"What-If" Reengineering

Considering business process reengineering and imaging? Business modeling software can test for risk and cost.

by / April 30, 1997
In 1990, an article appeared in the Harvard Business Review that was to have a profound effect on management, information technology and, in particular, imaging. The article, "Reengineering Work: Don't Automate, Obliterate," by Michael Hammer, explained how organizations, if they changed the way they acquired and used information, could boost productivity not by a few percentage points, but by as much as several hundred percent.

The concept, known as business process reengineering (BPR), has been embraced by private-sector firms and a growing number of public-sector institutions. Reengineering calls for a complete redesign of how work is performed and services are delivered. It starts by setting goals and then rethinking how tasks are completed, with technology as the change enabler.

Many experts consider BPR one of the key benefits of imaging. It ensures that a government agency does not "pave the cowpath" with automation, but actually redesigns the business process to create significant improvements in cost, time and value. For example, imaging allows an organization to capture information at the source and centralize its access.

Incoming paper documents, once treated as a separate source of information, can be scanned and indexed with existing databases of information, so that workers can locate and access every piece of information -- whether it concerns a crime, a parcel of property or an individual's tax return -- with just a few keystrokes or clicks of a mouse.

Imaging allows an organization to turn sequential or serial processes into parallel ones. Instead of requiring each staff person to complete paperwork before passing it on to another worker, the imaging system enables various staff to view document images simultaneously, so work is processed by several people at the same time. Because imaging removes paper from a work process, it allows an organization to remove the handoffs that can slow down transactions.

Reengineering achieved through imaging can slash the time it takes to deliver a service and the costs for producing the service. Reengineering also helps an organization wring value from its redesigned process. Think of the value that comes from a reengineered work process that allows a title company to search and fax to itself copies of deeds without leaving the office, rather than going downtown to request that a government clerk perform the same task.

But planning and implementing an imaging system that reengineers the flow of work in an organization can be extremely challenging. Imaging systems provide a broad range of options for supporting and enhancing business operations. The interplay between what already exists in an organization and what is envisioned makes implementing imaging systems that support reengineering time-consuming and complex to execute.

If reengineering is passed over for lack of planning, the results can be disastrous. One state agency that implemented an imaging system tried simply to turn a paper process into an electronic process. Instead of benefits, the agency found itself with an imaging project that became expensive and delivered a poor response time. The net results were no better than what they had before they started.

Despite these problems, many government agencies have avoided BPR because of the fear of failure. Obliterating existing work processes without knowing whether the changes will succeed is a risk that few agencies are willing to take.

In recent years, however, reengineering has become less risky, thanks to business process modeling software. These computer tools perform a key step in BPR -- the creation of a model so that new business process designs can be analyzed and tested.

Before reengineering can take place, planners have to understand how a business process works in terms of its steps, flows and resources (budget, staff and equipment). Modeling software takes that data and speeds up the analysis of existing and proposed business processes. It can simulate how a redesigned process will behave under a series of what-if situations. Through this computerized tryout method, managers can identify possible bottlenecks and shortcomings in new process designs without having to actually implement the process.

A major benefit with the latest crop of modeling software is their ability to tell agencies what it will cost to redesign its business process. For example, government analysts can simulate how much staff and equipment will be needed for a redesigned process and what those costs will be. However, analysts are quick to point out that if the numbers are garbage, the results will be garbage.

That's why government agencies involved with BPR for the first time are likely to bring in outside consultants who are familiar with the modeling tools and can assist with the actual construction of the process model and the simulation. But with more tools offering easy-to-use graphical layouts and the ability to run on Microsoft's Windows and NT platforms, anyone with a solid understanding of their business processes and workflows can use BPR modeling tools.

Business modeling software ranges in price from $500 to $50,000, depending on its sophistication. Some products do nothing more than basic flow-charting while others can take users through the entire BPR process.

According to Bob Seltzer, president of Meta Software Corp., most buyers of his product, Workflow Analyzer, have been commercial firms. "But recently, we've seen increased interest from the state and local government market." Seltzer said that improving customer service and cost containment are the two primary reasons agencies invest in modeling and simulation software for reengineering.

Recently, the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance used Meta Software's Workflow Analyzer to reengineer how it processes tax returns using imaging software. According to Seltzer, the department's major objectives were to reduce the time it takes to process a return and send out a refund check and to reduce the cost of processing the form. Workflow Analyzer captures data related to budgets, staff and equipment and simulates various work design scenarios, tests assumptions and measures results. Michigan's Department of Transportation and the Commonwealth of Virginia also have used Meta Software's modeling and simulation tools.

Simprocess, from CACI International, is another leading BPR tool for modeling, simulation and analysis. It has been used by a number of government agencies including Arizona's Department of Liquor Licensing and Control, which reengineered license issuance and investigations using imaging technology. The department was able to reduce the time it took to issue a license by 25 percent while driving down the cost of issuance by 33 percent. Costs related to license investigations were reduced by 80 percent.

Both North Dakota and Nebraska used Composer, a modeling and CASE (computer-aided software engineering) tool from Texas Instruments to reengineer social service programs. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office also used Composer to build work process models for its imaging and workflow systems.

As agencies, such as motor vehicles, strive to improve customer service, while others, such as human services, push to contain costs, the need for BPR in government will continue to increase. But like so many other software products these days, business process modeling software is nothing more than a tool. Without goals, good leadership, realistic expectations and extensive planning, BPR will remain nothing more than another management acronym.


PROBLEM/SITUATION: Imaging projects may simply pave the cowpath. Business process reengineering is often difficult to execute.

SOLUTION: Business process modeling software tools.

JURISDICTION: Arizona Dept. of Liquor Licensing and Control, New York Dept. of Taxation, North Dakota, Nebraska, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Michigan Dept. of Transportation, Commonwealth of Virginia.

VENDORS: Meta Software Corp., CACI International, Texas Instruments, Gensym Corp., Imagine That!, CSA Research, Clear Software, AdvanEdge, Logic Works.

CONTACT: Louis Zand, Meta Software, 617/876-9725.

Other leading BPR tools include: ReThink from Gensym Corp., Extend+BPR from Imagine That!, Optima from AdvanEdge Technologies, BPwin from Logic Works, SILVERRUN-BPM from CSA Research and Clear Process from Clear Software.


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