Commentary

New challenges and old, familiar tools

Shutterstock image: pieces of the puzzle.

As the federal government digs into a new fiscal year, agency, IT and program leaders remain focused on delivering mission success in a challenging environment. The stakes for delivering quality outcomes -- via access to health care, jobs, benefits and any number of other services -- are incredibly high. Those leaders require an optimal alignment of the right people, processes and IT systems to serve their citizens within a shorter time-to-deliver expectation.

Many of the government’s mission-critical operations currently run on legacy IT systems that are unsustainably expensive to operate in an environment that demands rapid response to new expectations, requirements and global challenges. In addition, the number of federal workers who can support legacy systems and processes is dwindling rapidly as thousands of programmers near retirement age.

Furthermore, many civilian agencies spend the majority of their IT budgets on maintaining legacy systems written in languages such as COBOL and Assembler, which leaves extremely limited resources for developing innovative, modernized systems that could increase efficiencies and deliver better outcomes. The challenge then becomes how to manage processes as efficiently as possible to allow legacy systems to operate as usual while freeing resources for technology transformation and workflow modernization.

Two approaches can help address that difficult situation: business process management and case management. The term BPM refers to the discipline of managing processes, rather than tasks, to improve performance outcomes and operational agility. Processes span organizational boundaries and link together people, information flows, systems and other assets to create and deliver value to customers and constituents. BPM enables streamlined business process operations that are repeatable and standard, resulting in optimal outcomes.

Case management is a concept that encapsulates the life cycle management of a customer request process from start to end, facilitating effective management of a business outcome. It is critical for ensuring flexibility and adaptability to changing policies and user demands. It does not presume that the work will always be structured and ordered. Instead of allocating substantial resources to designing an optimized process upfront, agencies can use case management to invest in tools that are adaptive to a variety of situations. That flexibility enables them to handle a wide range of cases. 

Both BPM and case management help manage workloads -- and they can best support agency transformation by achieving the right balance of coexistence. BPM’s structured processes deliver the needed consistency and compliance, while case management’s flexibility gives agencies the ability to arrive at the desired outcome. They are neither technologies nor solutions, which is why agencies -- even those using legacy IT systems -- can tap both to help streamline operations in three key areas while they continue to modernize:

  • Collaboration across multiple channels and platforms. Work requests, citizen requests, stakeholder feedback and decrees from management often arrive through multiple communication channels and across a variety of platforms. Case management arms agencies with the proactive tools to respond to, organize, triage and resolve cases regardless of how they’re communicated. Channel- and platform-agnosticism also mean that any agency, no matter how it currently stores and transfers information, can benefit from case management best practices. BPM provides the necessary framework to efficiently address standard requests and enforce compliance.
  • Optimized citizen-centric service delivery. Citizens’ expectations continue to increase, but satisfaction with government remains low. Case management allows for flexibility when responding to a host of different requests, while BPM provides employees with structured processes for handling more standard, repeatable cases. Every time a person connects with an agency, information about that transaction must be organized, stored and tracked, and a strong case management system will give government officials that capability even when they are working within legacy IT systems.
  • Increased measurement and accountability. Case management and BPM approaches include embedded accountability models that ensure work is measured not just by volume or completion rate but, more important, by quality of outcome and citizen satisfaction. The best case management systems focus on caseworkers’ efficiency and productivity -- not just the processing of a case. Similarly, properly implemented BPM solutions contain positive and negative feedback loops so they can alert managers to issues and allow time to correct them before the problem spreads down the line of operations.

Government IT leaders operate in a highly challenging environment, and they are torn between a necessary dependence on legacy systems and the demands of modern citizen service delivery. Establishing efficient workflow processes using case management and BPM best practices can give agencies the tools to effectively handle standard and non-standard requests while systems are being modernized. Designing systems to achieve the desired business outcome helps drive accountability and timely delivery of high-quality service for the public. 

About the Author

Thomas Romeo is president of Maximus Federal Services.

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