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What Is the Best Way to Bridge the Business IT Gap in BPM?

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Important for any technology's success, and perhaps most crucial for BPM, what is the best way to bridge the business IT gap in BPM?

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  • The first, and most obvious approach, is to have strong business representation on the project team. An executive sponsor from the business side is even more effective and not as onerous as it sounds.

    James Taylor's post "Some thoughts on business agility" also offers some great insights into different approaches that can help.

    I've read other posts where the author suggests going out and meeting with business users - "they really know how the business ticks". Of course they do. They are the business.

    While agile methods like SCRUM can help re-sort priorities to insure that the most critical features are always supported the most important element is human collaboration. Nothing helps more than solid teamwork where there are no sides and team members do not allow each other to fail. If that is not happening, most other techniques are not going to help.

  • If anything it's just about communication and education. There's a common goal to be had and it takes two to tango. Whilst I agree somewhat with Doug's view about executive sponsorship the problems can arise where it's too heavy on the business side (yes, yes, I know BPM is about the business) but that's why the divide exists, because IT are often treated as some sort of marauding horde with a singular mission to control all.

    If the goal is clear and understood, if the communication of that goal is made to both sides, if the responsibilities are understood and how working together can achieve more than working apart, then the chasm has been bridged.

    I blogged about the Cabal Process (http://bit.ly/arzAAw) which relates to Social BPM but it can be applied here also; the premise that a team can work without "role" boundaries and be far more creative. Why ? Because instantly the labels of "business" and "IT" are removed and there is only the team left.

    The divides exist because we place them there in the end, not because we need to overcome them to succeed.

  • Potential of BPM is a coherent set of executable (or actionable) models (i.e. business processes – traditional à la workflow and modern agile/adaptive) which provides relationships between different enterprise artefacts: organizational, business, and technical. In this perspective, there is no gap between business and IT – goals, responsibilities, and dependencies are transparent and traceable.

    I agree with Theo – the first step is about communication and education. Things like a BPM reference model, relationships between BPM, SOA, EA and business architecture should be commonly agreed, documented, and serve as a basis for next steps.


  • IMHO, the gap "seems" more pronounced and rather amplified in the community among the sides representing the views of respective groups than on the ground. I have touched upon the perspectives at play in my post at http://wp.me/pN8i1-4G. Some of these are the the epicenter of the gaps that one sees across communities.

    On the ground, whatever issues come up, are very real. The speed that business wants and the momentum that IT's got sometimes do not match and not without reasons. One positive in a BPM initiative, though is that there's better and deeper sense of the need to be business focused on business as well as IT sides.

    I have seen the following work well for a better business-IT collaboration in BPM projects -

    1. Giving the Business Process Owners their due placement. Very important as the process centricity is supposed to drive the projects.I f one feels the other way round, one may be just executing an IT project, not BPM :)

    2. Follow an iterative and colaborative approach. Easier said than organized, but regular process workshops with bits and pieces of solution demoed along with process models does the trick.

    3. As @Theo said, and @AS endorsed, communication and education cannot stop through the initiatives at any time.

    4. BPM initiatives, backed by a competency center have a better chance at being able to achieve the joint goals - and bridge the gaps. Governance is key, and picking the right form of center of excellence for the organizations' needs is also important as I highlighted in one of my posts on COEs. http://wp.me/pN8i1-21

    5. And IT will do well to not treat the Process initiatives as not another IT Application development. Elaborated in my post http://wp.me/pN8i1-4t

    - Ashish

  • One way not to help is for business to try to go around IT. Some BPMS products are oriented completely toward the business user, without offering development teams the kinds of capabilities that they would expect or need. The clear positioning is that business people can implement or improve their executable processes without the involvement of the IT staff. The fact that it doesn't usually work that way, so IT ends up using tools aimed at a business user, doesn't help relations either.

    Instead, do as others above suggest: involve both and IT in the development effort. Create an extended development team. And make sure the developers on the team have the tools they need to be successful.

  • I think the answer may lie in the underlying reasons this question comes up in the first place. BPM projects can be owned completely by IT, can be approached jointly by business and IT, or can be lead by business - and it may all work fine depending on the nature of processes being automated, the org culture, the end objectives being addressed and so on.

    However, a BPM initiative that looks to exploit the real potential that is promised by BPM really calls for a shift in the way business and IT have over decades traditionally engaged to build applications.

