Homeland Security Can't Wait

Business process management technology has been selected to speed certifications for an "Approved Product List for Homeland Security."

You can't respond to the threat of terrorism at the speed of bureaucracy. That's why business process management (BPM) technology was selected to speed certifications for an "Approved Product List for Homeland Security." Established as part of a Homeland Security provision called The Safety Act, the list is designed to promote technologies that might detect, deter or thwart terrorist activities. The act stipulated a fast review period — by legislative standards — of just 150 days.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has tapped the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA), an independent research firm, to quickly compile required data on technologies submitted for approval, which have varied from database search technologies to screening equipment for chemical and biological agents. The submissions are then approved or rejected by the DHS.

IDA's biggest hurdle was meeting a 150-day timeline stipulated by the Safety Act and the DHS. The first attempt to meet those deadlines, in 2003, hinged on a document-oriented review system that came up short. "The product emphasized evaluation templates, but we found we needed less control over the templates and more flexibility in the process itself," says IDA's vice president of IT Indy Crowley.

In a second review concluded in January, IDA selected Appian's Enterprise BPM Suite from among five finalists.

"We felt the product would be the easiest to use for our process coordinators," says Crowley. "If we need to rewrite the rules so document would [follow a different review workflow], we wanted to be able to do that without assistance from IT. With the first system we tried, that change would have taken six weeks."

Appian Enterprise was deployed in May, and by June, a four-step, 300-plus-task research process was implemented. The process touches 18 internal users, and research tasks can be securely exposed, via the Web, to the more than 400 independent experts IDA relies upon. Built-in reporting features track backlogs as well as the types of technologies under review and the status of requests for more information. Vouching for the system's flexibility, Crowley says IDA was able to "change rules, roles and tasks controlling about 45% of the process within five days" relying on five business analysts and just one IT employee.

The IDA had 40 Safety Act applications in flight by August, and Crowley says the real payoff will emerge as the number of submissions grows. "It would be impossible to manage the process and properly evaluate these technologies without adding staff," he says. "We want to invest our time in evaluation, not process coordination."

Perhaps there's a bright future for BPM at FEMA, which has demonstrated an enormous need for a fast-yet-flexible process for emergency relief — complete with monitoring, alerts, exception handling and escalation features.

— Doug Henschen

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