FAA's MBA in the making

Grappling with one esoteric business improvement project at a time is usually enough for most people, no matter how promising it is. But don't tell that to some folks at the Federal Aviation Administration's National Airspace System Implementation Program (ANI). The program is responsible for installing new computers and equipment throughout the nation's air traffic control system.

By using enterprise architecture business modeling as a tool to help get their core operations certified with ISO 9001, a quality management standard from the International Organization for Standardization, ANI officials are simultaneously tackling two of the more intimidating business improvement strategies around.

ANI is one of a small number of organizations to make this still uncommon pairing, but to Paul Laven, ANI's quality management system executive, the marriage makes perfect sense and helps increase and accelerate the benefits from both efforts.

Pursuing ISO 9001 certification is a way for ANI to put its operations under a microscope and create a program that systematically identifies and solves problems that affect job quality. Similarly, enterprise architecture (EA) business modeling involves dissecting and cataloging how an organization works, then coming up with ways to save money and improve it through business change and smarter use of information technology.

"ISO 9001 is business-process driven, as is enterprise architecture," said Fred Trevino, a project engineer at ANI. "Using [EA] in the ISO 9001 context puts a turbo boost on the whole effort."

ISO 9001 and EA business modeling were not originally part of ANI's plan. Created in 1997, ANI's mission is to spend money more wisely by coordinating nine previously separate regional FAA system implementation centers at the national level.

As ANI officials began in 2000 to develop the standard operating procedures that would help direct and streamline those regional operations, they realized they had an opportunity to adopt a quality management system like ISO 9001 that could reduce costly work errors and help ANI better satisfy its customers in other parts of the FAA.

To obtain ISO 9001 certification, an organization must document how it performs its work and the procedures it will use to continuously monitor and improve work quality. The idea of using EA business modeling as part of the quality project at ANI resulted from the frustration officials felt when they first tried to write ISO 9001-style work descriptions.

"The standard operating procedures we had written were too verbose and hard to use," Laven said. "We needed to present them in a pictorial or visual format." To find software that could do this, Laven recruited Trevino, who happened to have experience with EA business modeling.

Trevino suggested that an EA modeling tool such as Ptech Inc.'s Enterprise FrameWork software could provide a very powerful business process diagramming capability. More importantly, it could store the models in an object-oriented repository, or knowledge base, from which they could be easily shared, reused and refined through "what if" querying.

"Using Ptech allows us to assess the impact of change," Trevino said. "For example, if we change a process or a role to improve an activity, we can track the impact throughout the entire [operation]."

This work can also dovetail into the kind of formal EA that agencies are supposed to create under the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996. "We are in a position that our system can be easily integrated into the FAA's EA model whenever that effort comes about," Trevino said.

This dual use of the business models and the effort to create them is the right reason to invest in an EA tool, according to Robert Handler, the senior program director for the enterprise architecture practice at the META Group Inc. If your goal is to simply create diagrams for ISO 9001 certification, less expensive software such as Microsoft Corp.'s Visio would be a better choice, Handler said, while tools such as Ptech's would be "overkill."

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At a glance

Ptech's Enterprise FrameWork software

What it is: Business modeling software that enables users to create dynamic, interrelated diagrams that represent an organization's operations, such as those used in an enterprise architecture project.

Benefits: With business models stored in Enterprise FrameWork's repository, decision-makers can examine the impact that proposed organizational or system changes will have on the existing architecture and resources.

New features: KnowledgeGateway module allows users to share read/write, HTML versions of the business models across an intranet.

Price: Enterprise FrameWork starts at $15,000 per year for five licenses on the General Services Administration schedule. KnowledgeGateway is $75,000 per year.

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