Enlisting bots and blockchain for financial management
- By Sara Friedman
- Feb 22, 2018
As the hub for financial management services, the Treasury Department's Bureau of the Fiscal Service helps 24 agencies with their financial operations -- from payments and debt collection to testing and experimenting with new forms of technology that help can help the federal financial community as whole.
In 2017, bureau's Office of Financial Innovation and Transformation began working on blockchain and robotic process automation projects to create efficiencies and strengthen financial controls.
The blockchain project is a proof of concept related to tracking equipment.
When employees join the Bureau of the Fiscal Service, they are given a computer and cell phone that have asset tags attached. The agency inventories these assets every year, which involves traveling out to nine different field offices to scan equipment. There are obvious inefficiencies in the process, FIT Innovation Program Manager Craig Fischer said.
“When assets change hands and people leave," field office staff update the database with changes, Fischer told GCN. However, when we "scan each of the cell phones and computers for the annual inventory, we find that we are inaccurate.”
A blockchain application could monitor government devices on a daily basis.
“It takes people out of the equation [and] relies on software to do a lot of the things that we are having people do today,” Fischer said. “One of those things is real-time reporting where we could link this information to a dashboard and see in real time the state of our inventory.”
FIT is working with Deloitte on a proof of concept expected to be completed this month that would help FIT understanding of how blockchain technology could help meet the Bureau of the Fiscal Service’s needs. FIT adopted the "proof of authority" model, where transactions and blocks are validated not by mining, but by a certain number of validators are allowed to add to the chain.
FIT is also experimenting with robotic process automation for “highly repetitive manual processes” such as populating forms by copying and pasting information from different financial management systems. Fischer said FIT is halfway through an RPA pilot and is testing various ways that the use of software “can speed up and streamline” various processes.
As both of the projects developed, FIT recognized the need to have the agency’s IT professionals in discussions with program managers.
“Our IT folks were able to identify security concerns around both of these projects that resulted in major adjustments,” Fischer said. “We also learned that we needed to map out our processes first so we could understand if blockchain or RPA could help us at all.”
Blockchain also presented other unforeseen complications. “The big takeaway from the technology stack is that this is not as easy as just downloading some software,” he said. “There are a lot of choices and criteria to talk through to determine what is right for your use case.”
Sara Friedman is a reporter/producer for GCN, covering cloud, cybersecurity and a wide range of other public-sector IT topics.
Before joining GCN, Friedman was a reporter for Gambling Compliance, where she covered state issues related to casinos, lotteries and fantasy sports. She has also written for Communications Daily and Washington Internet Daily on state telecom and cloud computing. Friedman is a graduate of Ithaca College, where she studied journalism, politics and international communications.
Friedman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @SaraEFriedman.
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