The CIO Dilemma: Achieving Process Transformation

The following article was written by AINS CEO Moe Goswami and is Part 3 of a 4-part series on digital transformation in government agencies and Offices of Inspectors General (OIGs).

To view the original article, click here.

Is your data working for or against business processes at your agency? In my last article, I highlighted OMB’s advice that “modernization . . . is not simply replacing individual outdated IT systems with newer ones; rather, it is a holistic approach to Federal IT that fundamentally transforms how agencies accomplish their missions.”[1] Digital transformation can seem like a daunting and ambiguous task for any agency that relies upon well-defined processes to manage sensitive information and activities, including OIGs. But a closer look with the right lens reveals ways that digital transformation can actually reduce risk and create significant opportunities for process management and improvement within federal agencies.

Consider the use of email in a typical OIG contract audit. After establishing certain target criteria, the OIG auditor sends a notification letter to the Chief Procurement Officer (CPO) via email. The CPO then forwards this email or sends a similar message to a contracting officer to request certain contract information. After gathering the requested information, the contract specialist sends the information back to the CPO, who then forwards it to the OIG auditor. In this scenario, the agency will end up storing numerous copies of the same email (sent, received, and continued in replies) and several copies of the attachments.

This storage problem can become a crisis when agencies are hit with lawsuits, audits, FOIA requests, or other legal inquiries, as time and effort is routinely expended sorting through irrelevant courtesy emails and duplicate attachments. Critical agency personnel are left bogged down managing the overwhelming quantity of digital information, rather than fulfilling their mission. Plus, if outdated attachment documents are mistaken for current versions, agencies run the risk of further legal repercussions.

The heavy reliance on email also impairs transparency and process improvement efforts. Email is vulnerable to user error—it must be monitored, read, sorted, and archived by individuals with other priorities. Email is also handled outside legacy audit tracking systems, often lost to program managers who rely on transparency to establish operational awareness. If the documentation can be generated, tracked, and shared within one secure end-to-end environment, such transparency could be secured. Plus, if these collected documents could actually be organized, then the auditor could further integrate processes with review and hyperlinking, indexing, and other automated tools.

Let’s step back for a moment and look at an example of how end-to-end digital process transformation is helping other industries. Suppose you have just ordered a product through an online retailer like Amazon. The retailer must communicate the purchase to the warehouse so that your order can be prepared and shipped. In between these processes are multiple other communications that are taking place with regards to inventory, preparation, shipping, and delivery.

If retailers like Amazon chose to rely on emails to communicate process steps, there would be many places in which the process could be broken. A miscommunication could mean you receive the wrong product, or that the product is delivered to an address two states away. But because the process is automated end to end, the success rate of product delivery is very high—and the process is transparent. From the moment you place the order to the time you receive it, you can view updates regarding your order, track the delivery, contact the retailer, and more all from one system.

Of course, the challenges specific to OIGs do not necessarily align with the challenges of retail. We understand, for instance, the need for OIGs to be independent of their respective agencies, and the importance of security in digital transformation. We’re able to restrict and grant access between two separate environments with firewalls and role-based permissions, and limit communications as a one-way transmission through secure services so that an OIG can pull documents from a program office, without the program office being able to go into the OIG environment.

There are real risks in maintaining the status quo and relying on rigid, process-specific IT solutions. According to a 2018 Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) report, outdated infrastructure “poses significant risk of failures due to its reliance on legacy systems.”[2] Moreover, siloed applications lead to siloed information which inhibits an agency’s ability to measure critical variables related to efficiency, productivity, and compliance. The low adaptability of siloed applications ultimately causes higher maintenance and support costs and disparity across the overall business operation, slowing down the process.

In regards to audit and contracts, we have already taken steps toward the type of digital transformation retail has made. Our company has an audit management system that is in production at many agencies, and a contract management system with a secure filing structure which recently rolled out across the entire Department of Homeland Security. What if we could build an end-to-end process between audit and contracts in a secure architecture which would allow auditors to seamlessly go into contracts and pull needed documentation? What if the contracts subfolders were marked for audit so that the auditors could pull and review documents seamlessly?

So much more is possible with an end-to-end platform approach to process automation across federal agencies and OIGs. Cost of training would go down as all employees would be familiar with a consistent user interface. Digital processes would fill in the missing pieces often found with paper methods, actionable reports would be quickly generated based on enterprise-wide data, and communication would be simplified as documents could be shared and tracked with the click of a button. The issues related to email reliance would dissipate.

Given that many CIOs are invested in unifying their agencies through digitization, reducing operations and maintenance costs of software applications, and reducing training times between applications, they should be looking for ways to transform their end-to-end business processes to achieve their goals. With advanced technology and robust firewalls, OIGs can remain independent while still implementing streamlined business processes. Leveraging low-code platforms will help agencies and OIGs accomplish tasks faster, more efficiently, and with greater transparency.

As long as agencies rely on email as the default work process, the expensive and time-consuming investments in software will never reach their full potential. The innovative digital architecture of an enterprise, end-to-end approach directly facilitates the missions of OIGs and their respective agencies by dramatically increasing efficiency and transparency while significantly reducing cost. Since innovation requires cooperation between key decision makers across the federal government, CIOs must commit to innovation in order to drive successful and sustainable transformation.

References:

[1] Executive Office of the President, Office of Management and Budget, Analytical Perspectives: Budget of the U.S. Government Fiscal Year 2018 (Washington, DC, 2017), 191-196, https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/BUDGET-2018-PER/pdf/BUDGET-2018-PER.pdf.

[2] Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, Top Management and Performance Challenges Facing Multiple Federal Agencies (Washington, DC, 2018), https://www.oversight.gov/sites/default/files/oig-reports/CIGIE_Top_Challenges_Report_April_2018.pdf


AINS, Inc. has provided innovative adaptive case management products and services since 1988. Our case management platform, eCase, is deployed at over 400 installations, including federal agencies and offices, state and local governments, educational systems, health institutions, and commercial customers. Unlike other BPM solutions that were retrofitted for case management, eCase was built for case management from the ground up, enabling faster prototyping and production of solutions across diverse business processes. By leveraging the power of eCase, AINS excels at analyzing client business requirements and quickly configuring (not coding) scalable solutions that adapt to the needs of our customers.