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News | March 10, 2021

DLA leverages robotic automations to empower employees

By J6 Communications

The Defense Logistics Agency’s robotics process automation program is using creative ideas and suggestions from business processes owners at DLA Aviation to better accomplish monotonous, repetitive tasks with unattended bots.

The effort involves citizen developers, an industry phrase for non-technical employees who help build IT solutions despite not having coding or application-building experience. Employees have done this for years through spreadsheets and database tools.

DLA became the first federal organization to develop unattended bots, which execute tasks and interact with systems without human involvement, in 2018. It has since deployed 111 automations, 80% of them unattended but with digital certificates to access websites and systems.

“By working with the DLA Aviation team, we are looking not only to empower the team to build their own automations to meet their goals and timelines, but also to learn what we need to add to the program so that we can expand the capability agencywide next year,” said Frank Wood, DLA Enterprise RPA program manager.

With just a little training, employees in functional communities such as operations, finance or contracting only need an idea for an application for the latest generation of low-code platforms to transform it into a working automation that complies with DLA’s cybersecurity policies.

“The RPA capability is something we have needed for a long time,” said Spencer Shaffer, DLA Aviation Business Process Support deputy director. “It gives us the ability to execute more workload without increasing the size of our workforce.”

Though many tasks at DLA Aviation require employees’ hands-on involvement, some can be accomplished via bots, such as those that process metrics and data sets overnight so they’re ready for a DLA employee at the beginning of the workday, he added.

In 2020, DLA Aviation’s citizen developers completed a curriculum that guides employees step-by-step in building and managing their own software bots. They are currently working to design, build and test three process automations scheduled for delivery in April. 

“Having this capability at the MSC level allows us to control automating MSC priorities without having to compete with priorities at the enterprise level,” Shaffer said.

DLA Aviation uses its local Business Process Management Governance Board to vet RPA ideas and determine if other processes exist to accomplish the intent.

Wood added that IT teams are often stretched thin working on mission-critical projects and keeping the business running smoothly. DLA’s citizen developers are creating a new model in enterprise innovation and developing solutions aligned with DLA’s strategic goals that can be shared across functional areas.