BPM: Theory to Practice

Tim Huenemann

BPM: of the business, by the business, and for the business

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Business-IT alignment is a topic of regular discussion. Some days I think I should set a hotkey for "alignment!" And BPM is often brought into this conversation. BPM can indeed help bridge the gap between the business and IT, but I often caution that BPM, as a conceptual business management approach, really has nothing to do with business-IT alignment.

As a business discipline, BPM's success depends on business buy-in and adoption of BPM principles and an approach - that is square one. After this foundation is built, you can use BPM techniques and BPM technology to support the business's operating processes. But again, business-IT alignment, especially at a macro level, is a big issue with many factors - one that we should not expect BPM (nor the deployment of a BPMS platform) to solve. You may be setting your BPM efforts up for failure if you promise alignment success!

If we focus the discussion on BPM and the adoption of BPM by an organization (whether on a large scale or in a focused area), it helps to be practical and concrete when analyzing how the business and IT can work together. This collaboration is the practical aspect of BPM and IT coordination - some practical alignment, if you will. I generally lay out a three-part model to describe it; to make it catchy (albeit a bit forced), I call it BPM "of the business, by the business, and for the business."

"of the business"
First let's look at the strategic origins of your efforts. What are you trying to accomplish? What business processes are your strategic focus? Why is BPM a good fit for your organization? These issues need to be owned and addressed by business leadership. These strategic implications influence IT strategy and capabilities. IT may provide some cross-functional knowledge and support, but these goals and answers must be "of the business." Often management consultants help business leadership with these efforts, but regardless, it is a business effort, not an IT effort.

"by the business"
Once a BPM program or project is launched, it is common to bring in IT as part of the project team. But the program and projects need to be sponsored and run "by the business." It is vital that a BPM project does not become an "IT project." There's obviously been a lot written on this topic; suffice it to say, the business needs to lead, during initial projects and beyond.

"for the business"
Not every BPM initiative leads to new (or changed) IT systems, but most do. When it gets to an IT system implementation, we reach the point where traditionally IT would build a system "for the business." But with current BPMS suites and their capability for non-programmatic process/workflow design, user interface design, and business rules management, this is an area where business and systems analysts who are part of business operations can do much of the work. In effect, instead of aligning the line-of-business with a separate IT organization, the business is taking over some IT functions itself. In this case, hopefully the IT services are very much aligned with the business strategies and needs, but this arrangement can exhibit divergence, as well.

Whatever your business-IT dynamic, there are no silver bullets for alignment. BPM requires business leadership and control; that's a good start for keeping your BPM-related IT efforts on track.

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This blog offers a true “practitioner’s perspective,” with issues and commentary based on real-world experience across many industries.

Tim Huenemann

Tim Huenemann is the senior principal for business architecture and process management at Trexin Consulting. He has more than 20 years of experience in process management and business-focused IT. In his consulting work, he helps organizations execute business strategy by implementing effective process management and IT solutions. He regularly translates BPM theory into practice, and practice, and more practice. Contact Tim at tim.huenemann[at]trexin.com.

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