    So in a way it comes down to dealing with the nature of the gap in the context of each organization. In any case, the important point about BPM, is that it empowers business to take a more active role in defining software, while leaving IT to deal with IT – it is about re-arranging traditional roles and getting people to do what they do best.

    From that PoV, Michael Rowley’s thoughts make great sense and that is where Theo’s points on education and communication will make a big impact.

  • We need to be more concrete on what the gap is about. The BPM Business-IT gap can be seen from many different perspectives, which would lead in each case to different gap types, for example Cultural, Organizational, Communicational, Skills, or many other possible ones. Very interesting indeed the article pointed by Ashish in his blog, written by Keith Swenson and titled "BPM is not Software Engineering". This clearly describes what I would call the "BPM Engineering Gap".

    Many companies have invested significant amounts of time and money building process models, and failed using them to effectively drive the design of the supporting IT solutions. This shows that there is indeed an engineering gap between "Business Process Modeling" and “IT Engineering Techniques? still waiting to get bridged.

    How could we successfuly use "by-business-built" process models as a reliable vehicle for a gapless drive all the way down from the high-level business needs definitions to satisfactory and effective IT Solution designs and implementations?

    BPM clearly defines the cyclical stages that business has to go through to effectively "manage" a process; the BPM-Cycle. And this is something absolutely independent from IT; just pure "business" process management, applicable having or not IT systems in the scope. On the other side, there are plenty of methods and software development life-cycles, to guide IT people through the analysis, design and building of a system. The well-know "V-Model" is one of them. Ideally, a single reference model incorporating and relating the features and guidelines of these other different and complementary ones, should be able to guide and bridge the modeling and building activities carried out by business and IT teams as a consistent whole. This drafted V-BPM Cycle Reference Model could be a first stage towards the bridging of the "BPM Enginering Gap". For more details download this animated presentation, also accessible from my baby-blog.

  • So we are back at the classic Business/IT divide again? I agree with most contributors that it does not have to be that way and creating a governance model, CoE and clear goals and communications go a long way in delivering wholesome BPM solutions, i.e. where all sections of the organisations have skin in the game and recognise their unique contributions.

    To add insult to injury, what I see in quite a few companies these days is that the classic divide is even more complex than just the split between IT and Business. There are often delicate cross-roads between portfolio management, lean initiatives, integration programs, ERP implementations, some lost black-belts, and occasionally impressive business architects who try to model their way through a muddled BPM-landscape. I suppose this strengthens the case for clear governance, structured programme management and some heavy lifting in managing all these unique stakeholder positions. Making this work can only be a joint responsibility of IT and Business players.

  • Any divide can only be bridged by communication. So I agree, communication is fundamental - but with two provisos:

    - communication HAS to be in the language of the business, and that language is end-to-end business process not BPMN or BPM Cycle or EPC diagrams or any other IT construct

    - Business:IT collaboration is key but, at the end of the day, IT is driven by the business. Automation matters - whether it's delivered by a BPMS or SOA or old-fashioned ERP - but it will only be optimised when it's driven by the business. And the business can only express its requirements and understand the potential automation trade-offs in its own language - end-to-end process.

    more on this theme http://bit.ly/9UzzcQ

  • Hi Mike, I fully agree with you. Business people are there just to run the business; not to draw fancy pictures for the IT folks. It is actually the added value of business consultants like you what bridges the gap. You are indeed the "active link" between the two worlds. Business consultants are the bilingual ones able to speak both sides languages, talking to business in their own terms and transforming the gathered knowledge into IT constructs that the weird IT analysts and developers can understand and use to deliver their solutions. I am curious about what you hand-over to the IT colleagues. For sure it is not Powerpoints.

  • Whatever happened to Howard Smith and Peter Fingar's vision as described in BPM the Third Wave? BPM technology was to allow business and IT to work from the same business process definition and maintain continuity. Or better yet, not require IT involvement in the creation, deployment and enhancement of business processes at all.

    As part of BPM implementations I typically see complicated process maps that business people would never want to get close to. We can apply best practices like removing decisions, but that is not enough.

    So much for agility.

  • A great discussion - thanks to everyone for their thoughts.

    Clearly as others have pointed out education, communication, and mutual cooperation are critical.

    Having used a variety of methodologies at various clients one thing is clear: It is necessary from the get-go that EVERYONE understand the role the various parties have to play in this effort, and they need to understand and be appreciative of the requirements and limitations each has in executing their role.

    Where we run into trouble is when the various parties are more concerned about their own issues without having an appreciation of what it is going to take to make the total effort successful. That means upfront education and thorough communication throughout the project.

