Blockchain and RPA get traction in financial management
- By Sara Friedman
- Jul 23, 2018
In 2017, the Treasury Department’s Bureau of the Fiscal Service started experimenting with blockchain and robotic process automation to improve agency practices. Now, the bureau’s Office of Financial Innovation and Transformation is taking both initiatives to the next level.
The blockchain proof of concept initially focused on tracking physical assets such as laptops and cell phones, and as it moves into the pilot stage, the bureau will determine how the cryptography behind blockchain can integrate with Fiscal Service systems.
The bureau is also expanding the kinds of assets a blockchain can help manage to include software licenses and eliminate some of the pain points, said Craig Fischer, FIT’s innovation program manager.
“We want to see if we can register software licenses on a blockchain and track them in a similar manner to physical assets and add another element to the proof of concept,” he told GCN.
He added that bureau officials are looking for examples of how agencies can manage, track and monitor the use of software licenses via blockchain.
“We are trying to figure out if something exists out there where software licenses can be transferred from agency to agency,” said Cassandra Madden, senior management and program analyst at FIT.
“From our proof of concept [for] tracking assets, we learned that there’s still so much that we don’t understand about the technology,” Fischer said. The software licensing project will help officials figure out "how agencies can work together to manage a blockchain application.”
The bureau became interested in improving the management of software licensing in part because 14 out of 24 agencies received an F grade in that area on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s most recent scorecard on Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act implementation.
In an internal eight-month pilot project, FIT developed robotic process automation activities to speed financial processes for entering data, scraping email, reconciling information between systems and validating forms. Those activities will move into the production environment.
“Through the pilot, we were able to improve processing times and accuracy through automation,” Fischer said. “We were able to defer a lot of person-hours working on manual processes to higher-value activities.”
FIT will also partner with the Interior Department and the National Science Foundation on RPA projects that seek to improve financial management at those agencies.
“We chose to start with these two agencies because they met the criteria of the program and they were shovel-ready,” FIT Executive Architect Adam Goldberg told GCN. “These projects were ready to initiate contract negotiations quickly to get the initiatives underway.”
The bureau’s work with Interior and NSF will follow a model similar to the one it used for its own RPA projects. Although the two agencies are responsible for executing the program, all the partners will meet periodically to share lessons learned. The pilot projects are expected to be completed in six to eight months.
Fischer said the bureau’s advisory board is keeping a close eye on other agencies’ RPA projects to see if they might fit with his agency’s mission.
The bureau’s partnerships with Interior and NSF were first reported by Federal News Radio.
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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