FORT BELVOIR, Virginia –
It’s a good day for Adarryl Roberts when no one talks about his staff and the 194 information technology systems Defense Logistics Agency employees use to conduct daily operations.
“In any large corporation or organization, the goal of IT is for it to just seamlessly happen,” said Roberts, who became DLA Information Operations’ program executive officer in November.
The systems he manages track everything from financial data and stock levels to delivery statuses and even employee training records. Though key elements of his job include keeping up with routine upgrades while developing and testing new systems like the Warehouse Management System, designed to simplify storage and distribution processes, Roberts’ priority is modernization.
“We have a lot of older systems at DLA that are in dire need of modernization, but IT transformation is costly. We’re working with executive leaders to come up with a solid foundation for how we’re going to do that,” he said.
The current focus is on DLA’s enterprise resource planning tool, which consists of several systems like WMS and the Enterprise Business System. It also includes the Federal Logistics Information System, a repository of information for over 7 million items with National Stock Numbers. Applications and infrastructure DLA would use to support new customers like the Department of Veterans Affairs and Defense Health Agency need improvement, too.
Robotics process automation is another area Roberts oversees. Agency leaders hope to use robotic automation to free employees from doing mundane administrative tasks so they can spend more time on analytical thinking and problem solving. DLA has already established itself as the leader among federal agencies by being the first to develop unattended bots that run without human intervention. The agency is also working to incorporate artificial intelligence.
“We’re the first to have unassisted bots, meaning no one has to do oversight. They run on their own 24/7 performing tasks that are mechanical in nature,” he said. “Because of that, we’re a more efficient workforce.”
Bots are being used to compile data for the agency’s audit, and will soon be applied to DLA’s application of the new web-based Government G-Invoicing platform that changes the way federal organizations buy and sell goods or services to one another using interagency agreements.
The online DLA Service Readiness Dashboard, which IT specialists developed in partnership with DLA Logistics Operations officials to provide near real-time reporting on readiness rates for key weapons systems, is another example of what DLA has already accomplished in IT modernization, Roberts said.
“Leaders and employees across the agency look at the dashboard on a daily basis to see where we are and trends in warfighter support. Making that data available and presenting it in a relevant way has been a huge success,” he added. “Our next step is to make it more analytical and scenario-based in nature so it can be used in forecasting and demand planning.”
Roberts’ vision also includes what he admits is an ambitious goal: a single log-in for all DLA systems.
“To access DLA systems today you have to log into each individual system separately. That’s potentially 194 log-ins,” he said. “But we’re trying to develop a platform that allows DLA users to log in once to perform tasks across all of those systems so they don’t have to constantly log back in and out and potentially lose work.”
The effort will take time, he added, and like all IT modernization, involve a culture change.
“While employees are knowledgeable about what we do, we need to do a better job explaining why we do certain things in IT and what the changes are so employees understand the functional impact of what we’re doing,” he continued.
That will mean involving process owners in the infancy stages of IT development.
“The time to get buy-in isn’t when you’re about to deploy a system, but as you develop the idea and design the product. Closely involving the functional community that will ultimately use the system is crucial,” he said.
Continually upgrading existing systems is also vital, Roberts added. Employees may feel updates are distracting and disruptive, but they help protect DLA systems from cyberattacks. Roberts will limit upgrades to those that are necessary for cybersecurity and those that create significant efficiencies. Other upgrades will be part of a modernization plan still being developed.
Roberts came to DLA from the Defense Department’s Business Transformation Agency, which steered modernization of DOD business operations until it was closed in 2011. Before that, he worked in private industry at CACI International, an IT company that caters to government customers.
Though he loves the challenges in IT, the Air Force veteran began his career as a contracting officer with a business degree.
“I’ve been fortunate and blessed in my journey to see all aspects of supporting warfighters, from being one myself to being a contractor supporting warfighters to now being a civilian supporting warfighters,” he said.
The only bad idea employees have about improving DLA’s systems is one they don’t share, he added.
“I’m approachable. I want to hear employees’ thoughts on what we can do better and how we can keep DLA as the premier agency when it comes to IT applications.”