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The CIA is using ServiceNow to deliver bots as ‘digital labour’ across the Agency

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez October 9, 2020
ServiceNow is helping the CIA manage a Center of Excellence to deliver bots that are automating tasks and improving efficiency.

Image of the American flag and CIA logo
(Image sourced via CIA website)

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is a civilian foreign intelligence service of the federal government of the United States, officially tasked with gathering, processing, and analyzing national security information from around the world. Its intelligence is provided directly to the President and is used to counter threats to national security.

Whilst the Agency deals in gathering information from dark corners of the world, as an organisation, like most organisations in 2020, it is considering how it can improve its processes and operate more efficiently. Some of this work is being carried out by the CIA's business development and innovation office, which is managed by Pamela Dempsey.

Dempsey was speaking at this week's ServiceNow Now at Work event, where she explained that the CIA is considering the role of ‘digital labour' at the CIA - or what is more commonly known as the use of robotic process automation, or bots.

For all of our coverage from Now at Work take a look at diginomica's dedicated events resource hub here. For a link to the event itself, click here.

The business development and innovation office is using ServiceNow's Knowledge and Service Portal, Demand Management and Platform Run-Time, as well as integrating ServiceNow and UiPath, to deliver digital labour (bots) to customers across the CIA who are looking to automate their processes. ServiceNow is essentially being used to create a Center of Excellence (CoE) to manage the entire process, from initial interest, through to meetings, to managing funds, and even monitoring returns on investment.

Dempsey explained:

We help our customers by giving them process transformation opportunities using a shared service environment. What that really means is we help them leverage technology, improve their business processes, and help them gain efficiencies, improve their relationships with their partners and their business customers. Also it helps them reduce their costs.

When we were looking at our customers, we realised there were numerous opportunities for us to help them automate simple routine tasks and we decided to bring robotic process automation to the agency. And how we leveraged this new technology is through a Center of Excellence.

The role of digital labour

Dempsey and her team made the point of not thinking about the CoE's offering in terms of technology, or bots, but rather using the term ‘digital labour'. She wanted the CIA to think of this CoE as offering a new category to their labour pool, the digital employee, in order to make the most of the real-life employees currently working across the Agency. She said:

As we were setting up this Center of Excellence, we were asking ourselves, what should this mean? The reason it is a ‘digital employee' is that we are automating those routine rules-based tasks that everybody does. We don't want people with a master's degree in finance, with lots of years of experience, coming in and being asked to copy and paste or enter data into enterprise systems for hours at a time. It's not the best use of our most precious resource. So we deliver them bots.

Dempsey also wanted to differentiate the CoE from the CIA's Enterprise IT function. She added:

What a bot is, is the ability for us to deliver very quickly, at a very low cost, a solution to an immediate pain point for them. Whereas an enterprise IT system handles the end-to-end processing. So again, we wanted to add this new category to our labour pool, so they understood what IT service we were going to provide versus what our enterprise IT was going to provide.

And to do this, we needed them to understand that they were going to sort of hire a digital employee. So how do you hire and manage a digital employee? You do it through a Center of Excellence. And that Center of Excellence is managed through ServiceNow.

What makes up a Center of Excellence?

When thinking about how to set up the CIA's CoE for digital labour within ServiceNow, Dempsey and her team outlined a number of key components for success. The first of which is governance - the ability to manage everything from the first interaction with a customer to the end of the relationship. She said:

All those meetings, all those documents, everything is maintained in our ServiceNow website. It gives us the ability to have that transparency, for us and for our customers.

In addition to this, change management is also critical, because anytime a business process changes as a result of bot automation, or if a bot is interfacing with an enterprise IT system, the CoE needs to have insight into that. Dempsey said that being able to reconfigure the bot, whilst also maintaining the documentation for security purposes or for future expansion, was essential.

Tools and training are also being managed within the ServiceNow platform, as Dempsey explained:

We use standardised tools and standardised training for our customers and our business partners. Because once you buy a bot, they always come back and ask for more. And if you standardise this tools and training process, it makes that second bot, that third bot, that fourth bot, go so much faster.

Then there's best practices and lessons learned. This is where we come out and we share our knowledge and our experience with our colleagues. And we take our learnings from our colleagues and learnings from industry to improve our processes. ServiceNow gives us the ability to store that information and make it transparent and available, so that our customers see that we are maintaining contact with what is leading-edge technology.

Performance management and reporting is also provided by the site and portal, which allows CIA customers to identify their return on investment. Dempsey said that if she wasn't able to do this she would soon become irrelevant. She added:

Our customers have to pay for this because it's a managed service. So they want to see that return on investment, and they need to see that as they are asking their supervisors for money in order to buy this bot. ServiceNow gives us that beautiful dashboard that shows me visually, any way that I need to slice and dice it, the return on investment for each individual bot and for the bots as a whole. I get to see that, my customers get to see that, and enterprise IT gets to see that.

Finally, the platform also handles the technology and vendor management that supports the bots. Deloitte works with the CIA on this side of the digital labour programme, ensuring that the most effective bot technology is rolled out to customers.

A valuable customer experience

The key point that Dempsey was keen to get across is that aside from the benefits that bots bring to process automation across the CIA, the CoE provides its customers with a customer experience that is transparent and gives insight into the whole process. She explained:

ServiceNow gives us the opportunity to educate our customers. They go to the website and on this site we have videos, we have presentations, we have knowledge articles, we show return on investment. So the customer can go and read about what RPA is, what a bot can do for them, and if they decide they want to buy one because they have tasks that can be automated, they go look at their business processes, they identify which tasks can be automated, and then again through the website they can submit their idea and request a meeting with us.

We can track that meeting, those interactions. They can decide that this is what they want to do, we give them a cost estimate. They can then submit the money, the fundings to us, and then track that funding throughout our relationship. They can see how much funds they've put on the process, they can see how much funds have been expensed. So they get to see what they're actually buying for their investment. That doesn't always happen with a technology investment.

This entire process is visible not only to our customers, but to our enterprise IT and we can make it available to senior managers at the agency. ServiceNow gives us the agility to manage our business process, but it also has the ability for us to build a new business line. So it's big savings for the agency as a whole.

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