|Army Materiel Command, International Cooperative Programs Activity (ICPA)|
U.S. Army Materiel Command Processes and Tracks International Agreements with Lotus Notes and Domino
The United States Army Materiel Command (AMC) International Cooperative Programs Activity (ICPA) has been the delegated authority for the management and execution of AMC-based technology International Cooperative Programs. The ICPA acts as the Army Executive Agent for Army participation in the Defense Data Exchange Program and Defense Personnel Exchange Program, and is responsible for effectively streamlining processes for development, approval, and management of Army International Agreements, and other data and resource exchanges.
To accomplish this, the ICPA must execute international agreement taskings and coordination simultaneously to locations spanning the United States and 12 international times zones. It is not unusual for more than 50 agreements, valued at over $400 million, to be in process at one time. All those involved in the International Agreements process share the unanimous opinion that it took too long to get an agreement in place so that scientific and technological cooperation could commence.
Technologies were changing so rapidly, often becoming obsolete before a cooperative agreement could be established. Also, the number of potential international cooperative partners was growing every year. There were also on-going and planned staff reductions underway. The need for process improvement was obvious and urgent.
The Challenges of the Manual Process
International agreements created significant paperwork, as they were originally maintained in a collection of dBASE and Excel stand-alone databases. "Tracking the agreements through the in-depth drafting and approval process was an immense undertaking," explained Col. Edward M. Vigen, deputy director at AMC ICPA. "Our communication was primarily accomplished by telephone, fax, and some e-mail. There were numerous geographically dispersed players in the early stages of the agreement drafting process. One problem was not knowing where the agreement was at a given point in time. We would have to chase people down via telephone or e-mail to determine who had the current version, how long they had it, and what they were planning on doing with it."
Researching existing agreements and generating reports were also extremely difficult tasks. For example, if someone needed to know all the existing Army agreements for a particular country, they would have to query multiple databases and contact dozens of individuals. After retrieving data from each database, a report could then be manually prepared. If someone wanted such information from the Navy and Air Force, he/she would have to contact personnel in those services to provide the data,
and vice-versa. Combined tri-service (Army, Navy, and Air Force) reporting (and to OSD) was not possible except as a manually generated report.
"It was difficult for services to keep each other informed regarding proposed areas for cooperation so that duplication of effort could be avoided and cross service security issues addressed," said Col. Vigen. "After expending time and/or money, it was possible for one service to decline to participate in a particular agreement only to find that the foreign partner had then solicited another service for the same effort. Also working on agreements in a dual or tri-service effort required significant time and coordination."
"We recognized a serious need to have our entire processes redesigned and streamlined," said Col. Vigen. "We needed an integrated system to capture, track, and proactively monitor international agreements."
"Since the AMC Director of Information Management (DOIM) had already deployed Lotus Notes applications in its headquarters and at command locations," explained Col. Vigen, "we determined that Notes' capabilities could meet our needs."
Lotus Notes Streamlines Processes for AMC's International Agreements
Originally hired by ICPA to scan all its agreements and associated correspondence in one Notes database with Lotus Notes:Document Imaging (LN:DI), Entex Information Services, a Lotus Strategic Alliance Partner, worked with AMC to also develop the U.S. Army International Agreements Tracking System (IATS) to track all the agreements and associated documents.
With Lotus Notes, when an agreement is discussed with a foreign partner, all U.S. stakeholders (with appropriate ID and password) are notified that an agreement is in the process and can be accessed in Notes. With online access, users can influence agreements much earlier in the process than waiting until it reaches them for approval. Foreign partners see only the final agreement. "We used to invest a lot of time and effort early in the process and then if a change was made down the workflow chain, it was sent back to the beginning, basically starting from ground zero," explains Col. Vigen. "Now, people
can let others know if an agreement is heading down the wrong path and redirect the efforts before it moves too far in the workflow process."
