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From Paper To Process

Many business procedures are closely linked to paper documents; improving a process often requires getting control of the documents

Life would have been easier for Mike Coyne if business processes were linked as easily as lengths of pipe. As project manager for the Distribution Engineering Group at Shell Pipeline Company LP, he found that his company's move from a legacy accounting system to SAP--part of a business-process redesign implemented in 2001 with the help of consulting firm Accenture--created confusion about how to requisition materials and services. The system also didn't address project-management needs.

"We went from somewhat organized to really much less efficiency," he says, estimating a 20% to 30% decrease in project performance.

The problem was that the SAP system, which dealt with cost structures and financial modeling, didn't effectively address project-management tasks such as reports generated by engineers in the field. Shell Pipeline is a subsidiary of Shell Oil Products U.S. and is one of the largest pipeline-transportation companies in the country. In essence, documents with critical data--such as X-ray reports of pipe conditions, project cost estimates and reviews, requisitions, and welder-qualification records--needed to be linked for better decision support and regulatory-compliance monitoring.

The answer came from two tech vendors, plus a data-collection and management system developed in-house. The first was Citadon Inc., an ASP that offered Web-based project collaboration and business-process management to Shell and its business-to-business partners. The second was FileNet Inc., a content-management software company, which provided behind-the-firewall document life-cycle management.

The result has been a huge efficiency increase, says Coyne, who adds that his group went from simply getting projects done to more actively managing the scope and cost.

Welcome to business-process management. It's a term that, research firm Gartner notes, has long confused vendors and technology users alike because there aren't standard terms and concepts to frame a discussion of it. Gartner VP and analyst Jim Sinur takes a shot at a broad definition of BPM as "managing work as it flows through an organization." There are dozens of companies selling software and services that fall under the BPM umbrella, many of them with ties to document management. Among the leaders identified by Gartner in a June Research Note are FileNet, Lombardi Software, and Ultimus.

Gartner cites five essentials in a BPM system: graphical tools for analyzing, modeling, and defining processes; an execution engine to maintain status of each process instance or business event; the capacity to adapt to changing requirements; tools to monitor and manage processes; and tools to analyze completed projects.

Boeing Co.'s experience shows why document-management companies established a strong foothold in the BPM market. Boeing's problem was a flood of forms. When the aerospace company merged with McDonnell Douglas Corp. in 1997, it was left with 36,000 employee forms and no sense of which should be used for what actions, says Scott Beckman, systems manager for Boeing Forms Library. Thus the Boeing forms-integration team came to be, to create a Web site where employees could access any form.

About 70% of the company's forms could be translated into electronic versions. Among the processes that benefited was the company's Learning Together Registration program, through which Boeing pays employees to study. Employees used to fill out paper forms and fax them in to participate in the program. Processing took two weeks, with errors and omissions common. Using FileNet's Forms Manager software, Beckman and his group took the task online. Now processing takes 20 minutes.

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