On April24 a Defense Information Systems Agency employee pulled two supporting documents in 15 minutes in preparation for the 2018 financial audit. In the same 15 minutes, a digital robot competing against the human pulled 150.

The competition took place during a 12-week pilot program, where DISA used robotic process automation (RPA) software to mimic the ability of humans in carrying out a task, in this case preparation for the audit.

“The results quieted almost all the skepticism,” said Priscilla Applegate, an accountant and one of the leaders of the pilot program at DISA. “We were thrilled with the result.”

The pilot, which cost $250,000, used the robot to work on typically human-managed tasks such as compiling and organizing data.

The DISA team preparing for the audit outlined four tasks for the robot to complete: populate SharePoint with general fund property, plant and equipment asset supporting documents; populate SharePoint with working capital funds accounts receivable documents; consolidate SharePoint folders; and populate the general fund financial management workbook.

“We were hopeful using RPA we could free humans from the task of compiling and organizing the data so they could focus on analyzing the data,” Applegate said.

So far, the pilot program has been determined a success.

“I think the man-hours saved by the robot, as well as its accuracy, justified the cost,” said Richard Swonger, the Accounting and Readiness Division supervisory accountant.

The pilot program’s success could impact business processes and help meet DoD and war fighter needs for support in strategic resourcing.

“The pilot should help us establish a path forward to using bots in a secure way in other areas of the agency,” said Roger Greenwell, a risk management executive for DISA.