As an agreement is routed through the workflow process, a staffing/forwarding form moves along with the document. A user either clicks on the concur, concur with comments, or not concur button. The user's response is recorded with the date and time the decision was made and with the user ID listed.
IATS' workflow is e-mail-enabled. Each time a user signs off on a document, a signature button sends an e-mail that notifies the appropriate people that a particular user has completed their task. "It helps to push others along in the process," said Col. Vigen. "When final sign off is made, Notes automatically sends an e-mail back to the agreement coordinator."
"With Notes, its instantaneous," said William Remmert, Enterprise Consultant for Entex Information Services. All of the stakeholders know exactly who has the document and how long they have had it. They also know how far down in someone's in-box the document sits, allowing them to detect bottlenecks, save time and frustration, and hold each other accountable."
"Lotus NotesPump allows the Army to interface with and feed data to the other services using different database environments," said Remmert. "AMC uses NotesPump to move the Notes data between the various environments." NotesPump is an enterprise-scale data distribution server that allows AMC to read and write data from many dissimilar sources (such as the Air Force and Navy databases). "We can read their data and they can read ours. OSD staffers also use Lotus Notes, enabling them to view online the status of particular activities at any time."
AMC is also using Lotus ScreenCam to enable users to view online educational movies explaining the IATS processes, while working in the IATS Notes database. There is a ScreenCam film being developed of the different procedures for IATS to provide a theory of the process, such as what the user needs to do on the signature page.
Reducing Processing Time and Increasing Communications with Lotus Notes
"The new IATS is not my core business, it's all my business," said Col. Vigen. "All the original design goals have been met. IATS has decreased our processing time, improved both our internal and external communications, provided us with total visibility of the process, allowed us to hold users accountable for their actions (or lack of), and reduced frustration and duplication of effort."
With the manual system, it took approximately 30 months to process one international agreement. With Notes, AMC has decreased processing time, from conception to signature, to between four and seven months. All data being accessed electronically instead of via the postal service has resulted in a 20 percent reduction of processing time alone. "Having the IATS application built specifically for us helped us to improve our processes as we had to define the flow of agreements through the process," explained Col. Vigen. "Users have become more organized with the IATS and a new level of
discipline has been reached. Everyone knew the process before -- it was written in Letters of Instruction (LOI). We took the LOIs and turned them into process flowcharts with timelines, which they didn't have before. The LOIs and timelines can now be accessed in IATS. With on-going staff reductions, fewer people can produce higher quality work in less time."
Lotus Notes also provides total visibility from "cradle to grave," allowing users to view an international agreement and its supporting documents during every phase in the development and management process. Notes enables AMC to easily track agreements and supporting documentation throughout the process, monitoring workloads and eliminating bottlenecks.
IATS has encouraged greater accountability, resulting in higher personal ownership. Agreement coordinators can monitor which agreements are on target and which have overrun the time allotted for task completion, allowing ICPA to identify problem areas for technological and/or training fixes.
Daily replication to all AMC servers and to remote workstations worldwide provides users with current updates every day. If a server/workstation goes down in the U.S. or another country, a measure of disaster recovery is realized. Once the server is restored, Notes' replication will enable the user to be current again. "Our security requirements are met by authorization and verification of user accounts by the security tools that are inherent in IATS and are transparent to the user," said Col. Vigen.
Under the old paradigm, preparation of the annual reports to OSD and Congress took from six to eight weeks with three individuals working full time. "With IATS, we have the potential to prepare these reports automatically from the IATS database," said Col. Vigen. "This will result in a higher quality report with greater accuracy produced at less cost." AMC is considering alternatives to enable additional users to access IATS.
Future Lotus Notes and Domino Applications
"We plan to continue working with the other services and OSD in order to share more documents," said Remmert. "The next phase is a four to six month process to automatically incorporate terminology for different countries into the agreements." Additionally, Lotus Domino offers the ability to provide Web access for additional users, or those additional users can add Lotus Notes to their desktop to access IATS.