Jeff Lau, FAS Region 2 Regional Commissioner, is the Executive Sponsor of FAS’s Process Automation Center. Hear how RPA is helping FAS meet its strategic goals and freeing up the FAS Workforce to accomplish higher value work.
For more information about all the great training opportunities that GSA has to offer, please visit: www.gsa.gov/events
>> Welcome to GSA FAS Focus, a look at what is happening throughout GSA's Federal Acquisition Service. In this episode, GSA's FAS Region 2 Regional Commissioner Jeff Lau and the newly named executive sponsor of the FAS process automation center joins us to talk about that new automation hub as well as robotic processed automation and how it fits in the agency's overall strategy. We'll also rundown some of the webinars and CLP opportunities coming up in the next couple of weeks and we will also put a few fascinating facts in FAS Focus. Welcome back to FAS Focus, a look at what is happening throughout GSA's Federal Acquisition Service. I'm Joan Kornblith and in just a few minutes, I'll be talking with Jeff Lau, GSA's FAS Region 2 Regional Commissioner and the executive sponsor of the FAS process automation center, but first, you know there is always something new happening with GSA's Multiple Award Schedule, so if you've got questions about the latest MAS updates or you just need a simple clarification of an abbreviation that you see popping up in a solicitation, you can get your questions answered during the next MAS office hours on Thursday, February 18th. What am I talking about? Well, GSA's monthly MAS office hours are your chance to engage with MAS experts and policy makers for a live Ask Me Anything that is also taped. That means you can gain some new knowledge even if you can't make the live broadcast. The next MAS office hour session is scheduled for 2 p.m. Eastern, that is 1 Central, 12 Mountain, 11 Pacific, on Thursday, February 18th. What, you're working from Maui until May? Well, that's okay. The AMA gets underway at 9. Wherever you are, just remember to visit the events section of gsa.gov at www.gsa.gov/events to learn more and register for the next MAS office hours on February 18th. Welcome back to FAS Focus, a look at what's happening in and around GSA's Federal Acquisition Service. I'm Joan Kornblith. Joining me now is self-described bot enthusiast Jeff Lau, FAS Region 2 Regional Commissioner and executive sponsor of FAS's new process automation center. Thanks for much for joining us today, Jeff. Can you start things off by telling us a little bit about the new process automation center, like what's it all about? >> Sure, Joan. I'd be happy to talk about it. So the FAS process automation center is tied strategically to the broader FAS initiatives. Over the last several years, there's been numerous projects across the FAS enterprise focus on varied aspects of automation, and especially robotic process automation, which we've been leading out of Region 2. We're excited to kind of pull all that together and really find synergies and leverage the expertise across the organization to ensure there's no duplication, and really find efficiencies to really greatest impact the FAS organization. >> Okay. So now it's time to get down to basics, robotic process automation. I know what RPA isn't. It isn't robots coming in to take people's jobs away, but what does RPA mean for GSA, exactly? How is it being used? >> RPA is actually being leveraged across GSA. There is a large initiative led out of the OCFO as the RPA program of GSA's RPA program, which in FAS robotic process automation as a technology to streamline a lot of the acquisition and procurement-related work that we do on a daily basis. What it's great at focusing on is really the kind of repetitive, mundane type work that requires maybe pulling data from one sheet into another, or cutting and pasting information, or pulling information from different government websites or internal systems and dropping it into templates and documents that are leveraged by the workforce. A great example of that is the Truman automation. That was the first FAS automation focused on supporting the acquisition workforce in the Multiple Award Schedules program, and what it does is actually pull data from a vendor's new offer as well as from government websites, drops it into policy-approved templates that can be leveraged by the acquisition workforce. In FY '20 alone, we saved over 4,000 hours in labor by having the automation prepopulate some of these documentations for dissemination to the workforce. >> How many hours? >> Over 4,000 hours. >> Wow. So it's a really great time saving measure. >> Absolutely. When you -- I started my career as an 1102 actually in the schedules program and one of the things that I realized back then was I was spending a lot of time [inaudible] from one document, retyping it or cutting and pasting it into another template or a form. That time adds up and, you know, the 4,000 hours saved will allow the workforce to do a lot of the more higher critical thinking type work, contract negotiations, market research, you know, engagement with the industry partners, to really get a more robust offering approved. >> I'm Joan Kornblith. You're listening to GSA FAS Focus. If you've got questions about anything you're hearing today, or someone you'd like to hear featured on the program, send us a note. The email address is email@example.com. That is firstname.lastname@example.org. We're talking with Jeff Lau, GSA's Region 2 Federal Acquisition Service Regional Commissioner and executive sponsor of GSA's new process automation center. If you're a regular listener to this program, you'll know that this is the time when I pull out our kind of cloudy crystal ball and ask