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Lessons in Banking and BPM From the U.S. Department of Defense: Speaking with Dennis Wisnosky


Peter: Hello this is Peter Schooff, managing Editor of and today I am very excited to be speaking with Dennis Wisnosky who probably has the most extensive real-world experience in BPM and business transformation of anyone in the industry today.

Dennis was a former Chief Architect and Chief Technical Officer of the U.S. Department of Defense. He was one of the creators and initiators of the integrated definition language a standard for modeling and analysis that is used in management and business improvement efforts.

So first of all Dennis, thank you so much for joining me on this podcast today.

Dennis: You’re quite welcome Peter, I’m really happy to do this with you.

Peter: Fantastic. Now from your wealth of C-level experience, how do you engage business leaders in the BPM movement?

Dennis: Two ways, of course we hope that C-level executives see that they have a problem and they come to us realizing that process innovation is the key, in most cases to solving business problems, automation comes next.

The second way is when we perhaps read about an industry or a particular company that is having some series issues with meeting production quota or numbers that aren’t working out right. And you know something about that industry, and to simply go in and make a direct here’s what your problems have been of other companies in this industry, so let’s try business process modeling and business process management with you.

Peter: Great, now in this effort, what are some of the biggest road blocks, or hurdles you’ve encountered in deploying BPM, in especially a large organization?

Dennis: Large organizations are interesting in that there many, many tribes within them. Some of these tribes are going to believe they know all the answers, others are going to be seeking answers. And even in the case where we go to the ones that are seeking answers, we find there that the most often the thing that has to happen, is to reduce the size of the problem that they must solve in a very short term into something that can be solved in a reasonable amount of time, like no more than six months. Then we can grow on that solution, or those solutions.

Peter: Gotcha, any other examples you have of sort of overcoming some of these road blocks?

Dennis: Yes, they are not invented here. And often times we like to begin these kind of engagements with training. And then to avoid getting into discussions that have no positive endings. One of the things I traditionally do is reserve with the right of the person who hired us, to have what we call a silver bullet, so when there is someone or something that absolutely will not stop, will not go away and it is obstructing progress we use that silver bullet and remove that person, or put that serious discussion off into a long term parking lot.

Another thing that we have found is that absolute discipline in these engagements, from meetings that all start on time to when a decision is made and it’s recorded, if the team comes back the next day and all off a sudden someone has a better idea, or wants to rewrite what we did the day before it is not allowed. We actually use this term vampire. Vampires go to sleep and we do not allow them to come back, they're killed, drive a stake into the heart in every decision that we make. And that decision doesn’t come back.

Peter: Gotcha, so basically you just shut down mission creep as well.

Dennis: Yes, for example the Department of Defense, how I got there, is that the largest organization in the world, and certainly very, very complex, with 4 competing factions with Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines. The architecture they were asked to build was of the entire Department of Defense. Architecture is a business process model, it’s a blue print, and how can one do that?

So after 500 million dollars being spent over four years, I was told about this problem. I really didn’t know about it, did some research and then sent Mr. Rumsfeld a letter, at the time, telling him that he wasted 525 million dollars over this four years and we could help.

Contrary to popular belief, perhaps people do read those letters, they did. I sent a copy of my BPR Wizdom book, and DoDAF Wizdom book along with it. Looked into their architecture framework and after six months of being there, the government accountability office said we had done more in six months than they had done in that previous four years.

And that solution wasn’t to try and replicate what they did but to really focus on what they called three golden and then platinum questions. What questions must this architecture, this business process model answer? We will focus on that, those three questions and then they can get bigger later.

Peter: Now following up, as you were CFO of one of the largest organizations in the world, what lessons would you have for other inspiring transformation leaders?

Dennis: I would say number one is to pick the leadership that is above you to understand what you’re doing, to bring them along on the journey with you. And once the decision is made as to what the focus is, unless something really drastic changes, which it almost never does, then stick to that focus with that person and have he or she run interference within the organization for you.

Because inevitably people are going to be coming out of the woodwork saying all that’s wrong with what you’re trying to do. Because it changes the order of things that they’re simply used to.

