United States Department of Energy Loan Programs Office
- Published: April 4, 2013
- Written by BPM.com
Executive Summary / Abstract
The primary mission of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is to advance the national, economic and energy security of the United States. DOE’s Loan Programs Office (LPO) was created to accelerate the domestic commercial deployment of innovative and advanced clean energy technologies at a scale sufficient to contribute meaningfully to this mission. LPO is able to accomplish its goals by guaranteeing loans to eligible clean energy projects (i.e., agreeing to repay the borrower’s debt obligation in the event of a default) and by providing direct loans to eligible manufacturers of advanced technology vehicles and components. The LPO also has a fiduciary obligation to U.S. taxpayers, and must ensure that the loans and loan guarantees provided have a reasonable prospect of repayment.
U.S. Department of Energy’s Loan Program Office
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Eligible projects apply to the program and are rigorously evaluated across multiple disciplines, including technical, financial, environmental, legal and regulatory. The LPO initially captured the highly detailed and often sensitive sponsor and project information for the application via paper methods and legacy technology systems. These methods were found to be cumbersome, in some cases, confusing for the applicant and time‐consuming for DOE staff reviewing the applications. In an effort to improve efficiencies and provide more transparency to the application process, DOE decided to transform the loan guarantee application and approval process from a series of highly manual steps of data collection and review to a 100 percent Web‐based, automated format with front‐end data collection and back‐end review automation. The new application has been well received by the marketplace, and has resulted in expedited reviews, reduced transaction friction, and greater visibility to both project sponsors and DOE management.
The mission of LPO is to accelerate the domestic commercial deployment of innovative and advanced clean energy technologies at a scale sufficient to contribute meaningfully to the achievement of our national clean energy objectives— including job creation; reducing dependency on foreign oil; improving our environmental legacy; and enhancing American competitiveness in the global economy of the 21st century. LPO consists of three separate programs (Section 1703, Section 1705 and Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Program) managed by two offices, the Loan
Guarantee Program Office (LGP) and the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program Office. Under LGP, loans are available to domestic projects in various clean energy industries, including nuclear, solar, biomass/biofuels, advanced fossil, transmission, wind, geothermal and hydroelectric. As of September 2010, LGP has committed more than $16 billion in loan guarantees to 16 projects. Loan amounts start in the tens of millions and can climb to several billion.
Application fees are consistent with the private sector for similar energy project finance transactions. Sponsor organizations seek such loans because they come with lower interest rates and government backing, resulting in less exposure to risk and greater attractiveness to equity investors.
There were many improvements LPO needed to make in order to comply with governmental regulations and bring greater efficiencies to the application process. Some of those areas of improvements included:
- Create performance goals;
- Revise loan guarantee processes to ensure consistent review; and
- Enable sponsor appeals.
DOE began implementing process changes to address these concerns. For example, LPO established domain expertise amongst the senior staff, engaged in more proactive communications with applicants, and streamlined the evaluation process, As a result of the improvements made, DOE has greatly increased program efficiencies and reduced response time to applicants. However, the application process continued to be paper and time intensive, not to mention it was still viewed as a frustrating roadblock for both applicants and some DOE staff.
As a result of the internal DOE analysis and sponsor feedback, DOE decided to further streamline the application and evaluation process by embarking on a new Web‐based application, i.e. the DOE online application portal.
The Key Innovations
Loan Guarantee Program Application Page
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Prior to development of the online application portal, it was not uncommon for sponsors to spend days, even weeks preparing documents, making photocopies and either sending proper documentation via mail or submitting documents through an unreliable legacy system. The development of the online application portal changed all of that. The portal enabled sponsors to create log‐ins and submit applications in less than one business day.
DOE also changed the way it interacted with remote application reviewers. Under the old system, DOE shared project information via paper and mail—‐an inefficient and time consuming process. Thanks to the portal, DOE provides reviewers secure, direct access to applications through the electronic portal anywhere, anytime provided they have an Internet connection.
The application review and approval process has been highly manual and data‐intensive. However, what was once a paper‐based or flash‐drive driven workflow has since been transformed into a Web‐based application inside a portal, offering immediate upload, response and feedback.
Original Loan Guarantee Workflow
The prototype scenario followed the flow below.
Prototype Screen Flow for Application Portal
Originally, DOE outlined a structure that mirrored the prior serial evaluation process flow. Project sponsors would proceed serially through a multi‐step process from the first page to the last. After initial development and feedback, the approach was found halting and rigid. Users needed more flexibility to jump around as data became available to them. Increased flexibility would also help project sponsors justify the application investment.
