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News | Dec. 4, 2018

The bots are coming: Robotic process automation saves DLA time, money

By Sara Moore, DLA Information Operations

We’re all familiar with science fiction movies that imagine a future with robots integrated into normal society, but while that technology may not be widespread, invisible software “bots” are already making an impact on business efficiency and accuracy. The Defense Logistics Agency is a leader in the bot movement, using robotic process automation to eliminate repetitive, manual tasks and benefit the agency.


Robotic process automation is an emerging software technology in which computer bots mimic human actions to accomplish computer-based activities, enabling employees to spend more time on higher value tasks. RPA provides the capability to automate manual, structured, repetitive processes that follow a set of established rules – like data entry, transaction processing, or communication between digital systems.


“The widespread application and potential benefit of this technology for DLA is extraordinary, given the large number of business processes that can be automated with RPA,” said John Lockwood, RPA program manager in DLA Information Operations. “From imaging laptops to configuring servers, from onboarding employees to password resets, any activity that is structured work with well-defined business rules is a potential candidate for RPA.”


DLA Information Operations is implementing RPA capabilities in DLA, starting with some high-volume, manual processes in a variety of business areas, Lockwood said. Recent successes include the automation of portions of the employee onboarding process, with the potential to save hundreds of working days and more than $2 million annually for the agency, and automation of part of the Enterprise Business System Material Master System. Additional processes in work are automating the evidentiary matter gathering, automating form DD-1425 approvals, automating NATO Commercial and Government Entity codes and automating the fixing of IDOC errors. RPA is also instrumental in working with DLA Logistics Operations on improving the agency’s demand planning efforts.


The RPA team has a goal of automating over 50 business processes per year, Lockwood said, so they are looking for candidate processes from across the agency. Ideal processes are those that can save 2,000 man hours or more per year through automation, but they are open to any process that will improve audit readiness or expand DLA capability.


RPA has many benefits for the agency, Lockwood said, including dramatic improvements in accuracy, cycle time, and productivity in transactional processing. Bots (or digital workers) work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, without breaks, vacations, or sick days, and they don’t require physical infrastructure like desks, computers or phones. In addition, RPA eliminates repetitive tasks for employees, elevating the nature of their work and allowing them to focus on more complex, analytical work. Other benefits include greater task-focused productivity, improved compliance and better standardization and consistency. In addition to all these benefits, RPA improves auditability of processes. All activities of the bot are logged, providing an audit trail that could be used as evidentiary matter.


“We have a great capability here with RPA that will help all of us do our job better,” Lockwood said.


To showcase the initial successes of RPA, DLA Information Operations will host a virtual ribbon-cutting ceremony in December for the processes that have been automated.