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Like many government agencies, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has no shortage of work and faces strict accountability. After all, the agency's 750 employees are charged with protecting the state's air, waters, and land. To increase the efficiency of its numerous monitoring and enforcement processes, and to make better use of the data it has been collecting for more than 35 years, the MPCA was in dire need of -- an assessment about how it was actually functioning. The solution? The agency employed a tool that many organizations are now using to improve operations and the bottom line: Business process mapping (BPM).
"It's tough to make improvements if you don't have a good picture of where you are," says Ed Myer, CIO for the MPCA. Specifically, the agency's managers worked together to document a majority of its enforcement processes, identify bottlenecks, change processes, and redefine priorities, including suspending collecting certain data. As a result, the agency has made some notable progress, such as reducing the permit-processing window: where 40 percent of air - quality permits had been backlogged more than 180 days, now the rate is just 9 percent and still improving. The agency is also looking to streamline how it shares mandated reports with the federal government.
"Business process mapping was the start to understanding how we're operating and how we can do things better," Myer says. "This is a really powerful tool that brought a whole new level of discipline and cohesion to our processes and improved our track record."
CIOs are increasingly taking the helm when it comes to leading successful business process management initiatives -- and not just for their departments but for the entire organization. Most IT departments already use workflow tools to track projects or solve problems. However, to align IT with overall business goals, it pays to take a more global approach to process management. At the core of these initiatives there needs to be a central mapping tool that helps IT document the current state of processes and resources for all business units and indicates where improvements are needed to produce better results.
"First, CIOs need to be able to map the processes involved in their projects," says Tom Dwyer, a research director for the Yankee Group. "Then the broader initiative would be to map the business processes that drive the entire company -supply chain, development, customer care, sales, and finance -- to help the company become more competitive and improve revenue growth as opposed to just being a cost center."
To help an organization analyze its processes and how they sync up with business goals, CIOs should take the following four steps, according to experts including Mike Jacka, an auditing manager for Farmers Insurance and coauthor of the book Business Process Mapping:
- Process identification Before you make changes to a process, first you need to define it. Consistent definitions of processes are needed to adequately deploy a BPM tool. "You need to get in an agreement about the process start point and end point," Jacka says.
- Information gathering Next, Jacka says, identify the objectives, risks, and key controls in the process. Before you actually build a map, bring together relevant people from necessary business units to accurately define how the process is carried out currently vs. how it's supposed to work. Designate a person, or yourself, to compile this information. Some call BPM tools "flowcharts with attitude," but the key to BPM is not the mapping itself but the interview process. To understand how each process works, ask people about how they work, how the process works, and what they really need to get their jobs done. Walk them through step by step: How do you start? What do you do next? Is this what you really do or what you're supposed to be doing?
At this point, some companies may use an outside consultant or internal auditor to provide fresh eyes to the situation, such as leading business units in "storyboarding" each process on paper, says Darshan Khalsa, founder of Transition Stress Management, who has led BPM initiatives for clients such as Kodak and Bank of America. "We take a cross-section of people who touch the process, including the end customers receiving the service, and work on a section of a process at time -- it is a discovery process," Khalsa says.
- Mapping After collaborating to come up with universal definitions and to investigate each process, you can bring the pieces together using a BPM tool. Experts agree that an ideal tool should be able to map any process at any level of detail, support the capturing of metrics surrounding efficiency, and provide a graphical representation of how processes work and intersect. "In general, the IT organization tends to drive BPM because you can get people involved in requirements-analysis and problem-solving. These mapping tools can zoom in and zoom out so you can see the big-picture process," Dwyer says. "The process is no longer trapped in documents or someone's head, but it's visually mapped. Project by project it builds up a good view of the enterprise if you use a consistent approach and the same tool, so you don't have islands of information stored in different formats."
- Analysis Once a process is mapped, the next step is to determine how it can run more effectively and efficiently. Khalsa suggests collectively thinking about how the process should work in the future. "Look at the value-chain of suppliers and customers," he says, and include stakeholders in making change happen so they have ownership over the transition. Jacka says you can also use a BPM to properly train people as long as it's updated as processes evolve. And Dwyer adds that it's important to tailor the user interface of a BMP to fit the end - users' needs and the way they're accustomed to analyzing information, whether it's a flowchart for IT or a spreadsheet for finance.
Ultimately, if you can show success with BPM in one area, then you can lobby for high-level support to use the tool throughout the organization. "If you want to reduce the gap between business objectives and IT," Dwyer says, "then you need to engage in programs that make IT more knowledgeable and responsive -- not the other way around."
As for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, business process mapping has now become standard operating procedure for solving problems and planning, the MPCA's Meyer says: "It's best to work with willing managers who have programs that you know are in trouble or have challenges. Once you get some success, BPM will sell itself."
Courtney Macavinta is a Silicon Valley-based business and technology writer. Her articles have appeared in CNET News#IF($EnableExternalLinks).c#COMMENT#ENDCOMMENTom#ENDIF, Business 2.0, Red Herring, and The Washington Post.
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