Appian World 2012 Keynote: Confessions of a Federal CIO

Ken Percell, former CIO of the US Air Force Materiel Command, presented a dynamic keynote speech on “Confessions of a CIO: Learning & Applying Lessons from Weapon Systems to Business Systems.” Currently COO of the Percell Group LLC, he spent 35 years as a civilian with the Air Force (15 as a Senior Executive). He talked about the lessons learned from his years of experience.


Percell stated that Simple Wins. He can’t explain most of his great accomplishments — he chalks them up to simple synergies and obvious connections that get results. If you make the right analogies, people will get it. If they don’t get it, stop wasting time with them. War fighters and bureaucrats don’t get business – they need to see process improvement and BPM as weapons and tactics. He found that process improvement got traction when it was applied to war fighting processes.

The Clinger–Cohen Act set expectations that CIOs would exist in the Department of Defense (DOD). Their role was to understand and control architecture, limit duplicate investments, and provide cost control. The DOD immediately bowed to the CIO in each military department. The CIOs did not control funding, only “policy” for compliance.

Applications were the business weapons in DOD. There are numerous silo systems — everyone has one, sometimes one hundred. Duplicity abounds, connections are sparse, and visibility is limited. Joint business processes across functions were the exception, and security provisions are very hard. The DOD stated that “IT Acquisition Governance Must be Instituted.” Their solution? Integration of applications.

According to Percell, the DOD thought, “If we integrate the hosting and provide common services all the business applications will integrate. Lets do standard platforms to host support and combat applications.” (GCSS) But nobody wanted to pay for the adoption and reconfiguration to the GCSS. The result was GCSS/Portal platforms in all services with very little movement of applications to those platforms. The various military units each ended up with their own ERP – a big bundle of applications with a common database. The big bang ERP approach is not digestible in the DOD – it’s just too big. ERP resulted in loss of autonomy and flexibility. As Percell put it, “Just change your culture and ALL YOUR PROCESSES to fit.”

Enter Appian. The DOD liked it because it “feels SOA”, but the true benefits came from the simplicity and power of the Appian BPM Suite. Percell stated that more people get the Appian “Facebook-like” interface, and it avoids the big data cleansing nightmare of ERP start-up. Suddenly, “the get-it pile outweighs the don’t-get-it pile.” The Air Force said, “But we spent $965M on ERP! Can’t we salvage something from this?” Percell said yes – BPM is not ERP, but it’s a path to enterprise integration around process vs. data.

BPM has just one single interface to learn. Processes are exposed, and collaboration is enabled. Because business rules aren’t hard-coded, the DOD is able to take advantage of agile processes instead of getting stuck in IT code.

Percell’s Execution Success Factors:

  • Start With End Vision Of Business – Evolve To It
  • Evolution Can Go Fast Without “Transformation’s” Failures
  • Business Leaders Manage This Process, Not IT Department
  • Include Process Users/Owners In Process Definition and Evolution
  • Business System Integration Is Really Cross Enterprise Process
  • Adopt BPM And Build Enterprise Process, Connect Functional Apps – Poof! Magic.

Percell’s Before: 6-inch manuals on ERP Process to Order Oil Filter! Tethered to a PC! After: Intuitive Process Learned Like Facebook! And MOBILE!