quickly with state agencies in a way that was compatible with different systems.

So the county CIO’s office turned to the county’s Internal Services Department (ISD) for a solution to help the medical examiner’s staff more efficiently migrate about 50 data fields per case from the county system into the state’s system.

Majida Adnan.
Majida Adnan
Majida Adnan, then the manager of ISD’s IT Division, saw an ideal opportunity.

“This was kind of a perfect use case for robotic process automation (RPA), because it’s predefined, it’s redundant, it could be all well-instructed and have a bot taking care of that,” she told Industry Insider California in an interview.

“We took this as a very first use case for RPA,” she said. “We acquired UiPath, a very minimum package, just to get ourselves started. Instead of hiring new, we trained our own staff using all the free stuff we had. … I always say the beauty of UiPath is its easy, accessible training, and we had some workshops with UiPath, as well. And then we developed our first bot, and this process that was taking around 45 minutes … (came) down to, I think it was less than a minute or two, and with 95 percent error reduction. It brought in so much value. … There are so many things that the bots can do, or we could utilize the bots to work on. We can have our workforce do other, higher-value tasks.”

Mike Daniels.
Mike Daniels
Mike Daniels, UiPath’s senior vice president for public sector, knew there would be challenges with the county’s time-sensitive project, but he said things were already in place for a successful implementation.

“Whenever you’re introducing not just a new technology but a new way of working, it takes the ability to adapt,” Daniels told Industry Insider via email. “L.A. County Internal Services already had an agile culture, which enabled it to implement automation with speed and determination. Leadership also made the right decisions to dedicate time to training staff and develop best practices. In doing that, the value of automation and the processes they created were transparent.

“UiPath has been a partner, and we’re now working alongside their team as they consider more advanced automation use cases and intelligent automation,” he said.

Adnan said that based on that quick success, “and seeing how great the return of that was, we expanded our solution as a center of excellence so that other departments could leverage it, and they don’t have to worry about licensing or going out and procuring. We also have developers that can help you and train you. We can develop the bot for you. We are utilizing automation hubs to see what would be the return on investment because, honestly, we don’t want to automate everything just for the heck of automating. There should be a process to see if it’s even a good use case for RPA.”

To date, that one use case has expanded, and now about nine departments are working with UiPath and the county’s center of excellence.

“We have collectively saved around 33,000 labor hours” over two years, Adnan said. “We have a very robust army of bots. We have bots who are working with the auditor-controller … we have bots that are working with property tax, even with legacy applications — with mainframe and all that. We have bots working in the election system … we have bots working in administrative work, scanning the utility bills, and taking off the labor hours of people who literally have to go through 200 or 300 pages of your utility bills and send it to the departments for finance, and getting a reimbursement.”

Daniels lauded the agility of Adnan’s department.

“What L.A. County Internal Services has accomplished to date is absolutely a success story,” he said. “Like many other government agencies, it was facing unprecedented challenges at the start of the pandemic. Majida and her team took action, bringing in the UiPath Business Automation Platform to transform its operations through automation. After realizing the immediate value from its initial automation, they took the initiative further and introduced dozens more automations, turning the Internal Services Department into a center of excellence for other county agencies. It is great to see how the department is continuing to scale and execute on its vision for its automation program.”

Adnan, who was promoted two months ago to division chief for the L.A. County Auditor-Controller’s Office, enjoyed the rollout and the results.

“It’s been a fun journey, you know, and seeing this army grow,” she said. “Just this year, we have doubled the size of our bots; we have now around 50. … We are moving from a regular automation, which is predefined and all that, to a more intelligent automation that has machine learning behind it. We are doing use cases currently with the Board of Supervisors.”

Reflecting on how the pandemic affected government, she said, lessons were learned.

“Everything was very reactive during COVID. … I think 2023 should be a year of reassessing to see how our processes are, how should we do it in a better way. I think another thing that COVID brought was the collaboration piece. … The board has also a very innovative and a creative push to think out of the box, think differently, be a data-driven organization. One of the board’s goals and initiatives is to understand tomorrow’s service now, right? So that’s what we’re doing.”

Adnan said the department hasn’t come up with a cost recovery formula yet, “because cost recovery wasn’t the priority at that point,” she said. “It was more about bringing the value to the county.”

Daniels offered a takeaway for others in government as well as the private sector.

“One of the key lessons of this success story is the importance of gaining executive buy-in from the start,” Daniels said. “Establishing that vision at the outset is critical to sustained success and true transformation, and L.A. County Internal Services is proof of that. It also demonstrates how wide the impact can be when you establish a center of excellence, which centralizes how automations are developed and how you can bring the value of automation to others in the organization. In a relatively short time, the impact of automation will multiply and have an outsized positive outcome on the entire organization.”
Dennis Noone is Executive Editor of Industry Insider. He is a career journalist, having worked as a reporter and editor at small-town newspapers and major metropolitan dailies in California, Nevada, Texas and Virginia, including as an editor with USA Today in Washington, D.C.