Second thing is that many organizations both government every time, and big companies sometimes, have the auditors of one kind or another that are watching what’s going on, both how the money is being spent and if the rules are being obeyed, bring those people onboard, open the kimono so to speak, be surrounded by glass that’s transparent and let the people who would be at the end, trying to say what’s wrong with what you did, being onboard as you go along in project.

And when they do they will find things that you’re perhaps missing, because you’re too close to it already then pay attention and come to some agreement. And when you’re done, you’re done.

Peter: That makes a lot of sense, now for FIBO in and the financial and banking industry, why should banks engage now, instead of simply taking a wait and see approach?

Dennis: The concept of the semantic web and semantic web technology, Web 3.0 have been well proven. This was developed by DARPA 15 years or so ago, the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency to figure out how to combine inputs from various sensors all over the globe even outer space, and what did they mean.

What’s the underlying meaning of the data that you’re seeing? When DARPA stops funding that and they always stop funding programs when essentially the technology been proven to work or not to work, in this case to work, various standards organizations jumped on it, W3C, World Wide Web Consortium primarily, OMG, Object Management Group, Oasis to a certain extent and so they developed these standards for building linked data, open linked data, for being able to query this data and to federate the data.

So it’s exactly the same thing that banks have tried to do, that financial institutions when they have to report to the regulators, commodities future trading commission, CFTC, or to the securities exchange commission, or Director of Treasury, there are all these rules, Dodd-Frank rules and Sarbanes-Oxley before that and these rules describe precisely what the meaning of all these terms, like derivatives, credit default slough, the securities and legal entities.

So there’s these rules, but the rules are in thousands of pages of documentation so what FIBO does is to on one instrument at a time, one contract at a time, parse those rules, get the industry to agree on the meaning of these terms and then show how we can go from a conceptual model, here’s how the banking system does work, to extend that into here’s how your organization works, and then be able to ask questions, get answers that you simply can’t get any other way.

Peter: So in essence, what you’re basically saying is that this will most certainly help banks deal with regulatory changes, both now and in the future then, correct?

Dennis: Yes both now and in the future is the operative to statement, not just the banks but the regulators. There have been many papers written and pronouncements made by senior executives from the banks, saying they understand they have to comply, but in one case one of the executives was quoted as each institution spends between 150 million and 300 million a year just to comply but with no reward for gathering that data.

With FIBO we flip that on its end, the compliance need is still there but by gradually, not instantly, gradually adopting the semantic web technology, gradually adopting the Lingua Franca of the financial industry, the banks internally will start to use FIBO internally to help them keep track of what they themselves are doing, their own risks, and then the same reporting mechanisms will then go out to the financial regulators at no additional cost.

Peter: Excellent, now I can certainly see the value. This is Peter Schooff, Managing Editor of speaking with Dennis Winsnosky. Thank you so much for some excellent information Dennis.

Dennis: My pleasure Peter.

Nathaniel Palmer

Rated as the #1 Most Influential Thought Leader in Business Process Management (BPM) by independent research, Nathaniel Palmer is recognized as one of the early originators of BPM, and has led the design for some of the industry’s largest-scale and most complex projects involving investments of $200 Million or more. Today he is the Editor-in-Chief of, as well as the Executive Director of the Workflow Management Coalition, as well as VP and CTO of BPM, Inc. Previously he had been the BPM Practice Director of SRA International, and prior to that Director, Business Consulting for Perot Systems Corp, as well as spent over a decade with Delphi Group serving as VP and CTO. He frequently tops the lists of the most recognized names in his field, and was the first individual named as Laureate in Workflow. Nathaniel has authored or co-authored a dozen books on process innovation and business transformation, including “Intelligent BPM” (2013), “How Knowledge Workers Get Things Done” (2012), “Social BPM” (2011), “Mastering the Unpredictable” (2008) which reached #2 on the Best Seller’s List, “Excellence in Practice” (2007), “Encyclopedia of Database Systems” (2007) and “The X-Economy” (2001). He has been featured in numerous media ranging from Fortune to The New York Times to National Public Radio. Nathaniel holds a DISCO Secret Clearance as well as a Position of Trust with in the U.S. federal government.