Mar 24 2021

DLA Continues to Gain Efficiencies via RPA Technology

The Defense Logistics Agency has been evolving its use of robotic process automation tools to aid its mission.

The Defense Logistics Agency has been a pioneer in government use of robotic process automation technology to make its operations more efficient. The coronavirus pandemic accelerated those efforts, and the DLA is now advancing how it is using RPA to become even more efficient.

The DLA serves as “one robust supply chain from the nation’s suppliers to the war fighters,” says Frank Wood, a supervisory IT program manager at the DLA who manages the agency’s RPA program. The DLA has been no different than other elements of the country’s supply chain amid the pandemic, seeing large spikes in activity and transactions at times, especially early on in the pandemic. RPA tools helped the agency manage those spikes.

The DLA currently has 111 automations in process, and 92 of them do not require human interaction, according to Wood. Although the number of hours of labor RPA saves the DLA is variable, currently the agency is on a path to get 122,000 hours back for its mission via RPA, with another automation that is in the works potentially able to save 78,000 hours all on its own, Wood says.

“Our program number will change as soon as we get that thing into production in the next several weeks,” he says. “It’s a variable number, but we think it’s a good, sizable one.”

RPA Aids DLA Acquisition and Much More

RPA has proven especially useful during the pandemic. The DLA’s acquisitions team currently receives hundreds of notifications for what are known as “post-award requests,” or electronic requests for administrative action or information on a contract award.

Those include supplier notes, comments and other information that needs to be reported to supply chain leaders for review and then provided to contract support personnel.

“Gathering all of that stuff manually in the volumes that you see under a pandemic condition, you can’t get there from here, but the bots actually enable that,” Wood says. “It’s a bot doing that sort of workflow that helped close the gap and ensure delivery in spite of the spikes.”

The DLA started its RPA program in April 2018, and in the roughly three years since, the program has evolved a great deal, Wood says. RPA bots help with a wide range of tasks.

That includes reconciliation, or processes of comparing data from multiple systems to look for discrepancies and errors. Another is transaction processing, or updating sales orders and invoices. Yet another is compliance, such as responding to Freedom of Information Act requests. RPA also helps the DLA generate cyclical reports that need to be updated in very mandated ways.

Additionally, RPA helps with data extraction — collecting it from multiple sources, persisting the data and then taking an action that adds value to the data, Wood says.

RPA also helps with audit support, Wood says, which happens annually. “If you have information systems touching finance systems, that’s very auditable stuff,” he says. “So, you need to provide evidentiary matter at the request of the auditors. When things are manual, you’re stopping your day job — which, quite frankly, is supporting our war fighters.” RPA bots grab that evidentiary matter quickly and deliver it to auditors.

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How the DLA Is Evolving Its Use of RPA

RPA is also growing more complex within the DLA. Now, the RPA program is working with process managers to identify “border processes” or leading and trailing processes so that the agency can start “chaining processes end to end and increasing the sophistication and complexity of our particular automations,” Wood says.

122,000 hours

The amount of time the DLA is recouping thanks to RPA technology

Source: Defense Logistics Agency

As that is happening, the DLA is taking advantage of workflow improvements, Wood says. That involves using technology to eliminate steps in processes, as opposed to mimicking an existing process with an RPA bot.

The DLA has also created an internal steering committee of process owners and representatives from different DLA components, who are working to ensure that the RPA strategy is aligned to the work the RPA program ends up doing, Wood says.

“The backlog of use cases that are requested is analyzed, feasibility is checked and then prioritized by the steering committee,” he says. “That’s where the strategy meets the actual work being performed.”

Still, the DLA is also looking to create a federated model that allows for DLA components to create and fund automations on their own timelines, and in some cases using their own government-citizen developers, according to Wood.

“That’s another evolution in terms of scaling and extending our governance, while enabling people to grow on their own particular support and command strategy,” he says.

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