In these tight economic times, businesses need all the help they can get to cut overhead and improve processes. There are dozens, possibly hundreds, of business process improvement (BPI) software vendors, but knowing where to get started is difficult, and implementing the technology can be expensive.
Despite these obstacles, many companies have capitalized on BPI’s benefits, which include reducing project lead times, finding real productivity gains or cost savings, and integrating key IT technologies to reduce supply-chain costs.
One example is eCity Interactive, which has been using Elementool issue-tracking software. “For the QA process, we started out using spreadsheets,” says Martin Weinberg, a senior account manager at the Philadelphia-based interactive agency. “But we quickly realized that each issue has its own scope, process and life cycle.”
Some of eCity Interactive’s programmers and designers might be working on three or more projects concurrently, with each project having a hundred or more issues to address. “Without some type of tracking system, issues can get swept under the rug or put off indefinitely,” Weinberg says. The company needed a system that would let the team work simultaneously and asynchronously, and keep an audit trail for reference.
“Five years ago, we tried e-mail, Word docs and other approaches to track issues, but they didn’t scale well beyond a few issues and a few people,” he says. “We also tried building our own system, but the costs of using in-house resources to design, develop and maintain a mission-critical application like this didn’t make sense.
“Elementool’s layouts are user-friendly and very flexible, so we were able to easily shape the platform to model our business process. Today, the platform is used extensively for issue-tracking and managing client-driven maintenance requests. As with any business process software, it’s not just about the technology. It’s important to consider and invest time in the cultural and workflow impact to the team.”
Using Elementool enabled eCity Interactive to cut down on e-mail traffic. “The entire history of each issue is viewable,” Weinberg says. “Anyone can review notes, the audit trail and attachments related to the job. That’s very cumbersome to do with e-mail threads.”
Since the initial implementation, the company has expanded the system’s use, with some of its clients using it as well. “This visibility gives our clients assurance because they can see a dashboard and monitor progress at any time,” he says. “The system also helps track client deliverables, making them more accountable as a part of the process.
BPI tools can also help distributed work teams collaborate more effectively, since they can stay in better touch with each other on projects that have multiple pieces and deadlines.
Brian Chaney, an IT consultant to the U.S. Air Force at Copper River in Montgomery, Ala., is also a proponent of BPI technology. He has built and managed more than 50 different enterprise applications using Metastorm ProVision over the past several years.
“BPI has really big payoffs,” Chaney says. “We did a large systems data-sampling project that ended up saving two man-years and $1.5 million for the Air Force.”
Some of the applications are used to focus on defects to determine what caused the errors, how they could be resolved and how they could affect other processes down the road. “This gives our clients ways to smooth out their workflows because they aren’t reacting to everything as an emergency,” Chaney says. “So they can plan better and use their software-development resources more effectively.”