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KM World Best Practices Award 2008
Florida community college excels at BPM

Florida Community College at Jacksonville (FCCJ) manages a heavy administrative load in carrying out its operations. It serves more than 70,000 students in northeast Florida through five campuses, and provides undergraduate training to several Navy installations nationwide. To streamline its activities and make them more efficient, the college decided to automate some of its administrative processes with a business process management (BPM) solution. The first target was a set of human resources (HR) functions such as work schedules and leave requests.

"We had the same policies throughout our five campuses, but they were being carried out in different ways," says Dennis Reiman, CTO at FCCJ and associate VP, management of information systems.

Most of the processes were paper-intensive, so the college had limited monitoring and auditing capabilities. For example, documenting how long a process took to complete and projecting staff schedules for the coming months presented challenges.

FCCJ took a long-term and integrative view of process automation. The college already had an ongoing relationship with Software AG and selected its Crossvision software-oriented architecture (SOA) suite.

"We wanted our BPM initiative to be part of an overall framework that would use SOA to meet our knowledge management needs throughout FCCJ," Reiman explains. "We had just completed a server re-hosting project that saved us $1 million with a $500,000 investment, and it made sense to build on this infrastructure."

The HR processes that FCCJ initially opted to automate were integrated with the college’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, portal, and enterprise communication and calendaring applications. That integration allowed information to be drawn in from existing databases and to ripple through other components of the system.

"When employees complete their leave request form," says Reiman, "they are automatically placed on the calendar as tentatively ‘out’ for that time period." Managers can then easily see the impact of expected absences and plan accordingly.

During 2007, FCCJ migrated to webMethods’ SOA and BPM suite—which had been acquired by Software AG and integrated with Crossvision—and designed six additional applications. One new process will automate the workflow for appeals of financial aid decisions.

"This process is very complex and requires significant investments in time by advisors, deans and other personnel," Reiman says. "Instead of having to push the paper along, we will be able to link to student records in our Software AG databases, making the process much more efficient."

Some of the existing and planned processes are directed toward student services. For example, through a portal, students have been able to register online, but they can now also use a course planner that allows them to select the courses they will want in the future.

"This option allows us to do much more planning for how much class space we will need," Reiman says, "as well as being able to identify the human resources we will need to meet the students’ needs."

The use of automation is balanced by well-placed human intervention. "We found that it was better to route some intended student actions to faculty first, rather than have them fully automated," Reiman explains. "For example, when a student indicates, through the portal, an intention to drop out of a course, we want to make sure it’s a considered decision, because it becomes a part of his or her permanent record."

Instead of having that process completed in a single step, a student’s request to withdraw from a course is routed for intervention, by either a faculty member or a dean. Then, the student can be contacted to discuss his or her reasons for dropping the course, and offer assistance in the class if needed, before the student makes a final decision.

"Educational institutions are becoming increasingly aware that they need to be customer-oriented," says Reiman. "Our goal is to be supportive of our students and make their routine tasks as pain-free as possible." Schools are a business, he adds, "and we want repeat business."

In the past, many educational institutions did not view efficiency as a top priority. But with greater pressures to mitigate costs and improve service, priorities are changing. Many processes in colleges parallel those in other industries, and can benefit equally from improved management. The approach to automating each process varies, depending on the situation.

"In some cases, we did not have written documentation on the steps for a process," Reiman says. "We were able to bring up the flow modeler and draw the process while we were talking. Often, we modified the established process as we went along, to make it more efficient. And sometimes we started over from scratch because the process was basically flawed."

When a process is changed substantially to improve workflow, the new process is fed back into policy definitions. Finally, for processes that are not yet ready to be implemented, the start and endpoints are marked, and then the steps are filled in incrementally over time.

FCCJ’s success is based on the solid IT infrastructure it built and the positive working relationship it has developed with Software AG. "Partnerships with customers are a top priority and differentiator for us," says Sandra Wade, senior director for product marketing at Software AG. "Also, since we offer the complete business infrastructure software stack, not just BPM, we can integrate backend systems—data and applications—as well as business processes into the architecture."

She adds, though, that the most important key to the success of FCCJ is the cooperation between the business users at the college and the IT department. "Many organizations still face the challenge of a disconnect between business and IT. FCCJ has successfully overcome this, and is reaping the benefits," Wade says.

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