BPM wins agency attention

In the acronym-embracing worlds of government and information technology, emerging terms such as BPM add to the bewilderment.

To some, BPM means business process management, although its government variant is sometimes dubbed enterprise process management or even e-government process management.

Meanwhile, business performance management, also called corporate performance management, is finding its way into government applications. Last month, the District of Columbia government began to implement its Administrative Systems Modernization Program (ASMP) using BPM (as in "performance") software from a Silicon Valley vendor.

To add to the confusion, a new breed of business process modeling is entering the BPM fray, including the introduction of business process modeling language (BMPL), software customized for this task just as XML is a language for business data modeling.

The issues of IT process and performance review take on added significance in light of this month's General Accounting Office blast at federal agencies performance measurement practices. The subtitle of its 148-page "Information Technology Management" report spells out the problem: "Governmentwide Strategic Planning, Performance Measurement, And Investment Management Can Be Further Improved."

In particular, GAO said that most of the 26 federal departments and agencies it surveyed have not established sufficient IT planning and performance measurement practices.

BPM performance software suppliers, such as Hyperion Solutions Corp., the Sunnyvale, Calif., vendor that supplied the D.C. government package, see such findings as validating the need for their products.

"What you're seeing is true interoperability between solutions," said Jose Contreras, Hyperion's advanced technology group senior manager, of his company's D.C. contract. "A lot of agencies are being asked to come up with specific measures to check their performance. They're now at a time when they have to deliver on the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993."

"What they're seeing is that BPM allows them to ? prove their financial and operational performance," Contreras said.

In the District of Columbia implementation, local agency directors will get a "more granular view," as Hyperion describes it, of their budgets. This includes up-to-the-minute measures of the effectiveness of various programs compared to the funds allocated to those initiatives. The district's chief financial officer also will have a much clearer picture of the budget health across all 68 agencies, Hyperion said.

These performance gauges allow officials to "understand what services are being demanded and how effectively they are delivering it," Contreras said. "Performance management has real-time visibility of financial and nonfinancial performance activities, all the way down to specific activities. Status indicators and alerts are triggered if performance is out of a range."

Defining the Process

While such real-time and broadly integrated factors may distinguish ultimate performance from envisioned process, the BPM blur persists.

For example, Metastorm Inc., a Columbia, Md., software developer, uses similar descriptions for the ways in which Bakersfield, Calif., uses Metastorm's eWork process software to automate, track and manage residents' inquiries.

Metastorm's case study on the installation quoted Bakersfield's MIS Director Bob Trammell as extolling the software's "ability to automate many of our paper-intensive processes and link the status of a given inquiry via the Web to the city's various databases."

Recognizing the consistent needs of municipal agencies, Metastorm has developed a local government suite of applications that encompasses employee and citizen request forms, everything from animal control and pothole reports to staff leave requests.

The company's clients include the cities of Philadelphia, which has used Metastorm software to automate online citizen services, and Norfolk, Va., which put an interagency emergency response plan in place with the software.

Laura Mooney, Metastorm's director of product marketing, noted that federal paperwork reduction mandates have bolstered the appeal of process management software. She cited the Treasury Department, which last year transformed an 80-page form used to track grants and loans into a paperless document using Metastorm tools.

The Agriculture Department has also implemented interbureau paperless procedures with the company's software.

Mooney also noted her company's resale relationships in the federal sector. For example, Science Applications International Corp. has bundled Metastorm eWorks into a complete logistic package used by the Army to track supply logistics and coordinate resources and materiel.

Growing implementation

Whatever it is called or however it is abbreviated, the BPM category is on a roll.

Prices typically start at about $100,000 for a fundamental process or performance software bundle, and climb into the million-dollar range. Vendors sell directly to federal, state and local agencies as well as via integrators.

Indeed, budget cuts plus the growing interconnection of government programs demand better-defined procedures to design and deliver services, not to mention the advancing need for accountability.

No wonder that outside analysts foresee a $6.2 billion worldwide market in the various BPM services, with a significant portion coming from government clients. With a range of providers ? including IBM Corp., WebMethods Inc., Staffware plc. and Tibco Software Inc. ? plus an array of specialty vendors, the BPM categories will play an increasingly visible role in IT procedures, no matter what BPM actually means.

Gary Arlen is president of Arlen Communications Inc., a Bethesda, Md., research firm. His e-mail address is GaryArlen@columnist.com.

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