When choosing a software package for development, the following requirements were deemed necessary: the new business process management (BPM) suite needed to 1) be more flexible and 2) offer integrated modeling and forms environments. Forms would have to adapt to user interests (i.e. differing requirements for different technologies) rather than users adapting to process steps. The user experience trumped the process model.
Ultimately, the project team transformed a highly structured, multi‐step process into a more free flowing experience. Steps 1 and 2 (Registration/Fee information and Eligibility) became the only serial activities.
Business Process Definition Offering Greater Flexibility
Process participation includes three core groups: Applicants, Reviewers, and Legal. Each activity is associated with business requirements (e.g., law, policies, procedures, roles, responsibilities, routing, escalations, etc.), screens (aka forms), and data.
For example, the first activity includes the following business rules and forms:
|Activity Name||Submit Part I application|
|Activity Type||Normal Activity|
|Activity Description:||Applicant fills in the Forms in the part 1 and uploads documents|
|Business Rules:|| |
The BPM‐based application can be easily adapted to meet new DOE requirements. Administrators or developers can add new solicitation tracks in their entirety, or simply change:
- Portal pages
- Form fields
- Activities (business rules and process variables)
- Data inputs
- User Interfaces
Questions, for example, can be changed in the database or on the form by following these directions:
- Change Question in Database
- Go to the database bizflowlgp.FormQuestionDefinition.
- Find your form id having the question you want to change. See DOE LGP—WebMaker Forms.xls for details.
- Change “QuestionLabel” column value with the new text.
- Change Questions on Forms
- Open BizFlow project having the form by using BizFlow WebMaker Studio. See DOE LGP—WebMaker Forms.xls for details.
- Change text of the question in the form.
- Generate, deploy, and publish the project to WebMaker server.
Portal Web Parts also can be changed easily by following these directions:
- Log into https://www.doeloan.com portal site as an administrator
- Click on the “Site Action” link at the top left of the page and then click “View All Site Content” to see all libraries and lists in the site.
- Find Document Libraries below: SuperAdmin, Sector Lead, Processor, Reviewer, and Applicant
- Click on the library name to load the library.
- Click the library name or Click on the dropdown menu and click “Edit Properties”.
- Click on the “Site Actions” link again, and then Click “Edit Page”.
- General page layout of the DOE Loan Guarantee Program portal is as below.
- Click Edit and the Click “Modify Shared Web Part”. You will see property edit section of the Page Viewer web part. All BizCove are linked to SharePoint by using “Page Viewer” web part.
- Edit the properties. Most important properties are as below.
- Click “OK” button when done.
User Interfaces are the pages where sponsors and management initiate specific actions (e.g., monitor application). Administrators can easily add/alter/delete user interfaces (aka portlets, BizCoves).
The portal combines BPM and Document Management. The BPM suite includes functionality for process modeling, permission‐based architecture, application development (the creation of Web‐based forms tied to the process model), process intelligence (user‐driven reporting and executive dashboards), and overall process execution.
System components include:
- Web applications that run on Apache Tomcat 6.0 with Sun Microsystems Java SE JDK 1.6.
- Web Server enabling all BizFlow product user interfaces such as BizCoves, Menus, etc.
- BizFlow WebMaker component supporting design, development and execution of web‐based forms.
- BizFlow Advanced Reporting component enabling user‐driven reporting by retrieving data from databases to generate web‐based reports and dashboards.
- BizFlow Form component handling web service calls in process definitions.
- BizFlow SharePoint SSO module handling Single Sign On between SharePoint and BizFlow.
DOE internal user accounts must be created in both SharePoint and BizFlow by using the DOE User Management Tool made available to system Super Administrators. However, applicants (external users) share one BizFlow account.
The impact to LPO has been monumental. Where paper was once ubiquitous, the portal is now the standard means of application submission, review and validation. Part I reviews used to take upwards of 30‐45 days, however, process improvements combined with the application portal have reduced this review period to less than 10 days.
The portal also offers applicants instantaneous guida ce as to how they might increase the likelihood that their applications will continue to the next phase. On online glossary helps define terms for project sponsors, making it easier to understand the solicitation Sponsors immediately know whether or not their information has been accepted, and just as importantly whether their application meets very general eligibility parameters. Each document submitted for each application is accessible online for collaboration and review. These enhancements significantly reduce the costs of both submitting and reviewing applications.
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Web-based Document Sharing and Archival
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At project inception, DOE had complete management buy‐in. However, the management team had only limited information to begin the project.
Furthermore, DOE wanted to deliver new functionality in two months. In this time, the system integrator (SI) would have to procure infrastructure and software, create a prototype within three weeks, move into development and ensure proper hosting.
