Open Government and the Role of BPM

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Is there a relationship between the discipline of Business Process Management and Open Government? If not, should there be? The simple answers are yes... and yes. Here are some recent events from the Obama Administration regarding the Open Government Initiative.

On January 21, 2009 – his first full day in office – President Barack Obama published a “Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government” and called for recommendations for making the Federal government more transparent, participatory, and collaborative. As articulated on the webpage at www.whitehouse.gov/open/about/, “The Memorandum charged the Chief Technology Officer, together with the Office of Management and Budget and the General Services Administration, with creating recommendations for an OMB directive on open government within 120 days. The CTO, OMB, and GSA have recommended that on May 21st, the White House invite the public to contribute its expertise to crafting final recommendations on open government. The goal is to experiment with mechanisms for effective citizen participation in order to complement the know-how of government employees with the expertise and intelligence of the American people.”

On May 21, 2009, two initiatives were launched: Data.gov and Regulations.gov-Exchange. According to the website, Data.gov is a “citizen-friendly platform” that provides public access to many Government datasets. “Plans are in place to add new datasets and to continually improve the features and tools for navigating, searching, reading and downloading those datasets. Future versions of Data.gov are planned to become even better because the system has the capacity to evolve based on feedback from the American public. The second initiative involved federal regulations that specify processes and policies. The website at www.whitehouse.gov/open/innovations/Regulations-gov-Exchange/ states, “ Since 2003, Regulations.gov has enabled millions of citizens to search, view and comment on federal regulations. Now with Regulations.gov Exchange, the public can post opinions directly on the site, helping to shape the future of Regulations.gov.” Another quote from this website reads, “Regulations.gov Exchange promotes public involvement and uses new technology to enhance the transparency of government decision-making.”

Launched on June 30, 2009, the Open Government website has received over 30 million hits from citizens and watchdog agencies submitting a wide variety of issues. One such issue concerns the confusing and inefficient process of immigration. President Obama pledged that by the end of September, applicants will be able to “track status of their citizenship online, view average waiting time for different stages of the citizenship process, and receive updates about their citizenship via e-mail.” This implies that someone in the federal government has been tasked with understanding the existing immigration process and enabling the applicant to understand it as well.

The following information is posted on the Office of Science and Technology (OSTP) website. “On August 11, OSTP hosted a meeting with Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Principal Deputy Commissioner, Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, United States Chief Technology Officer, Aneesh Chopra, members of the White House Open Government Initiative, and the health care investor community at the White House to discuss ways FDA can make useful and understandable information available about the product approval process and how transparency at FDA can foster medical product innovation. Participants included individuals who invest in small, mid-size, and large companies that develop a range of products regulated by FDA. During the conversation, participants provided feedback to FDA and OSTP in three main areas: (1) how FDA can better explain its processes and operations, (2) what information would be helpful for FDA to provide to sponsors that submit product applications to the agency, and (3) how transparent processes at FDA can foster product development and innovation.

These are just a few of the specific examples that show the relationship between Open Government and process. Each of these Open Government initiatives will first describe the process involved and communicate this to the citizen. This will soon expose how broken the process is and finally should lead to an effort to fix the broken and inefficient process. Does the Federal Government possess sufficient skill to analyze and improve processes?

In the past year BPMInstitute.org has observed a transitional approach to process thinking at most companies at which it has conducted training. The end-to-end process approach is still new to the employees forming these process teams. Funded improvement efforts in the past have been the result of requirements analysis of existing operations within functional stovepipes and the context for these requirements have been the existing business applications. The new end-to-end process models being developed will provide a new context from the customer’s point of view. However, BPMInstitute.org has observed just how entrenched the more traditional mindset is and how the new outside-in approach to process improvement will take awhile to be thoroughly understood and practiced. We suspect that the same traditional mindset is at work in the Federal Government and that they too will embark on this “process thinking” journey as they strive to become more transparent to the citizen.

Prior to receiving process training the process improvement team uses models to capture information about existing business operations. Reflecting the entrenched traditional approach to process capture, the models are often built from the company (i.e. government) perspective and not from the customer (i.e. citizen) perspective. They are constructed in a linear flow from process start to finish without a focus on the outputs of the process that are important to the citizen. The lack of focus on outputs important to the citizen is accompanied by a lack of understanding of the citizen’s expectation for these outputs. After receiving process training the approach to process capture is completely reversed. Rather than work from start to finish the team is taught to develop the model from the end to the beginning. First, the modeler identifies the customer, then identifies the outputs of interest to the customer and lastly identifies the customer’s expectation for theses outputs in terms of time, cost and quality.

Taking this tops-down, outside-in approach replaces the existing model with a much simpler one. The next step is to peel away the complexity of the top-level process by creating hierarchical levels of detail composed of sub-processes. This process decomposition is built using the same approach followed when the top-level was created. Each sub-process has an internal customer, an output and an internal customer expectation of that output in terms of time, cost and quality. Building models in this fashion prepares the modeler to define metrics from the citizen’s perspective in terms of time, cost and quality. It is generally acknowledged that the disciplined practice of measuring the right set of performance metrics is fundamental to the formulation and implementation of strategy, as it provides the needed focus for implementation initiatives. Examples of the most meaningful metrics include cycle time, defect rate, variance to promise date, and variance to promise budget.

The current Open Government Initiative has senior administrative executives rethinking ways to achieve citizen-centered, operational efficiency. They are asking agency executives to examine current processes and suggest ways of streamlining operations and reducing waste. Senior administrative executives must follow the business peers and examine process skills such as modeling, analysis and improvement to explore if new approaches will establish a new discipline for improving government performance. This new approach will take some time to completely implement as so much of the current government behavior is aligned with older traditional approaches based on task and function efficiency. To implement this change the Federal Government must first establish small teams of process improvement specialist trained in BPM. They then need to assign these specialists to work as internal consultants on process improvement projects. The specialists will consistently apply the discipline on a project by project basis to slowly transform the government to be more process-driven.

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