Engineering the Future
- September 1, 1996
usiness process reengineering, the management theory and practice, is now six years old. Still, it has yet to reach maturity in the public sector. In the business world, BPR has been widely applied-and debated, praised and denigrated-ever since it burst on the scene in a 1990 Harvard Business Review article and a 1993 book by Michael Hammer and James Champy. Government has been slower to use the technique, in part because its institutions are so complex, so political and accountable to so many stakeholders.
To be sure, government is striving to make the kinds of significant improvements that Hammer, Champy and others seek to encourage. Last fall, a federal reengineering conference co-sponsored by Hammer's company and by Government Executive explored five cases where agencies had reengineered their work with notable success. One concerned the Social Security Administration, which has achieved dramatic gains in customer service during the past decade. But SSA's leaders say they may never be able to shrink its field structure to optimum size unless Congress cedes its power to block change by creating a base closure-type commission.
In this supplement, Government Executive has asked Hammer, Champy and David Osborne, whose 1993 book Reinventing Government helped fuel the reform movement at all levels of American government, to offer their thoughts on how the change process is proceeding in major institutions such as those in the federal sector.
First, Hammer, in an excerpt from his forthcoming book, Beyond Reengineering, provides an overview of the state of the art of reengineering. Hammer argues that intensified focus on the customer is obliterating the distinction between large institutions and small ones. Accompanying Hammer's article is an assessment by John Kamensky, a senior official at Vice President Gore's National Performance Review, of how Hammer's thesis applies in the federal setting.
Next, Champy, whose company, CSC Index, has provided reengineering advice to various federal clients, describes four cases where reengineering, guided by a newly defined sense of purpose, has served agencies well. Finally, Osborne reflects on lessons he has learned about the key strategic levers for change in public agencies.
More than 250 business-process reengineering projects are under way in the federal government. Industry is helping them by providing a wide variety of reengineering tools. Lisa Corbin of our staff has also contributed an article in this supplement on some of them. -Timothy B. Clark