The Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS’s) Office of the Chief Financial Officer (OCFO) supports the Department’s missions by securing and protecting resources for DHS. To better accomplish our mission, OCFO is pushing the envelope in developing new, innovative ways to process, aggregate, analyze, share, and collect data to make better informed decisions.
In December 2020, a team working within the Financial Operations (FO) Division at OCFO realized there were several manual activities that could be easily automated. Robotic Process Automation (RPA), also known as “bots,” can be used to automate redundant, manual tasks performed by staff. FO started small, with just one automation, allowing them to save a couple hundred hours per year by taking one person’s job that included scanning, aggregating, and analyzing multiple spreadsheets full of data from different sources and streamlining it. Now with the push of a button, the bot performs these functions – scans the documents, validates the information, and consolidates it into one location. This allows individuals to spend more time actually analyzing data and turning it into useful information that can be shared to inform leadership and future decisions. Furthermore, it saves DHS time and money, and employees now have more time available to work on other projects, building skills that are beneficial to them and their role. CFO’s most recent bot was in support of the Financial Management Division (FMD). The bot connects directly to CitiManager and emails all travel cardholders in DHS with an outstanding balance, helping FMD better manage the Travel Card Policy. This automation sent 3,008 emails in 41 minutes, compared to an estimated 2,000 hours if performed manually per year.
FO, building on previous success with bots such as the one above, then created the Innovation Hub. The Hub houses the DHS OCFO Innovation Strategic Plan, an intake form, the OCFO Bot Library – centralizing automation use cases, and a link to the RPA Center of Excellence’s process Intake Form. “Our intention is to open the door to Component CFOs or anyone involved in the process that just wants to get out there and start. And if they have any questions, we are here for them as a guide and resource,” said Randy Toris, Director of Financial Operations.
After the intake form is completed and submitted to the Innovation Hub, FO’s process begins (pictured below). The intake form collects documentation of approvals from Privacy, OCIO Systems, and RM&A. They first assess the current processes before analyzing root causes and determines if the process is a good candidate for automation.
After success internally, Toris and his team wanted to make RPA and their services available to more groups within the DHS financial community. In seeking to share their knowledge with others, they established the “Innovation Collaboration Working Group”, made up of individuals nominated by their CFO across the DHS Components or those that are interested in learning and volunteer to join. The group meets monthly, and each Component shares successes or challenges they’re tackling.
Mr. Toris explained, “Across the CFO Community, we have some that are further ahead than others, but this group is designed to allow us to come together, help each other out, and bring us all along. We as a CFO community benefit from each other’s experiences and existing built processes and automations. This is a win-win for all.”
The Innovation Hub and Collaboration Working Group provides a platform to help each other and expand the innovative bot work being done across the Department. To date, this working group has created and documented over 100 RPA innovations that are housed in a library available to those within the working group. While DHS agencies have disparate missions, many challenges within the financial line of business are similar, and by documenting successes of those that have already solved a challenge, others who have similar issues can take that bot code and use it or adapt it to meet their needs instead of starting from scratch. This saves time, money, and burden on DHS staff across the financial community.
If you are interested in learning more and hearing about our specific success stories, please reach out to CFOExternalComms@hq.dhs.gov.