Homeland Security Supply Chain

Since the HP Merger and the merger of several government agencies into the Department of Homeland Security overlapped in time, many in HP have been approached to learn what made the HP merger work, what were the best practices, and what were our experiences which could shed light on the government version’s inner workings. This is of particular interest to me: my first experience of the HP merger, in the ‘Cleanroom’ was sitting in a boardroom reviewing the scope and organization, while my Blackberry kept buzzing me. Others in the room also kept picking up their Blackberries and peering intently. Finally someone spoke up – “I’m getting a newsflash that a 747 has hit the World Trade Center”. It was 11 September 2001, and the World Trade Center attacks marked for many of us the beginning of work on the HP/Compaq merger. It’s hard not to see the HP merger and the Homeland Security merger as twins, given birth at the same time, but different parents. Identical Cousins perhaps.

Those who have heard me speak about the supply-chain architecture planning in the merger know that we used the SCOR process framework to organize our teams, and as well to collect and classify Supply Chain and IT architecture information, to model processes around areas of change, and to understand impacts and program setup for the various projects. In the end, the supply-chain aspects of the merger worked very well; we had a viable Supply Chain and IT architecture, a process architecture, good communication to the cleanroom and business stakeholders around the changes, and a plan of record for roughly two year guiding the changes. This was accomplished at a time when 9/11 was going on and disrupting trade and transportation, a Typhoon was raging in the Pacific disrupting our Supply Chain links, and the business climate in the US was flat, to say the least. Chaotic, but the seriousness of the work we had in front of us I think focus us. By contrast, the DEC/Compaq merger went on during a period of good markets, but I experienced more of a free-for-all.

What was the difference? The focus on process, process decisions, and process-focused programs for change. The cleanroom business stakeholders focused on top-level goals and assets (plants, products, volumes, suppliers). Supply Chain and IT teams focused on the architecture and capability questions to support those goals. The teams together designed the change programs and outcomes. From my point of view of the DEC merger was focused largely on market segments and product line planning. Processes left behind were redundant, or creaky legacy work, and took years of discovery and focus to remove, if they were removed at all. The DEC merger wasn’t a resounding success.

What does this mean for Homeland Security? My first discussion, an exploration of affinities, went something like this:

Not knowing how Homeland security is organized (not having known how HP would end up being organized either, but making assumptions), I suspect there will be three or more major “Level-0” divisions – Intelligence (CIA/FBI/NSA), Border Security (TSA, Coast Guard, Border Patrols), Immigration (Visa, Naturalization, Enforcement), and so on. Each division understands it’s “markets and customers” well, and they are vertically integrated process groups, much like pre-merger Compaq and HP, organized around product groups. What would be valuable then is to look beyond the basic ‘products’ like intelligence, security, gatekeeping, and ask four questions: how do they plan their services around their ‘market requirements’, how do they ‘engage with their customers’, how do they deliver their goods and services, and how do they design goods and services. Of course these are the four major divisions of HP’s Supply Chain frameworks – market chain, customer chain, supply chain, design chain. But government or public sector terms for all of these elements are very different, though they can all be classified like ‘marketing’, ‘sales’, ‘supply chain’, and ‘design’. This generic framework approach allows for comparisons of what is alike, what is overlap, what is mildly dissimilar, and what is completely different without getting into word-wars.

Take the ‘background check’ process (let’s call it “verify” from the SCOR process of verifying receipt of goods). Each Level-0 area of course does background checks. Probably dozens of different types. Perhaps it’s a secret security clearance, or maybe it’s for Immigration Greencards, perhaps its for TSA officers, but the step in ‘receiving’ service personnel is probably the same. I would also ‘hypothesize’ (a favorite word in the cleanroom) that background checks come in three flavors – one check is routine, or stock, like a check for warrants, or arrests and so forth. A second type of check would be ‘configured’, like choosing from a variety of background checks from a menu – one check for arrest, one for travel to problem countries, and one health check. A third type of check would be ‘engineer to order’ – a subject-specific clearance which required a customized team to review. If you were to begin to integrate horizontally the Homeland Security, classifying Level-0, 1, 2 etc. processes would allow for those processes to be ‘pulled out’ into an internal competency, ‘best of breed’ chosen from among many agencies, staff consolidated and process streamlined, and allow for a focus on reducing cycle time and improving quality. And a side-effect is cultural, and inter-departmental integration. Top-down. Decisions at appropriate levels. Avoid the ‘leaves’ when you need to prune branches. Use generic frameworks, rather than ultra-specialized (and process-fragmenting) nomenclature. That’s what we did at HP.

If the government would do as HP did, “business by business” build a tops-down view of operations using a neutral language to describe the processes, that’s a great start to planning the integration. I’m sure they’ve got good stuff going to achieve their integration (my family has a long tradition of civil service so I’m an optimist) which isn’t in the newspapers and magazines – effective things don’t always make good press. But I’m interested in the long run to see if, with the “identical cousins”, how our separate paths work out in the long run.