IT Integration on the Cheap, and Fast
GeoEye Inc., a satellite imaging company in Dulles, Va., has photographed 160 million miles of the Earth's terrainproviding governments with sensitive data to be used for national security, and giving companies such as Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo! Inc. the ability to create detailed maps for Web surfers. But until recently, the $151 million firm had no information technology roadmap of its own. Process documentation at GeoEye was limited to Visio and Microsoft Word files that needed to be manually updated and couldn't be integrated to provide an overall picture of how the firm's processes connected.
With a Sarbanes-Oxley deadline looming toward the end of 2005, Hugh Klipp, the firm's director of business process management, knew he needed a way to document the company's key technology and financial controls in a way that could be easily updated in the event of change. So he connected with modeling application vendor MEGA International and began the arduous task of defining and documenting SOX-related practices. Before long, however, he realized the effort should be expanded to include all 400 of the company's processes. "We figured something that wasn't a key control now could suddenly present itself in the future," he says.
It was a tough taskas most modeling initiatives are. With more than 300 employees and four locations, Klipp had to get a handle on each individual process, speaking to all employees involved to understand how things worked. "The biggest hurdle is that people are tied to their old customs of how they manage their knowledge," he saysand they don't want to be told how to change them.
The move paid off in some unexpected ways. Soon after GeoEye met its Sarbanes-Oxley requirements, it announced plans to acquire Denver-based Space Imaging, a satellite data provider. "It was like merging two football teams into one," Klipp says, "except each team has different names for players' positions." Fortunately, Space Imaging's processes were largely documented, so it wasn't too difficult to add their controls to GeoEye's tool and quickly get a sense of where things overlapped. As a result, Klipp says, what could have been a months-long process integration took just a few days. The entire merger was completed in less than a year.
Following the merger, the company went through an internal reorganization in the first quarter of 2007. The modeling software was key to implementing changes quickly. "Instead of rewriting 200 Visio diagrams and updating process flow and names in each individual diagram, which would have taken months, we were able to get all that work done with one part-timer," he says. The tool allowed GeoEye to align job descriptions with all of the company's processes, creating a defined organizational structure. If changes need to be made, Klipp can run simulations before deploying them to make sure the proposed alterations have a justifiable benefit.
All this for an investment of less than $100,000 for the entire system, including consulting from MEGAa price tag Klipp says was "infinitesimal compared with the benefits we are reaping from it. It's now core to the way we do business process improvement."