Staff Functions

The Direct Route to Simplified Administration

By Todd Snowden October 8, 2020


“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, un-learn and re-learn.”

Alvin Toffler, Writer

 

Introduction

What can we do as an organisation to both simplify our work processes and allow more time for training? The basic answer is to cut the administrative fluff. Luckily for the modern Australian soldier, technology has made that easier than ever. So why are we still wasting hours on administrative tasks that should be taking minutes?

It would seem that some parts of the Army are forgetting to un-learn before re-learning. Imagine a new highway built to make travel from A to B to C to D a straightforward journey. No tolls, no holdups, just time saving. Now imagine the old winding road required multiple stops, u- turns and deviations. If the aim is a fast, easy journey, logic would say stick to the highway. Yet in the Australian Army of 2020, units are still requiring personnel to not only drive that old road but the new highway as well.

The evolving digitisation of administrative processes to online should have drastically reduced the time spent completing administration; however, individual units within Army are complicating the system by holding on to outdated procedures.

Background

Let’s use the example of applying for own means travel to self-drive to an interstate course at Unit A, a unit I was previously posted to. Unit A’s requirement is an admin coversheet, a minute requesting to drive to course, an annexed route card detailing the proposed journey and a completed AE505 Travel Request Form. This paperwork is then combined into one document in Adobe Pro before commencing the approval process through the chain of command.

However, the existing webform has rendered this convoluted process redundant as all the information covered in the supplementary documents can be found in the webform.

According to the travel request form guide [1], the AE505 Travel Request Form was created to replace a number of now obsolete webforms. The form enables the Applicant or Authorised Representative and Approving Authority (Manager/Supervisor/Delegate) to be responsible for the information supplied in the form and all approvals given.

Case Study

PTE J Doe is posted to Unit A and is submitting a travel request to drive to an interstate course. PTE Doe edits a previously saved minute to request the self-drive, submits leave for the extra days it will take to drive, completes a travel request form and, finally, Google searches a directions route card. This process took PTE Doe two hours to complete.

PTE Doe emails the documents to their section commander, CPL S Brown, who looks over the paperwork and identifies errors in both the minute and the travel request form. The admin coversheet PTE Doe submitted was from the previous year and also requires updating. PTE Doe fixes the identified errors and resubmits. CPL Brown rechecks the paperwork and then forwards it onto the Admin SGT. This process took a total of one and a half working hours to complete.

The Admin SGT reviews the paperwork and identifies the digital signature does not match the dated signature on the minute. The SGT sends the paperwork back to PTE Doe to fix the error and resubmit. The SGT then portfolios the paperwork and sends it to the Platoon Commander. The Platoon Commander checks the paperwork and forwards it on. This process took one working hour to complete.

Therefore, for a PTE soldier to submit a travel request form, it has cost the platoon a total of four and a half working hours. The paperwork still needs to be processed through HQ and external units, eating up additional man hours.

The Problem

In this case study, unnecessary paperwork caused excess work for all levels of the chain of command. The information supplied in the minute and the distances and locations provided on the route card were all listed in sections on the travel request form. The paperwork was completed simply because that was the way things were done in the past.

Recommendations

To simplify our work processes, it is recommended Army units use the digital forms that are available and remove the requirement to attach unneeded documents. The time saved can be better spent training. It is time to get off that old road and use the highway for what it is designed for.

 

End notes:

[1] Australian Government, Department of Defence, Estate and Infrastructure Group, AE505 Travel Request Form Guide, Version 2.5, January 2020, p.3


Portrait

Biography

Todd Snowden

Todd Snowden joined the Army in 2005, his most recent appointment is an instructor at the School of Military Engineering. Todd is currently studying for a Bachelor of Construction Management and has a keen interest in military history.

 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.



Comments

A good article with a simple but effective and obvious example, my question to the author is have you asked yourself- how is the digitisation of administration supporting not only the individual and Army in efficiency savings but yet supporting the Chain of Command in their responsibility to all parties? I would offer that it is not and that is why units are struggling, thoughts?

Thank you for the feedback Sir. In response to your question regarding the chain of command providing due diligence to members through digitalised administration. My example of a travel request form, currently the member signs the form acknowledging they agree they understand falsifying information is in breach of the DFDA and they are required to follow up on the correct leave paperwork. Could we not move the agreement that is in the approving authorities section to the member? That agreement being, ‘When own means travel has been approved, I confirm that the travel will be undertaken in accordance with the requirements identified and listed in PACMAN (Chapter 9- Part 6: Vehicle Allowance) Defence Road Transport Manual and WHS legislation’. This places the responsibility on the member, should they wish to travel by own means, they are responsible for doing so in a safely and in accordance with Defence policy.

From the outset, the author has identified several points here, but has not explored all of the teachers of those points. I will be the first to agree that many systems within Army, Defence and our supporting agencies need a refresh. There are many advocates for these changes to occur however, not everyone is receptive to change. There are those amongst our ranks who decry the adage "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" at every opportunity. In my time as a clerk (and yes, I am one of the advocates for simplifying and updating our procedures) I have even heard responses from some who are in the administrative chain, and have been shown a better way, that they just won't change the way they do things. It is hard to proliferate change and understanding in the face of sheer stubbornness. And while I am an advocate for digitisation, I also remain concerned for the future of the administrators who provide advice to individuals in their entitlements, and counsel so a member does not "inadvertently" commit a fraudulent act. As more and more processes become digitised and the workflow moves directly from the requesting member to the delegate and then the processing agency, how does the member confirm they are completing the process correctly? Is the delegate aware of any other policies that may assist that member? As we digitise these processes, there is less "need" for clerks. Over time there are less clerks in units. Who is going to give that advice on administrative procedures when there are no clerks in units? Think of how that clerk could have assisted you through the process (or completed on your behalf) if you were unable to get to a computer. Good luck getting your AE505 drafted and sent when you are notified that you will be going on a course the week after you get home from your current bush trip… The final issue here, and I admit that this contravenes my above support of digitisation, is the complementary reasons for completing all of those additional things when submitting that form. The covering minute completed by the member servers a couple of purposes. The member gets exposed to administrative processes and Defence writing where they may not actually get exposed to that prior to going on Subject course or being promoted at which time they are expected to be able to produce minutes, briefs etc. How could they get experience without completing these documents over their career? Complementary to this, the SGT has an opportunity to (hopefully) provide guidance and enhance the CPL on the elements of the document that require enhancement in order to be a better document. The digitisation of our processes, forms, requests etc. can also have positive outcomes. The relatively quick turn around to have an allowance commenced or ceased through Employee Self Service is one example. Once approved by a delegate, automated systems do the rest and the change is effected in the next pay cycle. Not a bad outcome if everything was filled in correctly. Not so good if a minor error such as a date is overlooked during the request/approval process and suddenly a significant debt is automated and processed for that member. Although this response may be viewed as a negative critique, I do agree with elements of the author's submission. Simplification - yes. The direct route - sometimes. What we all have to understand is that while some processes are antiquated, we are making progress as an organisation to continually make updates and (hopefully) improve the process for all concerned. Sometimes we make changes for changes sake, and not always with a positive outcome....

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