Robotic Process Automation (RPA), as defined by the Federal RPA Community of Practice (CoP) in their Report “The State of Federal RPA” (Version 2.0, Published by the Federal RPA Community of Practice (CoP), December 29, 2021) is “a low to no-cost commercial off-the-shelf technology used to automate repetitive, rules-based tasks.” The Federal RPA CoP notes that RPA does more than reduce staff workload, as “it can increase data quality, reduce human error, increase compliance, strengthen controls environment, and add new services to an organization’s portfolio.“
RPA is more important than ever for financial organizations at every agency, yet organizations’ data and technology strategies are still underperforming. Financial and accounting professionals struggle to complete repetitive tasks, export data from disparate sources to produce required reports, and analyze information in spreadsheets. This takes time away from staff to focus on agency priorities and manual processes are fraught with inconsistencies and errors.
So, how do federal agency Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) and their team close the gap between the use of cutting-edge solutions and the outcomes needed to better serve organizations across the agency while improving program accountability and budget oversight?
Below are three ways that agencies have used automation in the financial management and program management areas and the outcomes achieved, including reducing errors, increasing staff capacity, and improving reporting and analysis, as reported to the Federal RPA CoP in their report “The State of Federal RPA, Version 2.0.”
Cost and Time Avoidance
The CoP reports that current and potential automations have created almost 1.5 million cumulative hours of capacity, as a result of 1,001 RPAs that have been deployed and another 1,000 in the pipeline.
A successful example from the report is from the Army Financial Management and Control (FM&C) in which they reported automations that have the greatest impact are those that resolve financial errors in the accounting system. The Enterprise Unmatched Transaction (eUMT) automation program processed more than 100,000 financial records, saving an estimated 95,000 hours of manual effort.
The organization expanded the eUMT automation program to five commands across the Army, resolving financial errors in Army accounting systems with minimal manual labor and processing 100,000 errors.
In addition to saving manual processing hours, FM&C developed several automations to enable data pipelines from legacy source systems, improving the data analytics needed for making key decisions. When measuring RPA value in programs, FM&C stated in the report “Automating existing manual processes in legacy systems is a good way for RPA to help organizations achieve real cost avoidance.”
Improve Staff Capacity
After identifying over 100 scenarios that could benefit from RPA, the Department of State deployed 35 bots that created 50,000 hours of annual capacity. This upfront planning helped the State Department identify where RPA could be the best solution, as well as finding “the best scenario for your proof-of concept automation.”
RPA was critical in helping the State Department expedite the global evacuation of at-risk employees and their families during the COVID-19 crisis. Bots were used to scrape data from intake forms, to calculate costs, and to show approvals in the financial management system, all of which were critical to expedite the funds needed for these evacuees to reach a safe haven.
Improve Program Accountability and ROI Measurement
One of the key takeaways from the CoP is that RPA tools can enhance accountability and oversight. Yet only 33% of the RPA programs have developed an RPA management dashboard to report on the key drivers of performance and ROI.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) created three dashboards to help leaders make informed decisions by calculating ROI for programs at various stages (intake, development and production). Key to the agency’s success was working closely with subject matter experts to pull relevant data and measurements. In addition, they used Tableau to make the dashboards easy to use for the various stakeholders to see the data relevant to them.Summary
Federal financial leaders can produce better results, reduce staff time, and ensure better program accountability and budget oversight by implementing RPA tools targeting these areas:
- Repetitive transactions and other data entry tasks
- Data management and reporting
- Data analysis
The key is to identify the right areas and data sources, implement a pilot program first, and most importantly, partner with a company that has the financial management and federal reporting knowledge AND the technical expertise to implement RPA bots to help your organization achieve a positive ROI from the pilot investment and successfully expand automation to other areas quickly.Download The State of Federal RPA report today!.