What Makes a Workflow Project Successful? A Case Study

As an account manager, I see many different approaches for selecting a business process to transform into electronic workflow. A variety of factors, from grant funding for reducing paper processing to developing a more transparent process for government reporting, are common driving forces with public sector clients. I thought it would be helpful to look at a true-life story to illustrate a successful workflow project selection process; when done well the first project will lead to years of follow-up projects.

State of Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality improves efficiency of permit application process

In the last 18 months, the State of Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ) combined several selection factors to create a successful workflow platform. NDEQ has been building workflow solutions for the past six years, but the process accelerated when Governor Pete Ricketts took office and selected new cabinet members. Governor Ricketts hired Jim Macy as the NDEQ director and promised Nebraska constituents that they would work together to create metrics to track NDEQ permit application processing.

As part of the Governor’s “Grow Nebraska” initiative, they created a goal to process permits faster and more efficiently. Many of the permits are tied to economic development efforts throughout the state, so decreasing the permitting turnaround time has direct economic impacts to the State of Nebraska, local communities, and area businesses.

Dennis Burling, an NDEQ Deputy Director and ECM Champion, turned to electronic workflow to meet the new administrative mandates. NDEQ selected workflow projects based on key parameters such as paper-intensive application process, reducing turnaround time associated with incomplete information, difficulty tracking status, review required by multiple agencies, lack of approval audit history, and wet signature delays.

The selected workflow process was transformed by using a dynamic online application form with qualifying questions and error checking logic; an automated electronic signature process; internal workflows; and a partner agency workflow to quickly process applications.

Governor Ricketts recently praised NDEQ for their workflow process in a press release, which referenced a permit application from Yahoo.

In the Governor’s press release Jim Macy was quoted as saying, “the time savings for online applications are substantial, both for the applicant and for NDEQ. This process streamlines the application and review process for less complex categories of construction applications, which gives NDEQ staff more time to focus on larger, more complex permit applications.”

In the same press release the Yahoo manager stated, “the business-friendly culture created by Governor Ricketts and Director Macy are helping businesses like Yahoo expand their operations. A permitting process that can take months in other states can now be completed in a matter of days, right here, in Nebraska. It’s because of this and the talented people in this great state that we are at home here and continue to grow our business in Nebraska.”

Why was this so successful?

One of the key success factors for the Nebraska project was selecting a process that aligned with key administration initiatives and transformed a highly manual, paper-intensive process. In addition, NDEQ went beyond simply taking a paper form and making it electronic. NDEQ took a step back and asked how they could leverage key benefits of an online application to ensure applications were successfully completed on the first submission. In order to accomplish this goal, NDEQ converted the paper form into a highly dynamic user interface that saved time for both the applicant and the agency. Many of the other project benefits are inherent in the software product, including audit history, reporting dashboards, and the like.

In this case, the return on investment focused on increasing agency efficiency and reducing the waiting period for businesses to get started with their projects. My best clients find ways to get started with projects that demonstrate high return on investment and let word of mouth within the organization continue to drive demand for follow-up workflow projects.

When I think back on differences between successful and problematic projects it often comes back to the early stages of the project. Strong coordination between the business process owner and the workflow team is important to understand the current process, enabling project stakeholders to ask probing questions about why each step is key to realizing the full benefits of electronic workflow.

is account manager at DataBank IMX. He has 18 years of project and information management experience in both the public and private sectors and is a certified GIS professional. He coordinates with internal and external clients to identify use cases, scope solutions and improve their workflow through the use of technology.