Rob Weedn is a firm believer in the power of collective experience. Thats why Weedn, who is the federal practice manager at BPM software developer HandySoft Global, said he is so enthused about the companys association with Exceptional Software Strategies.
Since 2004, HandySoft, of Vienna, Va., and Exceptional, an IT services company in Linthicum, Md., that specializes in federal government and education clients, have joined forces to offer customers workflow solutions using business process management software.
When looking for systems integrators in the federal government market with which to team up, Weedn said that the ideal channel partner is one that has skills and expertise that complement HandySofts BPM focus.
"We look for systems integrators who understand how the federal government works with manual processes and can use [our software] to develop better business processes," Weedn said.
In the case of Exceptional, it turns out that the systems integrator lives up to its name, at least as far as Weedn is concerned, he said.
Since 2004, Exceptional has been incorporating HandySofts BizFlow BPM software into a case management system that it sells to federal agencies. Clients include the Department of Defense, the General Services Administration and NASA.
Exceptional developed a case management system using the BizFlow workflow tool, along with Adobe Systems Macromedia Breeze (for online collaboration) and MDYs FileSurf (for records management).
The system helps agencies keep on top of all the workflow issues required to comply with the governments comprehensive FAR (Federal Acquisition Regulation) system. (The DOD has its own version, known as DFAR.)
The FAR system codifies and publishes uniform policies and processes for acquisition. All executive federal agencies are required to adhere to the FAR system, which encompasses policies for everything from acquisition planning and sealed bids to improper business practices and contract financing.
Given the complex nature of government regulations, the workflow required to keep on top of the ever-changing rules is itself a complex operation, according to Weedn.
Indeed, rules cant be changed just on a congressmans whim; when a piece of legislation calls for a proposed change to an acquisition rule in FAR—one that will result in "a significant cost or administrative impact on contractors," according to the regulations—that rule change request enters a case management process, one that the DOD, GSA and NASA used to handle with manual, paper-based handoffs of file folders among agency employees.
Anyone who works in an office in which paper is passed from one employee to another has undoubtedly experienced delays due to documents that are overlooked, misdirected or misplaced. Keeping track of documents when processes are entirely manual is a common and vexing problem.
Its a problem that calls out for automation, said Tony Mangerie, president of Exceptionals MediaEdge division, a company that develops and implements multimedia portals and Web-based training. Exceptionals case management system, Mangerie added, has vaulted tracking FAR change requests into the electronic age.
"Agencies use the system for all aspects of case management," Mangerie said, ranging from "receiving rule changes [to] routing those changes," which often contain feedback solicited from the public.
Electronic document routing may seem like the low-hanging fruit, but it has added up to big productivity gains by the agencies that use it, according to Mangerie.
Enabled by the BizFlow BPM software, Mangerie said that the time it takes to process a change—from assigning a proposed change a case number and case manager to conducting research, sending it to a committee and then sending it through several layers of management review—has been trimmed from 2.5 years to 1.5 years, thanks in no small part to intelligent routing that keeps documents moving or sends alerts when they dont.
"When the processes were manual, it took three people working full time to generate reports about change requests and call around and check on the status of the change requests," Mangerie said.
To put the process in perspective, Mangerie said that at any one time, approximately 200 change requests are pending, and each is documented in a separate file. At the DOD in particular, it wasnt unusual to see the offices of the editors responsible for writing the changes filled with file folders stacked 5 feet high, he said.
Clearly, FARs scope and the serpentine process of tracking change requests offered a prime opportunity for workflow automation, and that driving need is what brought HandySoft and Exceptional together.
Weedn said he sees the partnership with Exceptional as an ideal way to win more business with federal agencies—many of which have worked with Exceptional in the past. Founded in 1991, the privately held HandySoft has grown steadily if not spectacularly. Today, the company has 170 employees and more than 200 customers.
With Exceptionals track record of building what Weedn calls composite BPM systems—or systems that are part of an integrated enterprise content management system that are implemented quickly—HandySoft now hopes to leverage that relationship.
"We can look to the six or seven customers who have used our software [with Exceptional] so we dont have to build a workflow system from scratch," Weedn said. "We can speed the time frame for implementations and reduce the risk."
From Mangeries perspective, HandySofts technology provided the capabilities that Exceptional was seeking from a partner. In terms of software for a case management system, Mangerie said that Exceptional needed to incorporate a BPM tool that would allow flexibility and enforce standard processes at the same time.
Why the seeming contradiction? As Mangerie explained it, people can work in an unstructured way within a structured environment, and any case management system Exceptional developed would have to support that.
For example, even though documents need to follow a certain path, people sometimes like to route things to someone who they view as a subject matter expert, hence the need for ad hoc routing on the fly.
According to Mangerie, Exceptional evaluated other options such as a workflow tool from Integic (a company that Northrop Grumman purchased last year) and integrated offerings with workflow components such as Livelink ECM from Open Text and EMCs Documentum.
Ultimately, said Mangerie, Exceptional went with HandySofts BizFlow stand-alone workflow product because of its ability to support ad hoc routing, a function Mangerie said that current Exceptional customers wanted.
One such customer is the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, in Washington, a federal agency that has worked with Exceptional for a few years. The NRC is just starting to phase in a case management system with the goal of eliminating paper-based processes and improving employee efficiency.
Currently, six employees use the system, and over the next four months the NRC plans to roll it out to 35 more employees. Still, even in its early deployment, William Dean, assistant for operations at the NRCs Office of the Executive Director, said he fully expects to see operational gains when the case management system is deployed.
"I see three major improvements: process monitoring and tracking, enhanced reporting capability and enhanced efficiency, and effectiveness of our overall correspondence management process," Dean said, who added that the support the NRC received from both HandySoft and Exceptional during the product development phase was impressive.
According to Mangerie, the benefits of using BizFlow to build Exceptionals case management system became apparent soon after selecting the tool. When building the proof-of-concept system, Mangerie said that a functional prototype was built in six weeks.
For the future, both Weedn and Mangerie said they see ample opportunities in the counterterrorism space.
"The federal government has increased the requirements for top-secret clearances," Weedn said. And with those increased requirements come more paperwork and, naturally, more pressure to keep on top of the resulting workflow.
And while HandySoft sells its software directly to customers, Weedn said he prefers to go the partnership route as epitomized by the relationship with Exceptional.
During one implementation, Weedn recalled sending an e-mail message to a representative at Exceptional late at night—and getting an immediate response. "Thats what you want in a partner," he said. "Someone who works as hard as you do.
"The most successful model is one that involves partners," Weedn said. "Theres nothing better than [to] have that third-party expertise to sell for you."
Megan Santosus is a freelance writer based in Natick, Mass. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Channel partners HandySoft Global is a developer of BPM software; founded in 1991, the privately held company has 170 employees and more than 200 customers; in 2004, HandySoft paired up with Exceptional Software Strategies, an IT services company that was founded in 1996 and includes serving the public sector among its areas of specialization
- Channel snapshot Together, the companies provide clients in the federal government with a case management system—developed using HandySofts BizFlow BPM tool and implemented by Exceptional—that allows electronic document tracking and routing
- What each brings HandySoft has expertise in developing BPM software, while Exceptional has in-depth knowledge of how federal agencies work; together, the companies provide software and services to improve workflow processes
- Advice to others Look for channel partners that complement your own area of expertise, either in terms of the technology they offer (in HandySofts case) or the market they serve (in Exceptionals case); in addition, seek partners that have similar cultures, work styles and philosophies in terms of accessibility and customer service practices