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Process Makes Perfect

Tom Allanson

In BPM, "B" Stands for "Business"

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"Who should lead a business performance management project: IT, finance or both?" Robert Mitchell of Computerworld asked this question in a recent article, entitled "Who Should Lead BPM?" In the piece, Mitchell asks several IT and finance tech company pros how they'd define ownership of BPM - is it a business practice or an IT practice?

This is an argument that we've seen debated for ages and our answer has always been the same: business owns BPM, not IT. While IT's role is to facilitate the creation and maintenance of a company's software and hardware infrastructure, BPM stands for business process management, and it's the business users who create, manage, benefit from or suffer from the way these processes work.

In Mitchell's piece, a financial planning and analysis director says flat out that business/finance should lead BPM efforts, while a senior VP at a systems integrator feels that IT should take care of initial setup and then let the business side handle all aspects of BPM from then on. Ironically, however, the CIO of the aforementioned financial group thinks BPM projects should be "jointly led, because neither finance nor IT will get it right on its own."

While it may seem endearing to accuse both IT and finance of not being perfect, from the vantage point of IT workers having to get a BPM system up and running and then answering questions about potential technical snafus all-day every day is a nightmare. Some people say that IT relishes having control over all technological elements of a group's operations, but as someone who worked in the trenches of IT for many years, I can tell you this is far from the truth. What IT wants is to have the freedom to focus on things that actually interest them - programming, design, communication and planning. IT won't get a chance to directly use the data and insights that result from an automated business process - why should they be tasked with managing it?

To this same point, forcing business users to take a backseat and rely on IT's schedule and priorities is both patronizing and wildly inefficient. BPM has advanced to a point at which it yields nearly real-time, actionable insights that can be used to improve customer relationships, flag and correct cost overruns and process bottlenecks and make entire departments and companies run more smoothly. There simply isn't any reason for IT to swoop in and save timid business users from their own jobs or for business and IT to have to work together on something that's totally one-sided.

If we really want IT and business to get along, let's start by giving each their own responsibilities and control over what affects them.

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6 Comments

Bravo. I enjoyed and applauded your perspective.

Not only is "B" for business, but "M" is for management. Once a process is automated using a BPMS, the value does not come from the process experience for end-users and its related infrastructure remaining stagnant. The whole purpose of automating the process with a BPMS is to gain visibility about what is going on in the business and providing an opportunity to improve it -- that means "M"anaging your business.

Business should not only own the deployment, but the ongoing use of the BPM environment. As the business environment and rules change, business demands fluctuate, and resources contract or expand, the Business can use BPM technologies to maintain their agility. Using a BPMS, the business can monitor and react to real-time demands, adjust business by analyzing long-term trends, and assess operational and resource changes by modeling and simulating future-state environments.

BPM starts with "B" and continues with "M".

Great stuff guys. Gartner also produced a paper on this recently and drilled down a little more.

One of the issues they pointed out is the cross functional, multi department, multi LOB nature of BPM projects. If that is the case:

- IT has a central and neutral view of the entire process. Although they don't support any one area, they are not the experts in the business so would only act to facilitate the creation of the application.
- A business owner from one of the LOB's or functions would obviously know the requirements of his or her core function or department but would not know the details of the other areas.
- General business executive sponsor would not know the details of any of the LOB's or functions. That person must have great expertise in extracting the right process details from each participant.
- The CFO would have cost on his or her mind but may make financial decisions that would compromise efficiency or practicality.

Their position was that all of them had challenges. What do you guys think?

Thanks Doug and Derek for your comments.

I've always been of the mind that in order to get real results you need to have an owner. One person that owns the result or results, the accountable decision maker. Having functional expertise is important, and necessary, but it cannot get in the way of the ultimate objective. In this case, a process that delivers against the customer's requirements and continuously improves. Imagine a world where the business owner can build his own application and improve it as customers and processes mature. Everyone can provide input but there is one final decision maker and that person can change anything, anytime to make it better!

Thanks for reading the story. I do think Chiquita's CIO has a point here, and I recommend that folks interested in a project like this read the details of Chiquita's story as well as the sidebar Tom cited and linked to above.

One clarification: The integrator supported the FP&A group's contention that BPM should be lead exclusively by finance, with IT relegated to simply providing data and possibly hosting systems.

What we learn from the story is that in a complicated deployment like this that's a gross oversimplification. IT needs a bigger role than that to ensure the project's success. Without a collaborative effort such projects often fail.

Hi Robert,

I enjoyed your story, thank you for sharing it with us. The pain Chiquita and many other companies endure when taking on massive projects like the one you highlighted in Computerworld is classic, repeatable and very unfortunate. Manjit Singh (Chiquita's CIO) said it best when he stated "It's all about process and change management. It's not about technology."

With that said, the technology does need to work as described and must be fully supported by the supplier. At my company, PerfectForms, we deliver the technology packaged with a support experience to ensure implementations meet expectations and equally as important can be easily modified anytime by anyone (that has the proper authority).

I absolutely disagree with the notion that IT should be relegated to simply providing data and possibly hosting systems. IT's role and active involvement in any large scale BPM system is critical for a successful implementation. You are right, without a collaborative effort and active involvement from cross functional and business experts the project will fail or certainly be sub-optimized.

However, in my experience, jointly led projects don't work. Someone, one person, needs to be the single ultimate decision maker. It does not mean they are the one person that knows everything, that person does not exist. It needs to be the person that is responsible for ensuring that all the right people are involved, that the important contributions of each area of expertise are seriously considered and included in the decision and implementation process. In the Chiquita example Finance is the owner of the system, the process and is accountable for the final outcome. Finance, in this example, should have been the single leader of this project and implementation.

Please don't hesitate to let me know if you'd like to discuss this further offline.

Tom: Great piece, and one that we should all pay attention to. One thing to consider here is that adherence to standards and generally-accepted frameworks for business process often are best-known to the IT crowd. It's probably important that there is some element of this knowledge available to the business owners who develop processes.

--Pat (www.activevos.com)

Tom Allanson of PerfectForms shares his ideas on managing business processes, automating workflows and designing for business users - both in the cloud and on the ground.

Tom Allanson

Tom Allanson, CEO of Perfect Forms, Inc., has over 19 years of experience leading teams and growing businesses and has held key executive roles at Intuit, General Electric, and H&R Block. Most recently the President of H&R Block Digital Tax Division, he had previously been Senior Vice President at Intuit in charge of the Tax Division, including TurboTax. He started his career as a design engineer.

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