WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Defense’s logistics arm leads the federal government in deployment of robotic process automation tools, according to a new report from the federal RPA community of practice.

In the last two years, the Defense Logistics Agency, the DoD’s combat logistics support agency, has deployed 96 robotic process automation automations, tools that automate basic tasks to save time, the report states.

According to the report, DLA’s RPA tools have completed 200,000 hours of annualized work. DLA doesn’t track hours saved, but rather hours contributed, the report notes. Employees who did work that has been automated now handle more complex tasks, the report notes.

“It’s not the job that goes away, it’s the task that goes away,” said Jim Walker, federal CTO for UiPath, an RPA vendor of the DLA.

The agency has automated parts of the employee onboarding process, demand planning, coding of materials and the enterprise business system, according to a 2018 press release. The RPA program at DLA assists the whole logistics enterprise, providing automated tools to each of the agency’s major subordinate commands and supply chain. More than 90 percent of the automations are “unattended,” or can be completed without human involvement, the report added.

The DLA platform is “extremely secure,” Walker said, because its bots use credentials similar to those of a common access card that DoD employees use to log in.

“It’s very easy to audit the work because you know that the bot had that credential when it went to work,” Walker said.

The Defense Logistics Agency’s push on robotic process automation stems from a cross-agency priority goal in the President’s Management Agenda, a White House document that lays out information technology priorities of the current administration. CAP goal 6 calls on agencies to shift from low-value to high-value work using automation, artificial intelligence and intelligent automation.

“RPA solutions is strong and growing,” said GSA Chief Financial Officer Gerard Badorrek, co-lead of the CAP goal 6, in the report’s introduction. “Automations that are creating more annualized capacity are being deployed in less time. Programs are starting to automate agencywide business processes across functional organizations.”

According to the report, the DLA’s RPA program office plans to deploy intelligent automation, which includes artificial intelligence tools, and complete pilots during the first quarter of fiscal 2021.

“Their program office is evaluating product offerings that include document understanding, which will introduce AI and ML through the use of [optical character recognition] and model driven form/data processing,” the report notes.

The success of RPA at the Defense Logistics Agency is due to five best practices, according to the report. The DLA first established four foundational elements to grow its RPA program: discovery, enablement, delivery and operations. It also integrated its continuous process improvement initiative with its business transformation office to “ensure processes are optimized before automating.” It also set up a center of excellence model, provide customer service functions and focused on exploring new technologies that could expand their use of RPA in the future.

Andrew Eversden covers all things defense technology for C4ISRNET. He previously reported on federal IT and cybersecurity for Federal Times and Fifth Domain, and worked as a congressional reporting fellow for the Texas Tribune. He was also a Washington intern for the Durango Herald. Andrew is a graduate of American University.

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