the guest to polish it up a bit and give me a look ahead. Where is RPA, robotic process automation, headed at GSA, Jeff? >> I view RPA as a bridge, or even a really supersized strong Band-Aid to help bridge the gap from where we want to be from a systems and technology standpoint to the future. There's a lot of major FAS-wide initiatives such as catalog management and the CALM effort to standardize our acquisitions systems. That's the future, and those are initiatives that will take several years before we actually achieve the vision and goals of those initiatives. I view RPA as an opportunity to help alleviate and help support the workforce from a systems and technology perspective until we can reach those ultimately end goals. I think if we are still talking about the Truman automation three to five years from now, that means we would have done a disservice to the workforce. These are merely systems and automations to help bridge the gap until the larger initiatives are completed. >> How did you get interested in robotic process? >> It's funny. I'm actually not a technology guy. Like I said earlier, I started off my career as an 1102. I was always interested in process improvement, Lean Six Sigma, Kaizen, those type of things, and Tony Frieder, who's my Deputy up in New York, he actually had a technology background and one day, we were talking and I was telling him hey, when we get some time, would love to do some process improvement in the region, and he shared an article with me about RPA and how the banking industry was actually leveraging it, and we started having some dialogue and some conversation and we realized we had something really interesting, you know, in the palm of our hands, and fast forward about, you know, two months later, you know, I had the idea of hey, let's try automating parts of what the 1102s do for the Multiple Awards Schedule program. Tony downloaded a free trial version of RPA software on his desktop, his personal computer, and we started running scenarios, and after about 30 hours or so of programming, we actually had two functioning automations that are the foundation of what Truman is today. >> So where else do you think that it can be used at GSA, maybe some offices that we don't think of as being, you know, processible? >> Yeah, well, when you [inaudible] by almost every CXO organization today. A lot of that work is being led by the OCFO GSA RPA program. I really think from a FAS perspective, you know, we have acquisition in our name. I think that's where you can get the most value add, and really have the greatest impact across the enterprise. There's also opportunities to do some non-traditional acquisition-related functions within the organization. I think what's key is what is highly repeatable? What's done by more than a handful of people? When you can focus on those type of initiative or those types of process, that's where you're going [inaudible] type value adds from doing the automations that are really impactful, and that's what we should be looking for. Hey, what's the best automations for the greater good versus an individual? >> So now when you're at home for example or walking down the street, do you look at things with different eyes and say boy, that's something that could be automated? >> That, I mean, all the time. Every time I -- [inaudible] would look at, you know, how a certain business was actually doing the processing of creating and making your lunch, and I would be like, ooh, that actually needs to be closer to the person chopping the salad or you know, you need a certain type of person to do this type of work. That's how my brain operates. It's always, you know, process improvement focused. It's almost kind of fun and becomes a game, but you know, now that I'm at home, I'd love to create a automation that can actually take care of my three kids and help them get on to their Zoom sessions, but you know, I'll have to do that on my own spare time. >> I'm Joan Kornblith. You're listening to FAS Focus from the U.S. General Services Administration. I'm talking to Jeff Lau, GSA's Region 2 Federal Acquisition Service Regional Commissioner and executive sponsor of GSA's new process automation center. We've been talking about RPA, robotic process automation and how it's being used at GSA. I know we have just a few minutes left. Let's get back to Truman for a minute. How are you measuring the success of that project? >> As some quick backstory -- >> Okay. >> -- when we first created Truman, it's actually named after President Truman who was the founder of GSA and helped establish it over 70 years ago, and we thought, what could possibly be a better name for the first automation in GSA and FAS than naming it after the President that founded the agency? So that's how Truman actually got its name. For Truman, you know, we strategically focused on that because we knew that there was a much bigger play at hand, and that's the schedules consolidation effort that Stephanie Shutt from the MAS PMO has been leading over the last two plus years, and with any kind of streamlining and standardization, that's ripe for automation. That we're using different types of templates to do new offer reviews, being streamlined into one. That drives efficiencies. That drives effectiveness. Those are great opportunities for automation. We're continuing to do enhancements to Truman. We expect to have a final proposal revision templates included as part of those deliverables in early '22 and are currently surveying the workforce to get more ideas on hey, what works, what doesn't work, what would you like to see? So right now, you know, as long as we can continue providing those outputs on a daily basis, continue getting them in the hands