Life in a government agency can toggle between extremes. At one end you find highly regular and predictable patterns such as the day-to-day processing of claims, forms, receipts, licenses, and benefits. At the other end are sudden, ad hoc situations, often brought on by an external event. And sometimes, people simply realize there is a better way to do things that makes them faster, more efficient, or less expensive.

So regardless, every organization should be continually striving to improve its business processes. Today, easy-to-use technologies make changing and automating such processes a snap. Staff involved in performing the mission can model an activity and design a workflow to support it. And, key to federal organizations, those resulting workflows take into account the laws and regulations embedded in legacy systems from which the new application draws data.

Let’s take Navy Special Forces’ watercraft as an example. Because of a steadily increasing operational tempo, the Seals team realized it needed a better way to keep boats in good repair and ready to go, without running up parts inventories to levels that were simply too expensive. The existing procurement system was too slow. That was forcing unnecessarily large inventories and, occasionally, cannibalizing by mechanics (such as the one pictured above) to keep a vessel going.

In the Navy’s case, the Seals then-assistant program manager for fleet and submarine support, Eric Miller, put together a sort of “kaizen” multidisciplinary team. It consisted of stakeholders ranging from mechanics to Seals themselves. They tackled the problem of long procurement cycles that were harming fleet readiness.

Using an enabling tool within specialized software, the group held a series of so-called “lean events.” They first focused on credit card purchases, which numbered 5,000 annually. Once they identified changes, the technology let the team prototype the new process literally in minutes. The new system, despite its eventual success in speeding up the procurement cycle, didn’t shortcut any federal regulations. What did get cut were wasteful back-and-forth steps, needless redundancy, and lack of visibility.

This solution let the group convert processes that previously ran in series to run in parallel to cut time. The resulting system earned the support group an award for the ways it reduced inventories (and therefore costs) while improving parts and materials availability.

The Labor Department has taken a similar approach for many years to improve its grants management. According to Darryl McDaniel, a contracting officer’s representative, the software solution is a repository of business processes for six grant-making agencies within Labor. He says an agency can set up a new process in no time. That’s important, he says, because requirements are always changing, often because of a new congressional mandate.

In this era of budget cutting, government agencies must innovate to meet their mission goals. Increasing efficiencies by using tried and proven commercial technology is a low-risk way to go. Ultimately, employing the right commercial-off-the-shelf technologies can help the government do more with less.