Treasurer McClary and IT Director Rose Earn Prestigious 2022 GFOA Award for Excellence in Government Finance
Everyone knows by now that staffing is an issue, meaning businesses are running short-handed, some critically so. It’s no different for government services that are facing ever-increasing volume and complexity.
Washtenaw County Treasurer Catherine McClary and IT Director Jeff Rose attacked the problem by implementing robotic process automation. For their groundbreaking work, McClary and Rose were awarded the prestigious 2022 GFOA Awards for Excellence in Government Finance by the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada.
“They are shining examples of innovation and outstanding financial management—and their work offers lessons for others who want to implement GFOA best practices or solve common challenges in new and creative ways,” said the GFOA selection committee in a statement.
When the Washtenaw County Treasurer’s Office struggled to keep up with the mundane task of logging daily deposits from rapidly diversifying sources of revenue, it was time to find a way to work smarter. In 2021, County Treasurer Catherine McClary collaborated with IT Director Jeff Rose and contracted with a third-party automation vendor to implement the county’s first use of robotic process automation.
After just one year, the treasurer’s office has saved more than 450 staff hours while freeing staff to focus on higher-value work, including customer service.
The Washtenaw County treasurer uses a pooled banking and investment system in which all departments deposit to a set of connected bank accounts. All revenue is identified and recorded by the treasurer’s office. Staff collects and records numerous payments for delinquent taxes, general billing invoices, hotel accommodation taxes, and other individual transactions, which are summarized into single deposits.
Up until late 2021, the process of revenue identification and recording was largely manual. As volume increased to an average of 67 summarized deposits daily, the staff struggled to keep up, especially with absences and turnover. To further complicate things, where the office had once received only cash or checks, revenue sources had diversified, and operation departments accepted payment through various electronic payment mediums.
The onus on the treasurer’s office is that strict reporting regulations require detailed, accurate record keeping. Keeping up with volume is essential to provide other departments with accurate, timely receipts for reporting, management, and planning.
McClary’s office had reached a tipping point. Every possible efficiency had already been squeezed out of Excel, system imports, office-developed processes, and staff training.
“We didn’t start out by saying ‘we need to automate,’” says McClary. “We started out by realizing we couldn’t handle the volume and the complexity of the volume.”
For a solution, McClary considered the robotic process automation technology she had seen demonstrated at conferences. Robotic automation is used more extensively in the private sector.
“My office lacked the technical skills to implement an automation solution,” she explains. McClary turned to Washtenaw County’s new IT Director, Jeff Rose, and his vast experience from the private sector.
“One of our goals as an IT department is to shift transactional business to free up county staff time so specialists can provide critical services, including customer service,” says Rose. “This helps us better serve community residents.”
An RFP was issued, and Automation Anywhere was awarded the work. After months of preparation, the first application of robotic process automation technology would be recording daily deposits. The team gave the bot a name, “’Akila,’ which is Arabic for ‘logical,’” McClary explains.
The county estimates Akila will save 450 hours annually for the deposit process alone. The bot has driven down the error rate. “From January to June 2022,” McClary recalls, “we had zero errors, where we would normally have an average of 44.”
The benefits were immediate. McClary explained removing grunt work makes for happier staff. The staff bought into Akila’s day-to-day value. “Until we had to catch up, we didn’t always realize that four and a half hours of work a day was being done by something we couldn’t see,” says McClary.
The county’s success with Akila is a model for other local governments. The challenges McClary’s office faced in increasing deposit volume and source complexity amid labor constriction are common struggles for municipalities.
“Anyone who knows Excel well can take this tool, follow the guided training, and oversee a successful implementation,” emphasizes McClary. McClary and Rose are already into the next project for Akila, with many more lined up behind that.
GFOA's Awards for Excellence in Government Finance recognize innovative programs - contributions to the practice of government finance that exemplify outstanding financial management. The awards stress practical, documented work that offers leadership to the profession and promotes improved public finance.
Congratulations, Treasurer McClary and Director Rose.