The State of Oklahoma is the first US state to tap into Celonis Process Mining – and the results have been astonishing. Here’s why the technology can boost government efficiency across a wide range of use cases.
At the State of Oklahoma, we believe in adopting game-changing technology to make a difference and positively impact citizen-facing services. We tackled some of the state's core challenges by moving to enterprise solutions during the COVID-19 pandemic, and we continue to seek cutting-edge tools that streamline government processes and automate redundant work. Our drive for excellence has led us to look beyond what other states are doing and focus on industry trends to help set our priorities.
But we still struggle with the same issues so many state and federal agencies are facing: outdated processes, complex laws and regulations, and legacy IT systems that aren’t playing well together.
As Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES), and Chief Transformation Officer for the State of Oklahoma, my job is to help agencies determine higher quality, higher velocity and more efficient ways to deliver citizen services. And using process mining — specifically Celonis' Process Intelligence offer — is going to make that job easier. Used at scale, I believe this is going to be game-changing for government efficiency. Let me explain why.
Optimizing and getting transparency into our agency purchasing is extremely high on our priority list. It’s a billion-dollar business — so we need to be able to justify our spending to Oklahoma’s taxpayers. Right around the time I took on the job as Deputy Director of OMES, the LOFT report came out, stating that Oklahoma state agencies had spent $3 billion without Central Purchasing oversight in fiscal year 2022 — about a quarter of the state’s annual spending. As you can imagine, that’s bad news for any state government.
But for us at the OMES, it’s also been an incredible opportunity to question the status quo and find new solutions to decades-old problems I believe many state and federal agencies will be familiar with:
Outdated systems: Our Financial Management System gave us only limited power to audit. Data was scattered between systems, emails, excel spreadsheets, even law books.
Limited resources: Our internal audit team of six people has to review thousands of purchase orders every month. With the systems we had in place, we could only audit a very small sample (8 out of 122) of agencies per year.
Complicated processes: Each of the 122 agencies has their own internal purchasing procedures, not to mention specific approval flows that have been set in place decades ago and have only grown over time.
Celonis’ Process Intelligence platform has helped us tackle all three of these challenges. Here’s how.
I make it a practice to listen to sales pitches for software I don't have or haven't seen yet to stay on top of the market. So when the LOFT report was released, I immediately thought of process mining as an opportunity to bring near real-time visibility into our transactions.
For everyone who’s asking “What is process mining?”, I’d recommend you give this video series on the fundamentals of the technology a quick view. Or take it from me: process mining gives us real-time, actionable insights to help us improve our processes and deliver citizen services at higher quality and velocity.
Now, I’ve seen a ton of process optimization tools (RPA, BI, BPM, etc.) out there, and their vendors are all claiming to be the best in what they do. But when put to the test, they usually deliver one of two things: a pile of coal or a pile of gold.
For us, Celonis struck pure gold, right off the bat.
During the proof of value, the Celonis team showed us $93 million of so-called ‘direct POs’ in IT that we could immediately redirect for CIO approval. For those purchase orders, buyers initially followed the process to get OMES‘ approval, only to then add additional items bypassing OMES’ oversight. That was a loophole we weren’t even aware of. As of Dec. 5, 2023, the team at OMES has communicated the need to review $3.6 billion of direct POs to the state’s buyers – all by utilizing the Celonis platform.
But things don’t stop at transparency.
With Celonis being connected to our Financial Management System, we will finally have all all the data we need in one single spot. The dashboard is also adapted to our needs as a government agency – taking all of Oklahoma’s statutes and regulations into account when looking for purchasing anomalies. For our auditors, that means no more jumping back and forth between Excel sheets, emails, source systems, or even law books.
All of that is augmented with a decade of process knowledge and AI to:
Give our auditors an overview of which buyers are out of compliance.
Flag erroneous POs in real time that need to be corrected.
Give agency buyers AI-driven corrections to resolve them.
Not only can we see exactly how our state agencies are spending their dollars, we can also flag POs at risk of non-compliance to purchase agents before they go out.
It’s a step change to what auditing looked like in the past: we’re no longer looking back using ‘stale’ data, we’re seeing state purchasing live as it happens and can address violations promptly. This not only benefits our government but also taxpayers: increased compliance in spending reduces the state's risk, ensuring that citizens' hard-earned money reliably supports vital missions, including schools, parks, libraries, police and fire departments, and more.
As for the LOFT report, Celonis helped us take action at an incredible velocity. Following the Governors’ executive order, we audited the current calendar year spending of all of our 122 agencies with data in Celonis. In just four months. With a team of six people.
That’s something that would have never been possible without Celonis.
Now imagine being able to identify and unlock these value opportunities — productivity gains, minimized legal and fiscal risk, man hours or tax dollars saved — in other fields: be it finance, utilities, Medicaid and Medicare services, or public transportation. The possibilities to improve government operations are endless.
Our motto at the OMES is “Get Stuff Done,” and Celonis helps us live up to that everyday.
In less than twelve weeks after go-live, we:
Reviewed $4.5+ billion worth of POs.
Significantly reduced legal and fiscal risks.
Shortened our Procurement cycle time by 64 days, gaining more leverage to negotiate better rates with vendors.
Tackled typical procurement issues, such as direct POs, split POs, and exempt misuse. For example, we identified exemption purchases by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation utilizing direct POs valued at $696.4 million for fiscal year 2024.
You can read up on the details of our Celonis journey here, but to give one example: we’ve scrapped the manual auditing of state-issued credit card transactions for business expenses.
Celonis uncovered that our team only found about $1,800 worth of flags across the state in six months. I had six people full-time staffed to find maybe $5,000 a year. It doesn’t take a mathematician to know that you're losing money when you're running a business like that.
Using Celonis Process Intelligence here has three benefits. Not only can it do these P-card audits faster, saving us thousands of hours in manual labor and tens of thousands of tax dollars in wages. It's actually doing a higher-quality job because it finds anomalies our auditors would easily miss. Plus: We can redirect our workforce to other areas where their expertise is truly needed.
And we’re finding opportunities left and right to be more efficient.
Our success with Celonis has made other agency leaders eager to jump on the bandwagon, too. We're gearing up to analyze and optimize other processes, including Accounts Payable, Grants Management, and IT Service Management.
One of my goals for the future: moving cycle times in both Procurement and Accounts Payable closer to private-sector KPIs. That will help us negotiate better rates with state vendors who are often charging us a premium simply because sales acquisition cycles in the public sector are longer. If we work faster on our end, we can ask for more competitive rates — and lower once more the tax burden on Oklahomans.
That is what we’re aiming for after all: delivering higher quality-services at a lower cost for our citizens. A win-win scenario for everyone in Oklahoma.