and to the acquisition workforce so that can more quickly do reviews of new offers, that's the end goal, just to make the life of an 1102 workforce a little bit easier and then looking to expand out to touch other areas of FAS. >> So easy and efficient, that's Truman. >> Absolutely. >> Well, thanks so much, Jeff. If you've got any questions for Jeff Lau, or would like to learn more about Truman or any of the programs that we've been talking about, drop us a line. The address is email@example.com. Coming up, news of another great training opportunity and some fascinating FAS facts. I'm Joan Kornblith and you are listening to GSA FAS Focus. Welcome back to FAS Focus. A look at what is happening throughout GSA's Federal Acquisition Service. I'm Joan Kornblith, joined now by Max Stempora with news of another great training opportunity for you. Hi, Max. >> Hey, Joan. Thanks. So RFIs or request for information, they're a part of how we dialogue with industry. I've heard from some of our partners that they can sometimes by daunting or confusing maybe, especially when they're just getting started. I am pleased to see that we've got a session coming up on February 23rd that's dedicated to explaining more about RFIs and how they can be a useful tool for businesses of all sizes. Our market research as a service or M-RAS team is putting this one on. >> M-RAS sounds like a band from the '80s. >> Yes, it does. >> Any idea of what's on tap with the M-RAS people? >> M-RAS is calling this training Making Market Research Easy, Enhancing Industry Partnerships. And they say that attendees will walk away with a better understanding of why GSA collects industry responses and how the data collected shapes future purchasing decisions. >> So it looks like what they're going to do is give people some insight into how to respond to GSA's RFIs and maybe hand out some tips and tricks. The experts are going to be there to give you ideas into how to best fill out all those important surveys, because really, that's what an RFI is. It's a fancy survey. >> That sounds absolutely right, Joan. And it really is useful for us at GSA, so if you can attend the training, I hope you do. >> Okay. I see that registration info is now up on the GSA Events page. Just go to gsa.gov. Scroll down to the events section to find out more. The data again, February 23rd. The title, Making Market Research Easy, Enhancing Industry Partnerships and much easier to go there and read about it than for us to talk about it. I'm Joan Kornblith. Coming up on FAS Focus, a few fascinating FAS facts, and try to say that five times fast or even once. Welcome back to GSA FAS Focus. I'm Joan Kornblith, and we are almost out of time for today. I did want to leave you with a few fascinating FAS facts this week about GSA's COVID response. Now Max, I am sure that you have heard about GSA sourcing some really hard to get supplies during the pandemic, hand sanitizer for example. Through January 18th of 2021, and those are the most recent numbers we have, FAS has sourced 473,762 gallons of the stuff. That is a lot of hand sanitizer. That is enough to fill and stack soda cans 360 miles high. Of course, if you stood those soda cans on their sides, they'd stretch from Washington D.C. to Akron, Ohio, or they'd stack from Washington D.C. to Worcester, Massachusetts if you'd rather head in that direction. Of course, I think you would probably be cited for something if you stacked a bunch of soda cans 462 miles, don't you think? >> I think so. I think somebody'd tell us you were littering on the highway or something. >> Yeah, yeah. Well, that is not keeping things clean but unless of course you're using the sanitizer to clean your hands, but while we are on the subject of keeping things clean, disinfectant and cleaning solutions, 700,221 gallons has been sourced by GSA and let's put that into some kind of recognizable context, maybe pour it into an Olympic-size swimming pool. So they hold 660,000 gallons of liquid. You would definitely be able to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool with all the disinfectant and cleaning solution that GSA has sourced, but no diving because who would want to swim in a swimming pool full of cleaning solution? >> Ugh. Can you -- >> Yeah. >> Can you imagine the smell coming out of there? >> Yes. I mean, I'm not sure I'd even want to sit and read by a pool full of cleaning solution, but you wouldn't have to worry about having to clean that pool for a long time. >> No, absolutely not, and I think you would get clean just from being near it. >> I think so. I think so. Well, okay, we have time for one more thing. Since we have started keeping stats on these things since last March, GSA has procured more than 72.8 million individual cleaning wipes and I'm told if you laid those cleaning wipes down end to end, those 72.8 million cleaning wipes would cover 7,640 miles, and since we're into travel on the show, that's as far as a round-trip flight from D.C. to Oslo, Norway and back, and you'd probably have a couple of cleaning wipes left over to clear off the tray table in front of you on the airplane. Well thankfully, those are all the fascinating FAS facts I have for you today. Don't forget, if there is anything else FAS related that you would like to learn about or somebody you'd like to hear featured on GSA FAS focus, let me know. Send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org. That is email@example.com. I'm Joan Kornblith. I put the words together. Max Stempora is the producer with assistance from Dominee Ardas [phonetic]. Thank you to Jeff Lau for joining us in the studio this week. FAS Focus is a production of the U.S. General Services Administration's Office of Strategic Communication.