By: Mike Carras, Rachelle Lowder, and Edgar Torres
Even with the news that the Department of Defense (DoD) failed its external audit for the fifth year, an emerging trend caught our eye — the push for robotic process automation (RPA) throughout the DoD.
Now, what exactly is RPA?
RPA creates software robots — “bots” for short — that take on human-like abilities to complete defined tasks that historically required human resource allocations to accomplish. Bots can do things such as understand what is on a screen, mimic mouse and keyboard inputs, navigate applications, and extract data. They can be manually initiated, scheduled to commence automatically on a set frequency, or even respond to events. Bots can be designed to assist a human worker or execute a process independently, referred to as attended and unattended RPA, respectively. The critical factor is that bots can complete designated tasks faster, more consistently and with greater accuracy than their human counterparts.
There are many benefits, but to sum it up: RPA offers transformative business results. Utilizing bots reduces manual, repetitive, high-volume or time-intensive work that might be prone to human error, thus freeing up precious human labor hours for more specialized tasks.
By using RPA, workflows become tighter and more streamlined, which translates to more responsive and flexible organizations. RPA can also deliver cost savings, increase organizational productivity and resiliency, and improve compliance and accuracy. There are even human capital benefits, with workforces engaging in more meaningful and less menial tasks.
The DoD has invested heavily in establishing Advana, shorthand for “Advancing Analytics,” with the intention to arm military and civilian leaders with a platform to enhance decision making. While best known for its data analytics & visualization capabilities, Advana also hosts RPA tools such as UiPath, enabling all branches and departments of the DoD to access these technologies in a collaborative environment.
How does RPA apply to finance work?
When discussing the latest audit results, Defense Department Comptroller Mike McCord noted Advana, helped grow automated process use in 2022 with more than half of Advana’s 607 bots performing financial processes. Automating financial transactions provides an ideal introduction to RPA within an organization while providing risk mitigation and process streamlining benefits along the way.
RPA can play a role in nearly every area of an organization, so long as it’s the right role. Not every process can, or should, be automated; yet finance is one area where RPA potential is being tapped.
From a financial perspective, RPA can help with invoice and payment processing, supplier management, and accounting functions. RPA-supported audit work can also be hugely impactful. RPA excels at aggregating large amounts of data for analysis, which is handy for backend audit preparation, and in building and sustaining healthy internal control environments, which manages long-term risk exposure.
As an example, the Navy recently deployed an attended Defense Travel System bot, which automatically reconciles Unsubmitted Vouchers reported across seventeen budget submitting offices (BSOs). It essentially zeros out travel vouchers older than 45 days and reallocates those funds back to the general ledger.
Why do financial RPA processes matter?
Take the Defense Travel System bot example above: This bot is performing a simple enough task, and while it may not seem like a groundbreaking ask, its potential impact is sizable.
First, consider the strategic implications. This bot supports departmental remediation efforts spelled out in a Notice of Finding and Recommendations (NFR) on insufficient monitoring of unsubmitted travel vouchers. This is a central action in achieving compliance with voucher submission mandates.
But more than that, it drastically influences how this process works within the Department. The Navy has seen a reduction of 87% in processing time needed, an annual time savings of 755 hours across 17 BSOs, and a cleared backlog of more than 3,000 unsubmitted vouchers for a total of $2 million returned to the general ledger. And these results were achieved in less than a year of use.
Ultimately, the DoD is becoming more comfortable with automation, and therefore, RPA use is becoming more commonplace. The opportunities for utilizing RPA in other areas of the DoD are extensive, and we expect that proficiency in these tools will soon be critical to remain competitive — both in the financial sector and beyond.
Ready to discuss how RPA can help ignite your digital transformation? Contact our expert team today.
Michael Carras is a Principal for Ignite Digital Services and leads its RPA Center of Excellence, implementing automation initiatives on behalf of national security clients.
Rachelle Lowder is a Senior Consultant for Ignite Digital Services specializing in audit and financial management within the DoN.
Edgar Torres is a Senior Consultant for Ignite Digital Services specializing in data and digital transformation within the DoN.