Title: Using business process re-engineering principles in educational reform
Authors: Thomas I. M. Ho and Margaret Tan

Thomas I. M. Ho               	        Margaret Tan
National University of Singapore        National University of Singapore
Department of Information Systems       Department of Decision Sciences
and Computer Science
Singapore 0511                	        Singapore 0511
Phone: +65 772 6807           	        Phone: +65 772 3157
Fax: +65 779 4580             	        Fax: +65 779 2621
Internet: tho@iscs.nus.sg     	        Bitnet: FBATANM@NUSVM

     Using business process re-engineering principles in
                     educational reform?


The objective of this paper is to apply business re-
engineering principles to reform primary and secondary
education. In particular, using information technology
(especially telecommunications and networking), educational
reforms can be proactively accomplished despite the dynamic
environment and demands.

Efforts to reform education through information technology
(Corcoran, 1993) have entered the mainstream of society and
of the corporation.  Reforming education through information
technology bears a remarkable resemblance to efforts to
reform business organizations through information
technology! (Business Week, April 1983)  It is therefore
appropriate to re-examine educational reform in terms of
business' language and concepts as used in business process
re-engineering.  Re-engineeering strives to break away from
the old ways and rules about how we organize and conduct
business. It involves recognizing and rejecting some of the
old ways and then finding imaginative new ways to accomplish
work. (Hammer, pp. 104-105) In this way, we might learn
lessons from the corporate experience to apply information
technology to reform educational structure.  This
perspective may also enable leaders of the corporate
community to better understand the context of educational
reforms and their necessary role in promoting and assisting
those reforms.

Can we apply the language (and experience) of business
process re-engineering  to educational reform? In his
landmark paper on re engineering, Hammer (p. 105) asserts:

  In a time of rapidly changing technologies and ever-
  shorter product life cycles, product development often
  proceeds at a glacial pace.

  In an age of the customer, order fulfillment has high
  error rates and customer inquiries go unanswered for

  In a period when asset utilization is critical, inventory
  levels exceed many months of demand.

Small changes in wording to adapt these assertions to
education reveal a remarkable analogy!

  In a time of rapidly changing history and ever-shorter
  political and economic cycles, curriculum development
  often proceeds at a glacial pace.

  In an age of keen competition and higher standards,
  student achievement has high failure rates and student
  needs go unanswered.

  In a period of limited resources, educational costs
  continue to climb but are often a diminishing proportion
  of infrastructure investment.

These analogies should therefore provide us with new
perspective to re-engineer education using advanced
information technology.

Re-engineering primary and secondary education

The world has changed, but education hasn't necessarily
adapted to these changes.  At a recent Principals'
Conference in Singapore, John Yip, Director of Education,
was quoted (Leong):
"It is crucial that we have a good education system which is
relevant to the times. Change is inevitable....
Help students to develop attitudes and skills with which
they can independently seek knowledge, process information
and apply it to tackle issues."

We still have "industrial age" schools that are unable to
meet the needs of our emerging "information age" society!
Davis (p. 24) claims that all organizations based on the
industrial model are created for "businesses" that either no
longer exist or are in the process of going out of

Again, quoting Hammer (p. 107), we can also draw another
analogy between the business climate and the educational

  Quality, innovation, and service are now more important
  than cost, growth, and control.

  It should come as no surprise that our business processes
  and structures are outmoded and obsolete: our work
  structures and processes have not kept pace with the
  changes in technology, demographics, and business

Again, small changes in wording to adapt these statements to
education reveal a remarkable analogy!

  Quality, innovation, and creativity are now more
  important than cost and standardized test scores.

  It should come as no surprise that our school processes
  and structures are outmoded and obsolete: our teaching
  structures and processes have not kept pace with the
  changes in technology, demographics, and societal
Educational problems

Corcoran (p. 66) remarks that "networks are changing the way
teachers teach and students learn." Can we apply networking
to re-engineer primary and secondary education?  What are
the problems of education today in our dynamic contemporary

Recognizing the traditional isolation of teachers (and
students), Newman (p. 49) argues that we must make a choice
between systems that (merely) deliver traditional
instruction from a central repository and systems that
enable teachers and students to access and gather
information from distributed resources and communities. The
experience of teacher Sandra McCourtney (Corcoran, p. 67)
demonstrates that a network can bring children the
excitement of the outside world. Even independent research
by students is possible as recognized by Bob Hughes
(Corcoran, p. 66), Boeing's corporate director of education
relations, who sees computer networks as key to turning out
students who adapt to change and who solve problems by
seeking out and applying new ideas.

