Tuesday, April 7, 2009

What does Investment Review do for Me?

It's hard to imagine that a federal bureaucratic paperwork drill can actually be helpful to people dedicated to getting things done quickly, but that's what I'm about to tell you. It's sort of like medicine - it doesn't taste good on the way down, but it sure makes you feel better in the long run.
Investment review, as I had set it up in the Military Health System, involved four main phases:

  1. The organization seeking obligation authority would have to prepare some documentation about whatever it was they were seeking obligation authority for. They submitted that paperwork through my office.
  2. My office went through the documents with subject matter experts in business cases, security, privacy, budget, enterprise architecture, and strategic planning. This process took about 40 days from start to finish and was engineered to serve as due diligence for the Department.
  3. My office then either sent the package back or sent it forward to the OSD level Investment Review Board (IRB) with leadership and Pre-Certification Authority signatures. The IRB reviewed the packages we submitted for about 30 days.
  4. The IRB carried the finished package in the form of a recommendation to the Defense Business Systems Management Committee (established by 10USC186).

Seems like a long process, right? So what's the advantage?

Well, in addition to some of the more obvious benefits:
  • lot of eyes on new investments
  • a consistent approach to due diligence
  • filtering out of poorly conceived or low value added expenditures
  • bringing "after thoughts" like privacy and security into the main stream
There are not-so-obvious advantages. Seeking a permit to do something is nothing new. Want to build a house? you'll need a stack of them. The permitting and inspection process ensures that whatever you build meets safety codes, doesn't cause disruption to the neighborhood around your new house, and ideally enhances the value of the community for everyone.

People complain about the permitting process, but imagine what your community would look like without it.

Investment review is very similar to a permitting and inspection process. Someone wants to build something so they seek a permit. The folks issuing the permit have a long list of things that every new project must comply with (DoD uses the phrase "Enterprise Architecture Compliance"). They check the project against the list of things the project needs to comply with, and there you have it... a better, stronger, safer investment in the community.

As with housing codes, most compliance issues are the result of learning something the hard way. Someone falls through a floor, a row house fire consumes an entire city block of homes, a water break destroys five floors... These codes and compliance criteria are an expression of lessons learned. They keep us from repeating the same mistakes over and over again.

If everyone who wanted to build a house faked the paperwork, took short cuts with the blue prints, or deliberately try to fool the inspectors, we'd be in big trouble. Wouldn't you agree?

If we do this right, a higher quality Defense Department is in it for us. We will create a learning environment where mistakes that are made in one area of the Department are studied, expressed in a medium that "remembers" them and "recalls" them when it's time to spent new money - in a system that allows us to apply those lessons learned to every subsequent investment. We won't get it all done right away, but we will transform one investment review at a time.

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