    I do agreee with Eduardo that this "mediation" can and should be an extremely valuable role for the consultant.

  • In short, the best way to bridge the Business-IT gap is to abstain from BPM systems and the BPM-approasch, altogether - as far as people are perceived as special machines and treated in assembly-line style.

    You may want to get in-depth arguments. They are published on my Website. Please, read section 'Basics' and possibly the reserch-paper in section 'What to Know'.

    Let me know! Thanks

  • Look around! What changes the world? You don't see methodology as the driving force of change. Change has always happened through technology. The reason that BPM fails to bring all the benefits of its empty promises is because it requires a huge amount of methodology to work. Obviously, that will not make the technology successful. What will bridge the gap is technology that is human focused rather than cost focused and enables people to create and innovate processes without consultants, huge project teams and centers of excellence. Process management has to create goal/outcome transparency up and down the hierarchy more than anything else without tying down how people have to execute.

    The main culprit is the flowchart paradigm that is at best one of many possible views on a process but certainly not its core structure. Additionally, most process efforts fail to include all elements such as data entities, content, rules, goals as activities, and user interaction. There are people who think that socializing over a flowchart will lead somewhere. Ouch, that will be another hard landing ...

    More on: http://wp.me/pd9ls-cC

  • Hi Max

    You are right, the primary driving force of all change in human affairs (including human culture) is technology. Though this insight is not new - think of Marx, as philosopher - it seems important to recall it.

    And the story, how those tiny pieces of boring, narrow-minded technology finally take effect in virtually all of human living? Isn't it what we call Technology- transfer?

    Thus, to understand what is wrong with current IT: in what sense it is 'deviant' - hence, at variance with real-world business, we should possibly consider IT from the perspective of technology transfer, Computing-technology transfer, to be precise.

    From this perspective, according to my reasoning, IT's mission is to bring computing technology to a specific Stratum of Automation, in the enterprise. Which is the Stratum of Social Automation, as distinct from the strata of Machine-automation (>CAM), or Functional automation (>EDP).

    Now, Social Automation is not confined to the enterprise. The Gag is: To Social Automation outside the enterprise, transfer of computing technology is long since completed: The result is The Web, more precisely, The Public Web.

    What remains as mission for current IT, is to adapt The Public Web to the enterprise to develop what may be called The Corporate Web.

    However, this is not what current IT is doing. Today's IT-vendors replace the single-one, global Public Web by myriads of private, proprietary Intranets, replacing Web-Servers by so-called Application-servers and Browsers by Portals, serving as I/O-terminals for the Application-server.

    Which means: Today's IT-Vendors, propagating EAI/BPM/SOA-Tools (so-called Middleware), are fallig back into the stratum of Functional automation, missing the stratum of Social automation, at issue, altogether.

    To bridge the gap between (current) IT and Business, IT has to stop to follow the EAI/BPM/SOA-path. It cannot fulfill its (remaining) mission, unless it returns to the Stratum of Social Automation.

    If you think you have a point there, you may want to read - and contribute to - the Wiki 'Art-Invest Open' (www.art-invest-open.blogspot.com) on my Website (www.mastering-it.com).

    Thanks a lot,

  • I think Mike Gammage is correct (almost) in that IT is driven by the business - the reality is often different and in many enterprises IT plays a kingmaker role in determining which business areas are supported and for what reason. Much of this stems from an imbalance of power created by levels of mystification that are easily built in to business process thinking. Mike is absolutely right though in saying that communication has to be in the language of the business to be effetive and not in somethnig that is predominantly suited to the needs of IT or communication will be difficult at best.

  • Hi all,
    I'm not sure whether technology is the driver for business innovation or viceversa.
    What I'm sure is that the final outcome at a certain point in time is that the two must be aligned, not because the status will last forever, actually the opposite: alignment is crucial to support continuous improvement.
    That's where BPM tools can play an important role: by granting that at any time a change in the strategies or in the processes can be easily and quickly implemented in the final running applications.
    Model-driven techniques help a lot on this: transforming a Platform Independent Model (PIM) into a Platform Specific Model (PSM) in the model-driven stack can be seen as a facility for business-IT alignment.
    For instance, the WebRatio tool (http://www.webratio.com) transforms BPMN models (PIM) into Web application models specified in WebML (PSM), and then down to the running code of the final application. This grants:
    - quick prototyping and improvement cycles
    - high level of abstraction of the design (BPM level)
    - very refined quality of the running application (WebML level).

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