Fiscal Service digital playbook flags workflows ripe for automation

The Bureau of the Fiscal Service is showing federal financial agencies how technology can help them streamline manual processes.

The bureau is releasing a Digital End-to-End Efficiency Playbook that walks agencies through how to identify workflows for automation and select business processes with the most potential to maximize cost savings.

The bureau worked with several agencies to pilot the framework, and Innovation Program Manager Craig Fischer said the playbook is intended to benefit financial agencies governmentwide.

“This is not something that we just want to have in-house in the Fiscal Service. We want to try to find and help people identify those savings opportunities, and find those solutions that really can help achieve their business missions and improve operational efficiency,” Fischer said in an interview.

The foundations for the playbook began in 2017, when the bureau conducted a study looking at the future of financial management.

Cindy Good, a management and program analyst with the bureau’s Office of Financial Innovation and Transformation (FIT), said the study identified automation of core agency processes as the single largest driver of governmentwide savings.

“We all know that digital is here, and it’s not going away. People expect to engage with the government the same way they engage with one another. While we’re doing our best to keep pace, we often have relied largely on business processes that are manual and costly,” Good said.

The playbook looks at automating entire work processes, rather than just a transaction or task that’s part of the process. The playbook contains a set of tools and instructions for agencies to follow, like how to select the business process to maximize cost savings, and how to quickly identify areas that present the greatest opportunities for automation and digitalization.

The playbook provides a solution prioritization matrix that helps agencies evaluate and prioritize projects based on cost and impact. Through these methods, agencies plot potential solutions into four quadrants — highest and lowest cost, as well as highest and lowest value.

Last year, the bureau used this matrix process to look at its temporary duty travel process.

Good said the bureau identified a pain point for employees in the funds availability checks between the travel and financial system. Using this matrix, the bureau identified seven possible solutions, five of which would have applied new technology. In the end, the bureau went with a funds distribution policy solution, the lowest cost solution that delivered an immediate impact.

“The idea here mainly is we want to encourage you first to consider those no-or-low-tech solutions, before automatically jumping into an emerging technology that can bring in those higher costs and risks,” Good said.

Emerging tech, however, does have a role to play at the bureau. Good said FIT is looking at artificial intelligence and machine learning to analyze fraud detection patterns in tax collecting, and assessing whether AI algorithms can automate the process of creating Treasury warrants. She said the bureau is also looking to roll out chatbots.

“People want a digital experience and we need to meet those customer expectations. We need to meet those customers where they are, and a lot of that is through automation,” Fischer said.

In terms of robotic process automation, Good said the bureau has deployed over 70 bots, and is looking at how bots can streamline operations and customer interactions.

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