Process re-engineering back again

Business process re-engineering, an approach to automation that had fallen out of favor for being too unwieldy, is gaining new credence with the integration of the Homeland Security Department. By ironing out the business processes of 22 agencies before deciding how to consolidate their automation, DHS officials are undertaking a form of that approach, market analysts contend.

Business process re-engineering swept through the government a decade ago as agencies tried to avoid the technological equivalent of paving over cow paths. The practice, however, earned a bad reputation. Projects were notoriously unwieldy, and the resulting flow charts and diagrams

were difficult for managers to interpret and implement.

Now DHS officials are revisiting the concept, but they may break from past practices when it comes to retooling the department.

Take integration definition, for example. IDEF was the basis for many business process re-engineering projects, particularly in the military. But the IDEF notation method confused some customers. "IDEF modeling became somewhat difficult for the average functional user to understand without training, so [DHS] is moving to other methods," said Jeff Flading, vice president of homeland security information technology systems at Anteon Corp.

Instead, some DHS contractors are using Business Process Modeling Notation and Unified Modeling Language to document requirements. Flading said the thinking within DHS is that BPMN and UML are more readable and easier to understand.

Darryl Moody, a senior vice president at BearingPoint Inc. who is responsible for the company's homeland security practice, said a key factor in the earlier wave of business process re-engineering projects was the presumption that systems would need to be highly customized. Thus, projects become mired in minutia.

Today, the underlying assumption is that heavy customization won't be necessary given the maturity of commercial off-the-shelf products. "You don't have to fight over the paint and color scheme of a room if you're deciding whether to build a one- or two-story house," Moody said. "You can defer those discussions to a point in time when you have something up and running and can see it and then change the process."

Organizations "will more readily accept new and improved ways of doing business when they can actually see [them] up and running, as opposed to a room with flow charts and diagrams," Moody said.

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