Evaluating anti-terror technology

The boom in anti-terror technology led to a flood of proposals -- and the Institute for Defense Analysis turned to BPM to sort them out

Business process management even has a place in the war on terror, according to Indy Crowley, research staff member and acting lead for IT at the Institute for Defense Analysis (IDA), an organization that evaluates technology under the SAFETY (Support Anti-Terrorism by Fostering Effective Technologies) Act of 2002.

In support of the SAFETY Act, companies submit technologies and services to IDA for evaluation. At any one time, IDA might be juggling 50 different “applications,” as they call the products or services. Each application, in turn, may involve as many as 60 different steps before a final evaluation is made and sent on to Homeland Security.

The challenge was to know the status of all applications under evaluation throughout its lifecycle at IDA in order to respond to internal and external inquiries.

“Before using Appian, everything was done on spreadsheets and paper,” Crowley says. And it tied up specialists whose sole job was to track the documents throughout the lifecycle.

Crowley says the Appian system formalized a series of tasks or processes. He created a prototype to model the current processes, which was used to discover why applications were so hard to track. Then, as they used Appian, processes were modified.

“We took out steps in the process that were there simply to tell us it was there,” Crowley says.

While the system is in its initial stages and there have been improvements, Crowley judged the results “mixed.”

One of IDA’s goals was to be able to adjust processes frequently as needs arose, and to change or retrograde applications that were already under review. The current system does not do that easily because its business processes are complex, long-running, and hard to modify.

“We are looking for the next version of the product, which will allow us to break the model into small subsections so we can go back and change the processes under way,” Crowley says.

The product has allowed IDA to use fewer people to track where things are, and applications are not held up for lack of knowing where they are.

“Now, the process is documented. When questions come up about why it is taking so long, there is a basis to figure out how we can make changes and where,” Crowley says.