Government's BPM Imperative

Government's BPM Imperative

Tear down those walls with business process management.

The 21st century mandate for business is Do More With Less. The 21st century imperative for business is Business Process Management (BPM). The 21st century mandate for government is Do More With Less. The 21st century imperative for government is Business Process Management.

The Aberdeen Group says: "Business process management enables government agencies to dismantle obsolete bureaucratic divisions by cutting the labour- and paper-intensive inefficiency from manual, back-end processes. Faster and auditable processes allow employees to do more in less time, reducing paper use as well as administrative overhead and resources. The BPM category may arguably provide the greatest return on investment compared to any other category available on the market today." But there's a catch.

The term "BPM" has been adopted in the marketing communications of just about every IT vendor and management consultant, as what comes after the dotcom fiasco. It seems everyone selling IT products or management consulting services has put BPM lipstick on their products and services. Even the IT and financial analysts are having a field day defining BPM to mean whatever they want it to mean. BPM is a business discipline or function that uses business practices, techniques and methods to create and improve business processes. From this general definition, just about any process improvement discipline or activity, including re-engineering, TQM or Six Sigma quality methods, outsourcing and lean manufacturing, can be considered as BPM. Thus, from an extremely general perspective, BPM has no distinguishing definition at all; it's just about anything that contributes to process improvement - it can mean whatever you want it to mean.

On the other hand, the term BPM has been propelled onto the front pages of the business and technology literature for far more specific reasons. Whether manual or automated, ­companies have learned that the piecemeal process improvement methods and techniques they have scattered throughout their organizations don't produce breakout results. BPM in its contemporary context is a holistic vs piecemeal approach to the use of appropriate process-related business disciplines that can drive business performance improvements, not just across the departments in a single organization, but also across multi-organization value delivery systems. This approach has only now become practical as a result of the new category of BPM software systems.

My Government, on My Terms

E-government does not mean putting scores of government forms on the Internet. It is about using technology to its fullest to provide services, and that's where process-powered e-government comes in. Today's constituents demand "my government, on my terms", and agencies must support citizen-centred, customer-focused government. Whether it's G-to-G, G-to-E, G-to-B or G-to-C, government agencies must do what businesses are challenged to do, and that is to tear down silos of information, and go beyond just data sharing to actually "conducting business".

In order to tear down silos of information, agencies must organize their portals around customer groups and topics, instead of agency names. Examples of cross-agency portals include: students, people with disabilities and exporters. But instead of just serving up zillions of documents, portals must allow their users to actually do business online.

It's two sides of the same coin: Users should be able to select an appropriate gateway - citizens, businesses, nonprofits, and federal employees - to find exactly what they need. Then, from their computers, the users should, under process-governed controls and mechanisms, apply for student financial assistance, buy government publications, apply for social security benefits, request an export licence, apply for a passport, and so on. It's the combination between the "finding" and the "doing" that will make government effective, and that's why process-powered e-government is imperative.

Government agencies that want to increase their effectiveness in this new way of operating must bite the bullet and take on the challenge of making process, not data, not the back-office application, the basic unit of computer-based automation and support. They must shift their focus from "systems of record" to "systems of process".

In short, "data processing" must give way to "process processing" if agencies are to actually deliver services and not just data and documents. This concept extends beyond publicly accessible portals and on to the back office of government operations. For example, the Australian Department of Finance & Administration faced the major challenge of processing, tracking and dealing with the large volume of information related to ministerial operations, including the Ministerial Briefing, Question Time briefing, Parliamentary questions and cabinet meetings, as well as all ministerial correspondence. To address these challenges the department created the Parliamentary Workflow System (PaWS), that promotes better staff collaboration with process consistency. The BPM solution has helped the department to make processes run more efficiently, and gives it the agility it needs to respond to changing conditions, new regulations, and higher demands for service.

It is not just about doing more with less resources and effort, but rather doing more by working smarter. To generalize, the department's example means that employees, businesses, and citizens must share not just a "data base" but an actionable "process base" that is always on and always up to date, allowing constituents to "get things done". Agencies need "systems of process", not the after-the-fact "systems of record" of typical back-office applications.

Beyond Boundaries

Ever since former US Vice President Al Gore "invented the Internet", progressive governments around the world have pursued e-government initiatives, some more successfully than others, especially those that approached the endeavour as a one-time automation event. In today's global economy, a nation's effectiveness depends on governments meeting the challenges of process management, not just one-off process automation, for operational effectiveness is not a one-time affair. The processes agencies use to deliver their services must meet the ongoing changes introduced by new legislation, the requirement for governments to interact with other governments at a process level in areas such as security and trade, and response to unforeseen events. Furthermore, G-to-G process management must go beyond national boundaries. Just a few years ago, you wouldn't find foreign nationals inside US government installations. Today, it's common to find Australians working side-by-side with US nationals in those installations - both physically and virtually over secure Internet connections.

But all this doesn't come easy. The Washington Post reported, "A report card issued in February 2005 by the government reform committee, which is chaired by Rep. Thomas M Davis III, gave the government as a whole a D-plus for computer security. Several major government departments - including health and human services, energy, and homeland security - received Fs."

Australian BPM consultant Roger Tregear of Leonardo Consulting provides a road map for managing expectations, The Rule of 3s, an indicative timetable for the adoption of process-based management across an organization. 3+3+3+3: 3 months to promote the ideas of BPM and get executive commitment to process-based management; 3 weeks to establish and agree the analysis framework, modelling conventions, and overall process architecture; 3 months to get appropriate tools, techniques and support structures and systems in use and delivering results; 3 years to fully achieve true enterprise-wide process-based management orientation. In government, as in business, BPM is not an event, it's a journey. Let the journey begin.

Peter Fingar, executive partner in the digital strategy firm the Greystone Group, is one of the IT industry's noted experts on business process management, and a practitioner with over 30 years of hands-on experience at the intersection of business and technology. He is co-author of the landmark books: The Real-Time Enterprise: Competing on Time; and Business Process Management: The Third Wave ( He can be reached at

For more of Peter Fingar's views on business process management, see Competition Gets Extreme in the September 2005 issue of CIO.

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