We're thinking about Robots

When's the last time you used a paper map?

It's been a while, hasn't it? Allowing our phones to do the navigating is letting us spend our time and energy focusing on more important things.

Here at FIT, we're thinking about – and working on – projects that apply emerging technologies to federal financial management.

We're not doing this because it's trendy and fun (although we admit, it's both), but because it's going to change the way the government gets work done, saving time and money for everyone.

Last month, McKinsey & Company reported1 that up to 30% of the hours worked globally could be automated by 2030. One of the automation technologies that is generating interest in the federal government is robotic process automation (RPA).

RPA is a tool that helps automate routine tasks, such as copying and pasting information from one system to another. Gartner estimates that by 2020, RPA will cut out 20 percent of non-value-added tasks in finance offices2. Some agencies already have “bots” (short for robots) in production. NASA and the U.S. Army are using bots to help streamline processes and save time —the Army’s bot has already answered over 16 million online recruitment questions from the public.

The federal financial management workforce processes transactions that are essential to operating the economy and the government such as disbursing payments, collecting revenue, and accounting for all the money that is coming and going. Given the routine nature of many of these transactions, financial management is ripe for automation, and specifically RPA.

We wanted to learn more. For a better understanding of its potential, FIT launched a pilot project to explore the extent to which RPA can improve financial processes in the Fiscal Service. The project is at its halfway point, and the potential benefits are already being shown. For example, we have learned that up to 80% of the process steps that are part of the pilot can be automated.

We have more to learn from this pilot project, but our early findings are exciting. Those of us who spend our days performing highly repetitive tasks are seeing ways to focus more on the “value added” part of our jobs and less on the “routine” aspects.

When it comes to bots and other automated approaches, we're thinking big picture. That means ensuring we can scale up (or down) as needed, efficiently and responsibly. We're working on a Fiscal Service-wide approach that will help us organize the deployment of bots and other types of automation tools across the Fiscal Service.

We're also packaging up what we've learned to share with the Federal financial management community so that managers can hit the ground running when it comes to deploying RPA in their agencies.

What areas in federal financial management do you think could be automated? Something to think about in 2018.

1 “When and How to Use Robotic Process Automation in Finance and Accounting,”, Gartner, December 2017

2 “Jobs Lost, Jobs Gained: Workforce Transitions in a Time of Automation”, McKinsey Global Institute, December 2017

Quick References

OMB 16-11, Improving Administrative Functions Through Shared Services

Circular No. A-123 Appendix D, Compliance with the Federal Financial Management Improvement Act of l996

OMB M 13-08, Improving Financial Systems Through Shared Services

OMB M 10-26, Immediate Review of Financial Systems IT Projects

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