Before automation comes to the battlefield, it will come to the back office.

AFWERX, the Air Force’s internal catalyst for incorporating innovation from industry and other places outside the Pentagon, announced March 9 the award of a contract for the next generation of business process workflow automation.

The work to be automated is less sortie planning, more data entry. Specifically, the goal is to automate the processing of forms that have to be entered, validated, and approved manually, freeing up humans to do work that requires human input.

That won’t remove humans from the data entry process entirely; instead, their time will be devoted to the cases that need a second look, and as planned the automation tools will provide information and recommendations to aid humans in making the determinations the computers cannot.

OM Group, which received the contract, wants to use mechanical precision to limit the amount of human error in the process.

“Our DoD clients have handwritten forms and complex approval processes that involve tedious work validating data in multiple legacy systems. It’s manual and prone to error. Those delays cost money and they slow down decision-making for service men and women,” said Sangita Subramanian, OM group vice president and chief operating officer in a release. “I challenged our [Robotics Operations Center] to see how automation can help.”

Efficient data management, mitigating human error while retaining human judgement to catch problems machines themselves cannot solve, is a way to take advantage of the tasks computers do best.

Such business automation is not particularly flashy, but even the tip of the spear is downstream from the bureaucracy of war.

Kelsey Atherton blogs about military technology for C4ISRNET, Fifth Domain, Defense News, and Military Times. He previously wrote for Popular Science, and also created, solicited, and edited content for a group blog on political science fiction and international security.

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