In one of the recent flood of articles on networking in the
mainstream press, Markoff laments inequities such as

  Different levels of access between information "have" vs.
  "have-not" and

  Prejudices due to professional rank, gender, race,
  religion, national origin, or physical ability.

Hunter (p. 44) offers us hope that assumptions of the
present educational system where some learners and
populations are "underserved" because they live in
particular places, and that learning opportunities are
necessarily tied to local resources, are open to rethinking
in a highly networked environment.

As a progressive force for change, equity, and restructuring
primary and secondary education, information technology has
been offered as a mechanism for fostering change. (Gillman,
1989)  More specifically, many proponents have identified
networking as a mechanism for change. In particular, efforts
to promote the US National Research and Education Network
(NREN) for use in primary and secondary education have been
most representative of this point of view! Perhaps, the most
ambitious effort is the National School Network Testbed
(Bernstein, et. al.), a national research and development
resource in which schools, school districts, community
organizations, state education agencies, technology
developers, and industry partners are experimenting with
applications that bring significant new educational benefits
to teachers and students. The Consortium for School
Networking (CoSN) has been most active in promoting this
movement through its on-line Internet discussion
(cosndisc@bitnic.educom.edu) and other activities, e.g.
gopher cosn.org . For membership information, send mail to
info@cosn.org .

Indeed, the need for educational reform is generally
recognized. Applying the concept of internetworking to
educational innovation, it becomes possible for every
individual and group involved in educational change and
research to be a direct contributor to the collective
process of innovation. Examples of opportunities for direct
contribution include (Hunter, p. 44):

  Improved communications among school district personnel

  Sharing expertise among teachers of different disciplines
  and geographical locations.

Critical shifts in application of information technology

The literature on organizational change and the future
abounds with dramatic predictions of the need for
organizations to adapt to profound change. Sproull and
Kiesler (p. 116) claim that the networked organization
differs from the conventional workplace with respect to both
time and space so that managers can use networks to foster
new kinds of task structures and reporting relationships.
Davis claims that while the new economy is in the early
decades of its unfolding, businesses continue to use
organization models that were more appropriate to previous
times than to current needs. (p. 5)

In terms of information technology, Tapscott and Caston (pp.
14-17) identify organizational changes that are enabled by
information technology and network access, in particular.
Networking enables the informal web of relations people
developed with each other inside the organization (Davis, p.
86) so as to get things done. Likewise, examples of how
educational organizations might adopt these network
innovations are not difficult to imagine. Hunter (1993)
provides many examples of how network access changes the
nature of teaching and learning. Hunter (p. 42) claims that
new models of learning and teaching are made possible by the
assumption that learners and teachers as individuals and
groups can interact with geographically and institutionally
distributed human and information resources.
  Integrated organization
With the evolution from system islands to integrated
systems, network access enables inter-disciplinary
instruction. Network access "flattens" the instructional
development process by giving teachers access to previously
inaccessible information and teaching resources. Hunter (p.
42) speculates that application of the concepts and
technology of internetworking may make it possible for
separate reform efforts of diverse groups and individuals to
contribute to the building of a new educational system
providing more accessible, higher-quality learning
opportunities for everyone.
  Extended enterprise
With the evolution from internal to inter-enterprise
computing, more people, e.g. parents and business people,
will become active in schools by "dropping in"
electronically for a short time every day. Furthermore,
students will leave the confines of the classroom and make
electronic visits to museums, libraries, businesses, and
governments around the world.

