Innovating the Enterprise Through Reengineering
Innovation through business process reengineering is central to U.S. Army Futures Command’s mission. This is an area where improvement through reengineering has the potential to improve just about everything the Army does, making it all cost less and happen faster.
The importance of business process reengineering to the Army and its future was reflected by a talk at Warrior’s Corner on Oct. 9 at the annual AUSA meeting in Washington D.C. Robin Swan, deputy director, Office of Business Transformation, opened the talk by asking and answering a rhetorical question. “What the heck does business process innovation have to do with Warrior’s Corner? It has everything to do!”
Swan went through the Army’s must-do activities - procurement, pay and personnel – and, in all of them, “We do nothing without a business process!” The Army’s mission, at its heart, has “a series of processes it uses to generate readiness and fulfill a request for forces anywhere in the world,” Swan said.
Swan said, “The U.S. Army, across the whole of government, has more experience in fielding business reengineering processes than anyone else,” admitting that the “key has been learning from our mistakes.”
He gave as an example of one of these mistakes, how the Army, seeking to save money, acquired commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) software to run its integrated personnel and pay system. This software required extensive – and expensive – customization to deal with the system’s complexities. Swan said that the business reengineering process’ solution started with identifying, “How many different pay and personnel processes did the Army have? 154!” The process was able to “reengineer the 154, get it down to 34 processes, which could be supported by COTS software. The delta did not have to be customized within the software.” This was just one example of business-process reengineering driving return on investment, improving output and contributing to readiness.
Crystal Chadwick, the director of the Army’s Business Process Reengineering Center of Excellence, presented business processing reengineering as following in the military’s “long history of technical innovations” that have had an impact on daily life, such as the internet, digital cameras or the GPS. But such innovation can take a long time. “Every time we adopt a new technology, it is a new process; it can take years,” she said. It can also be costly. “Up to 70 percent of cost is maintaining information technology over its lifespan. You cannot think of it as a one-time investment.”
How, then, can the Army innovate without taking so much time and spending so much money? Chadwick told the audience at Warrior’s Corner, “We hope you take away what innovation is about. Doing things in new ways and with new technology is only one possible mechanism enabling this. We can also rethink the way we do work. We can add innovation, look at processes we have in place, look at processes and reengineering to maximize efficiency and effectiveness.”
A second way is to repurpose technology that we already own, to maximize return on investment. A third way is to buy the technology.
Meghann Johnson, a business process reengineering specialist at the Business Process Reengineering Center of Excellence, started her talk by reminding the audience how a new business process can change the world. Henry Ford’s first assembly line made the automobile near-universal rather than a luxury item. Yet grasping the potential transformative power of business process reengineering, especially for the Army, is often difficult.
Johnson said the Army needs to put in place business processes that institutionalize looking at, “How can you use what is already on hand to solve your problem and rethink how technology we have on hand can be used to solve problems.”
U.S. Army Futures Command has been stood up to do things better. The time for the requirements associated with new systems can cut down from years to a few months. The Army can innovate processes to reduce time required for its activities, including getting needed capabilities into the hands of warfighters. Repurposing technology is also a potential source of innovation. The Army needs to ask, Chadwick said, “Before you invest millions of dollars, make sure there is not a cheaper, better way.”
Johnson said the Center of Excellence was the primary source for business process reengineering for the Army. Part of its mission was to develop standardized methodology to implement business process reengineering processes. In addition, it was working on process facilitation, acquisition cycle review, mentorship programs, training courses and professional certifications. The capability provided by the Center of Excellence, Snow said, is “one-of-a-kind inside the Department of Defense. It increases capability every day.”
-David Isby for AUSA