Speed and accuracy, along with good old-fashioned money, are critical to building the readiness and lethality the Army needs to match pace with near-peer adversaries, but nothing can be as much of a consuming time-suck as building charts and slide decks – just ask any staff NCO or officer.
Helping financial and resource managers leverage a modernized system to provide critical financial data to commanders while dramatically cutting their time to build financial reports, the U.S. Army Financial Management Command now offers an in-residence, 3-day class on SAP BI Business Objects 4.3.
“This course teaches students to use BOBJ, as we call it, within the Army’s General Fund Enterprise Business System to build out financial dashboards for their leadership in a fraction of the time it took in the old Business Explorer, or BEx, system because the system automatically generates them without needing to export data an manually create them,” said Tiffany McCoy, USAFMCOM System Support Operations BOBJ course developer and lead instructor.
In-residence BOBJ courses are currently offered twice-a-month at USAFMCOM. The course is free for government employees. In all cases, units and organizations are responsible for funding students’ travel costs.
“USAFMCOM’s SSO Business Intelligence Helpdesk has been encouraging users to use BOBJ since 2017, but version 4.3 is completely redesigned and much more powerful,” McCoy said. “Commanders come from a variety of backgrounds, like infantry and artillery, so they don’t always have the experience to know what sub-activity groups within areas of responsibility are, but with BOBJ, you can rename and group them together to show higher-level data in an easy-to-understand way.
“Just like in your car, the dashboards created by BOBJ 4.3 give commanders an easy way to see the problems, understand the root causes of those problems and figure out a way to solve them,” she added.
While many commanders are already used to finance dashboards put together by their finance professionals, those are manually generated, non-standardized and susceptible to human errors via “fat fingering.”
“BOBJ is one of the best reporting tools that the Army’s implemented because it’s an all-in-one system that provides more analytical and ad-hoc tools for building reports,” explained Rathelis Dawkins, USAFMCOM SSO business intelligence analyst, who recently used BOBJ during her tenure at U.S. Army Forces Command.
“Now, we are able to develop more professional reports with graphics and charts, create custom dashboards, build new reports including custom variables, develop end-user interactive reports, and add external data to queries,” Dawkins said.
With BEx, end users would have to export data from GFEBS into highly-complex spreadsheets with thousands, if not millions, of lines of data, McCoy elaborated. They would then have to take all that data, manually combine it with data from other sources, extrapolate and analyze it, and finally build it into a format that could be easily understood.
“That’s a process that could sometimes take hours, if not days,” she said.
“Now with BOBJ, I can run a report in 10-15 seconds that generates a format that is ready to present to the general-officer level,” said Caroline Stokes, XVIII Airborne Corps deputy resource manager. “It’s ready to present the moment you produce the report, and you can share that report with anyone who has GFEBS so they can adapt it for themselves.
“I think the biggest development is you can set up pre-canned reports that run faster and schedule them to run so they are ready when you need them with the most up-to-date information,” she added.
And, with time equating to money and money funding readiness, Stokes said the system provides more than just labor reduction for finance professionals.
“It makes a big difference because the analysts can spend more time analyzing data instead of working to make something look pretty,” elaborated Stokes. “And, because you can pull the data quickly, you can give the commander information quicker so he or she can make the decisions they need quicker with more accurate data, and that analysis can put more money back in the commander’s hands.
“I’m really excited about being able to leverage this new technology to see where my problems are at XVIII Airborne Corps and see what I need to get after,” she added. “In 2020, I spent 5.6 million dollars more than I was funded because of doing things like this; and, that’s readiness.”
As an example of what’s possible, Stokes spoke about her hopes of being able to leverage BOBJ to reduce deobligated funds from under-executed contracts.
Deobligated funds are monies that are set aside for a specific purpose but aren’t executed to their fullest amount for some reason. In most cases, deobligated funds that aren’t used within a given fiscal year are unavailable to be used in subsequent fiscal years, cutting into purchase power.
“I can’t wait to do a deep dive into the Army’s contracts to see which ones historically bill at a certain percentage under their obligations,” explained Stokes. “Once we see that, we can potentially assume some risk and obligate monies to the percentage those contracts typically bill for at the end of the year.
“Yes, it’s work, but with this system, we can really get after that data and figure out where we can save the Army money, which could be millions of dollars,” she added. “That money can then be used to purchase the equipment and training our Soldiers need to maintain readiness.”
While BOBJ 4.3 is currently available to all GFEBS users, the USAFMCOM course gives students the in-depth knowledge they need to fully exploit the program to its maximum effect.
“Before I took the course, I poked around the system when I heard 4.3 was out, but I wasn’t able to get that far,” said Mark Oatman, a financial management analyst with the U.S. Army Futures Command’s Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Center. “The few days I spent in the USAFMCOM course really catapulted my understanding on building reports.”
The C5ISR Center is an Army applied research and advanced technology development center that discovers and develops innovative technologies that enable information superiority and tactical overmatch for U.S. joint forces.
“The course was very realistic as we picked actual fund centers, used live data, and built reports we were going to need to build at home station,” recalled Oatman. “A lot of the reports we built, I took back, changed fund centers and started using them right away.”
“There’s still a learning curve, so having a course is very helpful,” added Dawkins, who will be launching an online, USAFMCOM version of the course developed during her time at FOSCOM in the near future. “We’re all excited that we will be able to support the field with not only in-person training but virtual training, too.”
With that look to the future, Oatman said he’s excited about the possibilities the system and the training opportunities afford.
“I’m not only excited for what I see, but the potential I see,” he concluded. “I’m excited to see what my reports look like in six months as every time I build a new report, they keep getting better and better.”
For more information on the BOBJ 4.3 courses, contact Dave Martinez and Lynda Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.
USAFMCOM enables the readiness of America’s Army by serving as the Army’s focal point for all finance and comptroller operations while providing FC capabilities that facilitate accountability, auditability and stewardship. USAFMCOM conducts enterprise-level financial operations and provides technical coordination for FC units and commands across the Army in order to ensure the effective implementation of policies and programs to support optimally resourcing the Army.
SSO’s mission is to provide headquarters-level finance and comptroller domain systems support, user support and governance of the Army’s modernized and deployed finance and comptroller domain enterprise resource planning systems. This ensures technological capabilities, maturation and evolution align with Army and FC domain objectives.
GFEBS is the Army’s cloud-based financial, asset and accounting management system that standardizes, streamlines and shares critical data across the active-duty Army, the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve. It develops, acquires, integrates, deploys and sustains enterprise-wide financial and procurement management capabilities to support the Army’s current and future missions.