Does business process re-engineering model fit educational

So, how ought we to apply the re engineering model to reform
education? Hammer (pp. 108-111) offers principles of re
engineering.  Could these principles be applied to
education?  Let's see!
Organize around outcomes, not tasks
Have one person perform all the steps in a process and
design that person's job around an objective or outcome
instead of a single task (Hammer, p. 108)

In the business sense, the idea (Hammer, p. 106) is  to
sweep away existing job definitions and departmental
boundaries and to create a new position through empowerment.
In the world of educational telecommunications, the
experience of teacher Ed Barry (Corcoran, p. 68) reveals
that the role of teacher changes to "manager, not a
dispenser of information" because the teacher is empowered!
Have those who use the output of the process perform the
Opportunities exist to re engineer processes so that the
individuals who need the result of a process can do it
themselves (Hammer, p. 109)

In the business sense, when the people closest to the
process perform it, there is little need for the overhead
associated with managing it (Hammer, p. 109)  By the same
token, Kay (p. 146) has discovered that children learn in
the same way as adults, in that they learn best when they
can ask questions, seek answers in many places, consider
different perspectives, exchange views with others and add
their own findings to existing understandings.
Subsume information-processing work into the real work that
produces the information
Move work from one person or department to another (Hammer,
p. 110)

Empower students to search for the "answers" in heretofore
inaccessible places. As a means to reduce the isolation of
classroom teachers, Hunter (1993, p. 43) claims that a
thread woven throughout most networked learning innovations
is the idea that schooling can be more closely linked to
work in the real world.
Treat geographically dispersed resources as though they were
Use databases, telecommunication networks, and standardized
processing systems to get the benefits of scale and
coordination while maintaining the benefits of flexibility
and service (Hammer, p. 110)

Use databases, telecommunication networks, and computer-
supported courseware to get the benefits of sharing
curriculum development while maintaining the benefits of
individualized learning and customization.
Link parallel activities instead of integrating their
Forge links between parallel functions and coordinate them
while their activities are in process rather than after they
are completed (Hammer, p. 110)

Often, separate units perform different activities that must
eventually come together. For example, curriculum developers
often prepare instructional materials independently for
teachers to use. Instead, enabling teachers and students to
communicate easily with curriculum developers during
development and testing of materials ought to lead to better
materials produced in a shorter time.
Put the decision point where the work is performed and build
control into the process
People who do the work should make the decisions and that
the process itself can have built-in controls (Hammer, p.

In general, we should "empower" teachers and students! For
example, opportunities exist to re engineer teaching so that
teachers can tap the expertise of curriculum developers and
subject matter experts. Then, teachers can become self-
managing and self-controlling. In a project called Learning
Through Collaborative Visualization (Hunter, p. 43),
students and teachers are working directly with scientists
at the University of Michigan, the Exploratorium (museum) in
San Francisco, the National Center for Supercomputer
Applications in Urbana-Champaign (Illinois, USA), and the
Technical Education Research Center (Cambridge, MA USA) on
inquiries in atmospheric science, using two-way audio-video
technology being developed by Bellcore and Ameritech.

Current research efforts

In hope of making a case for the reforms described here, two
research projects on educational telecommunications are
experimenting with these principles.

Common Knowledge:  Pittsburgh
Common Knowledge: Pittsburgh is a US National Science
Foundation-funded project to test the impact of Internet
access on the Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania) Public Schools.

Singapore pilot project
Singapore's Ministry of Education is pioneering Internet
access in several junior colleges (grades 11-12) and a
secondary school. These projects are conducting experiments
to address (through telecommunications) the educational
problems described earlier.

Collaborative efforts

Collaboration between these international partners is
intended to enable a comparative evaluation of the impact of
educational telecommunications on two very different
educational systems. The United States is generally
recognized for its stronger climate for innovation with
notable educational experiments such as:
Apple Vivarium Program (Kay)
Cityspace (Markoff)
On the other hand, Singapore and other Asian nations
(Hirsch) are generally recognized for their stronger climate
for teaching the fundamentals.

Does the model fit?

Re engineering triggers changes of many kinds, not just of
the business process itself. Job designs, organizational
structures, management systems-anything associated with the
process-must be refashioned in an integrated way. In other
words, re engineering is a tremendous effort that mandates
change in many areas of the organization. (Hammer, p. 112)
Surely, primary and secondary education deserve the same
attention and information technology has as much potential
to reorganize education as well as work!

The business re-engineering model is remarkably apt for
educational reform. Perhaps, this novel (and somewhat
provocative) approach may encourage fresh ideas in this
difficult task.


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Copyright © 1994, Thomas I. M. Ho. Permission is granted to create WWW pointers to this document. All other rights reserved.