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To What Extent Should IT People Understand the Industry They Are Deploying Their BPM Solution In?

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This question came up in a podcast Dennis Byron recorded (coming soon) and I thought it was a good one: To what extent do IT (and more specifically, BPM) people need to know about the industry they are looking to deploy their BPM solution in?

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  • Subject matter expertise certainly has a place in information technology--this is difficult to dispute. The more someone knows about a particular topic, the less likely the chance that they will miss a pertinent aspect of a system. That said, subject matter expertise can also get in the way of innovation. After all, why invent a new mouse trap when the one you're using already works good enough.

    With regard to BPM, I'm in favor of knowing less about the topic area because it leaves more room for innovative thinking about the way to get a particular process accomplished. However, I believe the final process should be reviewed by a senior operations personnel with subject matter expertise to advise if the new approach is sound based upon issues of compliance and past experiences.

  • When I started working in IT long time back, the main job title was Systems Analyst. This job role included basic business (the domain) knowledge and software development expertise. As the software engineering field evolved many enterprises found they had spent lot of money and time on Professionals who did not understand their business and processes, so Enterprise IT Dept slowly started involving their own business professionals. The role of Systems Analyst has now changed to Business Analyst where they must know more about the business, the process and have a good understanding of the technology so the IT team can deliver what they want in a software product. To answer the question there are no IT BPM people. The Business Analyst or Process Analysts should be from their own organization or the organization needs to hire a consultant with business and IT skills. Basically, you can’t deploy if you don’t know the Industry. BPM is successful if it starts at the business level and then goes to IT. BPM is for the Industry, by the Industry and of the Industry.

  • The simple answer: “It depends on the IT person’s role.?

    Nowadays, organizations are easily confused by the term “IT People.? What does this term really mean? Does it mean developers, business technology analysts, business architects, application architects, project managers? And the list goes on. Many of these roles now sit under the CIO and are also critical to the success of BPM projects.

    So, let’s get back to the question.

    For the BPM developer and technical architect roles: The simple answer here is “Little to no vertical experience required.? Organizations can’t afford to limit themselves to vertically-savvy technical resources. This is painfully true for BPM projects. The pool of technical BPM talent out there is scarce. During a recent BPM conference Q&A session, an attendee asked me “Why is it so hard to find BPM resources that know the vendor’s product?? The reality is, even if you find a good BPM technical architect, be prepared to pay through the nose. And trying to find one that has vertical depth is like searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack. Additionally, based on my own previous consulting experience, its much easier to train a developer or architect on a particular vertical – considering that most of their time will be spent developing solutions scoped by business analysts and business architects.

    Now for business analysts and business architects: The simple answer here is “Industry expertise is mandatory.? Business analysts that sit under IT must have a solid understanding of their industry in order to be credible to stakeholders and developers. Additionally, the economic downturn is highlighting the need for “Lean BPM? – with many initiatives reporting slashed budgets but accelerating demand for BPM. This new trend towards Lean BPM means that organizations must put business analysts in charge that possess a deep understanding of the business environment in order to quickly scope and deploy effective process solutions. The best business analysts for BPM projects are really “process analysts? - in addition to understanding core business processes, they also have some programming background.

  • In general I agree with the other replies, though I have found that the most successful projects are those where all of the senior technical staff had a fair amount of domain expertise; this is especially true in regulated industries where special care needs to be taken to meet regulatory and operational requirements.

    In life sciences for example, the technical team should be aware of different requirements for systems developed for clinical applications vs. administrative or business systems. BPM projects deployed for clinical applications must be auditable under the Good Automated Manufacturing Practice standard. The technical team needs to understand these types of requirements when implementing the system – you can’t always be sure these types of requirements are captured in what comes down from business analysts and business architects.

    Another trait that we see is that the more domain expertise the technical team has the less re-work there is. BPM is turbo-RAD and the iterations are short and fast. Good knowledge of the business helps these feedback loops to be especially productive.

    One final thought is that there is no better way to understand a particular business function than to implement a BPM-supported process. I have been in the process software business for close to 20 years and I would say that, while I am definitely a software and solutions expert, I have learned a ton about banking, military intelligence, and pharmaceutical processes!

  • By “Deploying BPM solution? I am assuming we are referring to application or business process solution development using BPMS. This is where IT would have a greater role in BPM program. I would modify “IT? and call it “line of business IT?. Line of business IT members are more conversant with the domain as well as the general operations in their business units. This is different from the enterprise IT teams that may not be that conversant either with the domain or the operations of business units. In some organizations these roles are performed by a single team and it is definite advantage to be knowledgeable about the domain, about the operations, regulatory guidelines in addition to the business and strategic goals of the company. Here I am not speaking of just the developers but the IT team as a whole. In absence of domain knowledge in IT, especially in verticals like telecommunications, financial services or pharmaceuticals BPMS products with domain foundations becomes more critical to how quickly you can deploy the BPM solutions and the success of the BPM program.

  • Do we not get quite a good clue when we spell out the BPM acronym ? 'Business' Process Management in many ways is about finding ways to automate and/or streamline what are currently manual processes today so it's all about 'the business'. While such efforts must or should reuse some or all of the existing IT systems so that they can cooexist for some amount of time, I would view BPM as the business taking control of their processes to reduce their dependance on the IT world where their perception is that they are continually waiting for things to happen. By implementing a BPM solution, it's likely that the BPM implementator will be under the control of the business unit and thus be more business focussed. Therefore, I would expect that the BPM 'engineer' must have domain knowledge in order to correctly map the existing processes.

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