Business process management 2.0
The DOD is working hard to overcome old ways of thinking when it comes to data
With a history steeped in custom-developed stovepipe systems, it’s hardly surprising that the Defense Department is having growing pains when it comes to business processes. Over time, different systems have led to disparate processes, not only within the defense community but within each component, down to the office level. That, in turn, makes it difficult to share information — an increasingly important part of the business process puzzle.
There are other challenges as well. For example, with disparate processes, it’s difficult to manage different tasks, such as logistics, tasks and personnel. It’s also difficult to map and track business goals and strategies to projects and budgets.
There are two important components to fixing the problem: the business processes themselves, and the technology behind them. Defense leadership has taken the reins on the first part of the issue, creating the Office of the Deputy Chief Management Officer in October 2008. That office, led by Elizabeth McGrath, an experienced federal leader, is responsible for synchronizing, integrating and coordinating the business operations of the DOD, including process improvement. The DCMO currently is working on creating end-to-end business processes for various functional areas across DOD.
The department has had a number of challenges in implementing these larger, enterprisewide custom systems that can manage processes on an end-to-end basis. The technology is fairly straightforward. The challenge is that it requires organizations and people to adjust their processes to the best practices that are built into the software capability. And in that context, it requires organizations to make compromises — not in the mission, but in the way it does business. Because we’re now linking together parts of the organization that previously had their own custom solutions.
“This is clearly a change management challenge for the organization," said John Goodman, a managing director who leads the defense and intelligence work at Accenture Federal Services. "It changes roles along with processes. That’s always very hard for an organization, so it requires a lot of enterprise-level leadership that directs how the organization will move forward and ensure that changes are taking place at a pace and manner that the workforce can absorb.”
The technology component
The other important component to successful process management is choosing the right technology to support those processes. The defense community has been relying on Enterprise Resource Planning systems for more than a decade, and with good reason: They are an excellent way to streamline and organize enterprise-level tasks and processes such as logistics, personnel, procurement and sourcing, project management, supply chain, planning, compliance and financial management. With these functions in a single system, a defense agency has a single authoritative source of data with which to make good business decisions and plan for the long term. DOD will continue to rely on ERP systems but build them into larger component-sized business processes that can be shared by larger groups.
Many agencies already are on the right path. The Army is in the midst of rolling out the General Fund Enterprise Business System, a Web-based ERP system that will replace dozens of older Army systems that provide asset management and financial information. The Air Force has contracted for the Defense Enterprise Accounting and Management System, an ERP system that will eventually be rolled out to all Air Force bases. The Defense Logistics Agency has a system under development that will combine the business processes in an ERP system with its energy supply chain. It will replace two of DLA’s major legacy systems and integrate seven of its supply chains.
While ERP systems are the best way to coordinate and manage enterprise-level processes, there are times when stand-alone tools can work best for smaller projects. One example is task management. By having a central repository for all information related to managing tasks, a small group can keep processes on schedule. The repository would contain, for example, information on which team members are working on which tasks, when the tasks were completed, and whether it has been approved by the appropriate supervisor.
There are also more comprehensive project management tools that track projects, individual tasks and team members through dashboards and graphs. These tools provide the metrics and overall data necessary to manage individual projects and can integrate with existing data, spreadsheets and other systems.
Once the Defense Department’s business processes have been realigned and the technology is working smoothly, the canvas will be set for the next step — applying analytics to those processes to help make better business decisions. That evolution has already started in some areas. Accenture, for example, is applying analytics to DLA’s ERP procurement system to help the agency determine how and where it can buy the items it needs at less cost.