The beta scope included:
- Screening and intake of applications for 1703 and 1705 for Wind (potentially Solar and Geothermal)
- To‐do list for complete scope tracked
- Continue development of additional sectors to first release
The project timeline required:
- March 15 start date
- April 6 working prototype
- May 30 launch
In order to gather business requirements and technical specifications while ensuring deliver dates, the SI used a methodology called “Speed‐2‐Market,”an iterative approach to defining, building and showing progress.
The primary challenge with the approach was in obtaining feedback. Feedback came from multiple sources and needed to be reconciled by the primary customer stakeholder. Moreover, as the team continued to show changes (i.e., richer/broader functionality), the customer would discover more efficient and fluid user interactions and as a result often requested additional changes.
- As the project had a two‐month delivery objective, the project team made four critical decisions to ensure success:
- Create a senior team of professionals – The DOE portal project is as much about streamlining business processes as it is creating an engaging user experience. Having seasoned professionals on the project ensured that the right questions were asked and scope managed to meet expectations.
- Co‐locate the staff – Given the time restraints on the project, it was necessary that team members were co‐located to streamline communication. Furthermore, co‐location enabled cross pollination of skills and knowledge sharing.
- Manage Scope – The project team created two “buckets” for change management: Immediate Requirements and Deferred Items.
- Require product flexibility – The speed of delivery required a tool suite allowing extreme flexibility with forms development, forms tied together with the process model, a fully exposed API layer and seamless integration with SharePoint.
The project team included:
- Project Manager – 1
- Technical Architect – 1
- System Engineer – 1
- BPM Developers – 2
- Portal/DM Developers – 2
- Testing/Documentation – 1
- Customer Representative – 1
Using this methodology and a flexible product suite, the project team was able to deliver an enterprise portal on‐time with more than 150 percent of functionality.
The new online portal is a significant improvement from the previous process. Not only does the new tool make the application submission and review process more efficient, transparent and easier to navigate, the portal also demonstrates DOE’s commitment to continuously find ways to improve the program and accelerate important clean energy investments that create jobs, support private markets and transform the way we use and produce energy.
Process enhancements include:
- Design that guides applicants through the application process by making suggestions as to applicable solicitations based on the information the applicant provided.
- Instantaneous guidance as to how they might increase the likelihood that their project will continue to the next phase.
- Comprehensive security features such as encryption algorithms and password protection to ensure that only the applicant and identified department reviewers can access appropriate files.
Best Practices, Learning Points and Pitfalls
During the project, the team uncovered many best practices and potential pitfalls.
- Empowered Stakeholder – DOE had one person responsible for the project as the primary point of contact. This person was very involved in gathering and refining business requirements and provided a single point of communication to business users. Where there was no time for lengthy discussion, the employee could make spot decisions that were classified in three buckets: important, important but deferred and not important. This process helped avoid project delays.
- Active Testing – During each stage of delivery, the project team and the customer tested functionality. Field testing revealed holes that internal testing had missed.
- Iterative Approach – With many pending transactions, time is of the essence. Project teams must hold daily reviews with customer to make go/no‐go decisions.
- Product Variables – The right tool makes all the difference. Although BPM suites share similar functionality, there are specific capabilities required to rapidly build and deploy Web 2.0 applications, including: integrated modeling and forms studios, codeless development environments, web services integration, dynamic routing, and user‐driven reporting.
Most of the challenges faced during the project were related to time constraints and obtaining DOE CIO office approvals. Complexity was never an issue, although hosting the portal externally put some pressure on moving from testing into production.
The new portal gives sponsors a faster means to commercial success. The portal was designed with an applicant’s time value of money in mind, and has enabled DOE reviewers to reduce evaluation time by more than 65 percent.
- Test first, then becomes Production after beta
- Multiple firewalls to protect data and users
- Built to support active‐active specs
- Version: 184.108.40.206
- OS: Microsoft Windows Server 2008 Enterprise 64bit
- Application server: 7201, 8201
- Web server: 8080
- Microsoft SQL Server 2008 in a clustered environment on SQLDOE (failover mode)
- Port: 1433
- DOE LGP database: bizflowlgp
|Environment||One firewall to protect data and users / simulate Production|
|Technology|| || |
|Assumptions|| || |
The Technology and Service Providers
|Services Provider||Product/Service Offering||Website|
|USA Energy Advisors|| ||www.usaenergyadvisors.com|
© Copyright: This case study was originally published in the Excellence in Practice series in the book entitled “Delivering BPM Excellence”
Get the complete book in both Digital (download PDF) and Print Editions at http://futstrat.com/books/Delivering_BPM.php published by Future Strategies Inc.