Citizen developers build bots to boost efficiencies in J6 processes

  • Published
  • By J6 Communications

Specially-trained citizen developers in DLA Information Operations are building software bots to perform manual repetitive processes.

“Bots increase workforce agility and manpower, reduce the number of hours employees spend on repetitive tasks, and free up time for more complex analytical work,” said Jeff Charlesworth, director of Strategic IT Business Operations. Charlesworth and his team of citizen developers are building the bots to automate J6 processes.  

The team was formed in November 2020 and has tackled everything from travel card training to time and attendance reports. They focus on manual tasks that are prone to user mistakes.

“Bots are highly accurate in performing tasks, and consistently produce high quality products,” said Sandra Hines, management analyst. “They also work much longer hours than humans because they don’t get tired or distracted.”

Team members see the bots as an opportunity to save time and money while making room for more challenging work.

“Think of all the boring, monotonous tasks we must all do on a regular basis,” said Brian Williams, program analyst. “These are processes that we do every day, every couple of days, or maybe even once a week. If a bot can take care of a task that normally takes you an hour a week to complete, then that bot has saved you, and DLA, 52 hours a year.”

The team built several bots to assist the J6 workforce. The Government Travel Charge Card and Defense Travel System Approving Official is an annual training reminder bot. It runs in concert with a database containing names, email addresses, user roles, training expiration dates and links to training documents.

“This bot runs once a month to notify J6 employees when their required training for GTCC or DTS Approving Official has expired or is coming due,” said Donna Kaczmarek, supervisory management analyst. “The bot sends up to 165 emails in a single day, saving us a lot of time, but the biggest benefit is the bot helps us stay compliant with the Joint Travel Regulation and DLA travel audit policy.”

Kaczmarek noted that DLA Information Operations underwent its annual Travel Compliance Audit on January 11, and for the first time ever, was 100 percent compliant for GTCC and AO training requirements.

Another bot that was used extensively throughout the pandemic is the J6 Daily Personnel Status Report. This bot pulled time and attendance data from the Employee Activity Guide for Labor Entry and married it with information in a separate database to generate several daily reports.

“Although it is an attended bot, which means I did have to monitor it, it did all of the redundant work for me,” Hines said. “The bot saved 40 minutes in processing time daily, or 173 hours per year.”

The daily status reports were an integral part of the J6 COVID-19 response because they indicated which employees were not accounted for, the number of personnel onsite, and the reentry phases by geolocation for COVID-19 reporting.

A Financial Report bot is currently in the design phase. The Program Executive Office and the Strategic Investments reporting team will use an unattended bot to handle data refreshes in the PEO budget requirements portal. The bot will download an extract twice a week from the J6 Requirement Tracker. The extract will be saved in a shared folder where it will be used to refresh the data in the budget portal. Williams expects the bot, along with associated process changes, to save the team about 10 hours a week.

To create these bots, Charlesworth’s team uses the no-code, drag-and-drop version of the DLA Robotic Process Automation platform development client, which provides a friendly interface as well as pre-designed templates and scenarios. The team will be building on these skills by working with the Enterprise RPA team to transition to the low-code version of the development client going forward.

“We are off to a successful start in our bot program,” said Charlesworth. “As our program grows, I anticipate that we will automate many more processes to save time and refocus our efforts on more complex tasks. In the end, this all means increased ability to support the warfighter.”

DLA’s Enterprise RPA team started implementing software bots in 2018 to automate processes originally performed by humans. Automation provides a logical auditable framework for decision making, and the bots can complete tasks across multiple applications or process areas within a single automation.

“The widespread application and potential benefit of this technology for DLA is extraordinary, given the large number of business processes that can be automated with RPA,” said Frank Wood, program manager of DLA’s Enterprise RPA Program.