Michael Yoemans champions BPR activities at Pentagon
- By John Monroe
- Jun 07, 1998
With the Defense Department undergoing major changes at its highest levels, Michael Yoemans, one of the Pentagon's lead advocates for business processing re-engineering (BPR), keeps in mind that change rarely happens easily or quickly.
As director of functional process improvement in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence, Yoemans has been involved with government re-
engineering projects for more than 25 years. He knows that the kinds of changes proposed by Secretary of Defense William Cohen's Defense Reform Initiative (DRI)— including a restructuring of the Office of the Secretary of Defense itself— are momentous, and they represent a unique opportunity for some full-scale BPR activity.
Although many top officials decided to take a DOD buyout offer in March, Yoemans decided to stick it out. "We are reinventing big-time at a senior level," Yoemans said. "I could hardly be an advocate of re-engineering and not want to be a part of it."
BPR has become a buzzword over the last five years, and it generally involves changing how an organization restructures its operations to improve productivity or to save time and money. In many cases, such re-engineering is carried out to help an organization take fuller advantage of information technology.
Yoemans, who started out as a computer programmer after high school, worked his way into BPR through finance and accounting. Each job he held along the way to joining OASD in 1991 required deeper and deeper involvement with the evolving field of BPR.
After being drafted by the Army in 1971, Yoemans spent more than six years at the finance and accounting office of the U.S. Army Military District of Washington (MDW), where one of his first tasks involved using new programmable calculators to process travel vouchers— a task that was previously performed without automation.
He got a better taste of BPR after leaving the Army in 1978, when he went to work as a systems accountant at the District of Columbia's Department of Finance and Revenue. Yoemans' department was the first to migrate its financial applications to a new financial management system. Yoemans helped other departments with the migration process and then in 1980 decided to return to MDW as a civilian.
Back at MDW, Yoemans led the effort to deploy the Army's new standard accounting applications. One of his first tasks was to find a way to get rid of three minicomputers that the department had ordered but had left sitting, unused, in a warehouse.
This dilemma, as much as anything else, highlighted the need for agencies to bring more order to how they buy and apply IT. "Too much of the time, we ordered technology as the answer and then tried to figure out what to do with it," he said. "It helped me understand why we need to do a better job of defining requirements and who owns them."
He encountered similar difficulties when he took a job with the Army Corps of Engineers, where he helped the department implement the 1980 Paperwork Reduction Act. "We discovered we had hundreds of systems, and we really did not understand what they were used for," he said. "And if we didn't [figure it out], we would build another 100 systems. We discovered we needed to understand the business."
Yoemans began to study business systems planning techniques developed by IBM Corp., which focuses on viewing an organization in terms of its functional areas and identifying the processes followed in these areas and where those processes break down.
He helped lead an effort to re-engineer various work processes at the Corps of Engineers, paving the way for new standard software systems for decision support, project management and financial management. Eventually, the Army selected the financial management system for servicewide deployment.
His experience with the Corps gave him a solid ground in the benefits of BPR; the Corps saved about $300 million with a $35 million re-engineering project, Yoemans said. It also made him aware of the struggles involved in BPR. While such re-engineering is feasible, "you do have to be disciplined," he said. "Results will come, but it will take much longer than originally anticipated."
He took those lessons to OASD in 1991, when he was hired by Paul Strassmann, then-director of Defense information at the Pentagon. BPR became a key piece of the Strassmann's Corporate Information Management (CIM) initiative, which sought to make DOD a more savvy user of IT. "I told Strassmann when he hired me that I would stick with it," Yoemans said. "I didn't want the job if it was not [long term]."
Still, even Yoemans is surprised at how long the process has stretched out. "I didn't see it as a forever thing, but we didn't realize how hard it would be to get people to change the way they work."
CIM no longer has a starring role at the Pentagon, but the department and individual services continue to carry out many of its initiatives, including BPR. For example, the Defense Travel System program, which will re-engineer DOD's system of processing travel vouchers, had sprung, in part, from a CIM initiative.
But Yoemans believes the department's BPR initiatives have had a lasting impact beyond the success of any individual program. With the Information Technology Management and Results Act— and now DRI— the concept of process improvement "is fully institutionalized," if no less difficult, he said.
That long-term perspective is a necessity for anyone in this business, he said. "I stay focused and interested when I see results, and I am patient enough to wait."