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BPM Case Study: Streamlining a water treatment workflow system

Business Process Management efforts call for systems that effectively mimic current processes, and which can make changes on the fly when exceptions occur. They respond to ad hoc needs.

Increasingly, BPM efforts call for systems that effectively mimic current processes, and which can make changes on the fly when exceptions occur; in other words, systems that respond to ad hoc needs.

Jacobs Engineering Group (Pasadena, CA) recently deployed a major BPM workflow system in order to manage the contracts associated with a $1-billion-plus water treatment construction project in King County, WA. The system stands as an example of streamlining the communications and management of large complicated work processes that modern BPM seeks to achieve.

The water treatment engineering group must process thousands of documents associated with various parts of the construction process. In 2007, it deployed Interneer Intellect from California- based Interneer Inc. to manage and standardize the processing of contract- related paperwork. Much of BPM is rooted in such document-centric efforts, and this area continues to be a hotbed of BPM. Savings, of course, are essential.

"We estimate the system will save about a quarter-million [dollars] per year in management overhead," said Anthony Pooley, project manager at Jacobs Engineering. "It reduces human error and miscommunication, and focuses everyone on the requirements of their roles."

When the group started the project, all of the paperwork was managed using Excel spreadsheets, which created a lot of headaches. Documents were lost, processes were dropped, and finger pointing ensued. Now 13 processes are managed online, and 300 people regularly log-in to upload new contracts, drawings, and reports.

"You define the process and it manages it. Users get assigned a bit of work, the system tells them what to do," Pooley explained, "and everyone knows the next step of the process. We are more efficient because we have complete track of information flow."

One of the biggest challenges in managing workflow is all of the variations that creep up. In Jacob's case the basic processes in the systems are defined fairly rigidly. But different teams manage different contracts differently.

Pooley said they chose Interneer Intellect because it made it easy for teams to organize themselves differently to carry out the same business processes. He explained, "In some of the models we have allowed the users to reassign tasks, while in others, we have retained that for the administrators. If someone goes on vacation, we can reassign roles in bulk.

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