Increasing ITís role in business process improvement

Business technology (BT) has been a game-changer for business process professionals. Theyíre now front and center as BT makes the end-to-end digitalization of business processes possible, enabling an enterprise-wide approach to BPM.

BT has historical roots in the many different breeds of business process specialists, who traditionally focused on the piecemeal requirements of analysis, automation and optimization of individual functional processes such as finance, HR, marketing, sales and operations, using dedicated information systems.

But the business process professional's traditional job is rapidly changing as companies must manage faster and more complex value chains spanning increasingly dispersed and diverse stakeholders. When IT cannot provide adequate support for business processes, business process professionals are forced to build or buy BT services from inside business units. Thatís a suboptimal situation that typically leads to duplicate or shadow technology support functions and increased tension--rather than collaboration--with IT.

A typical example might be the sales organization deploying an eCommerce portal with support from Web services suppliers, relegating the internal IT group to hosting servers and taking the blame for security breaches. Forrester's data reveals that this kind of situation is not unusual: 18% of the business process professionals we interviewed said that they perform process-improvement initiatives without IT's participation.

Three levers, six steps

Business process professionals and IT executives who want to increase IT's role in process improvement initiatives must develop and fit together the three levers of a mature IT organization:

  • 1) An organizational structure based on specialized COEs
  • A demand management process based on an enterprise life-cycle portfolio
  • Formalized business-driven process governance.

Six steps guide them in this direction:

1. Assess the enterprise's IT maturity level. Business process professionals should reflect on the maturity level of IT in their companies. In addition, they might use Forrester's BT maturity matrix for BPM governance to help business stakeholders and IT executives understand where their organizations currently stand. This can also help them agree on a coherent list of prerequisites to move to the next level of maturity. Visualizing the assessment results is an effective way of getting buy-in from business stakeholders to make improvements using the following steps.

2. Create an enterprise demand management function and business process service portfolio. Business process optimization initiatives emerge when and where business stakeholders need them. The pervasiveness of technology services allows business process professionals to roll out process improvements with or without support from IT. But the enterprise will need a place where everything comes together to ensure that investments are synchronized and beneficial at the enterprise level. For that reason, business process professionals must work with IT to establish a portfolio of business process services and the demand-management process for managing it. Business process professionals and IT executives must also collaboratively establish the enterprise's process governance, monitoring and control framework and provide strategic direction for IT.

3. Approach tech governance from a business process perspective. Business process professionals should assist the IT executive team when establishing the BT governance framework. This framework needs to provide decision-making clarity with respect to five management areas, starting at the top of the enterprise:

  • strategic alignment;
  • value delivery;
  • resource management;
  • performance measurement;
  • and risk management.

Business stakeholders, not IT supply functions, must decide on the following issues:

  • the direction for BT investments;
  • spending levels and prioritization;
  • how to allocate resources;
  • security and risk levels; and
  • how to measure and reward performance.

4. Consolidate internal service supply via platform centers of CoEs. With the governance questions answered, itís time to reposition the IT service organization. This may consist of several shared CoEs for BPM, BI, ERP, Web and collaboration technologies, process methodologies and infrastructure services. The platform CoE's role is to drive the quality management process and provide operational support for all organizations benefitting from their capabilities. Each CoE has people, resources, budget and relationships with suppliers and business stakeholders--with the goal of providing expertise, lifecycle management and governance for a defined set of capabilities and services.

5. Harmonize the business-IT relationship processes. While the design of the CoE-based structure and governance means radical change for many IT organizations, business users shouldn't even notice it. To ensure that the relationship between business customers and IT supply functions runs without disruption, maintain the IT account management functions traditionally responsible for requirements management, IT marketing, service-level management, operational support and business satisfaction during the transition to the CoE-based structure. In aspiring and mature organizations, these relationship managers play a central role in the governance process because they typically participate in business and IT steering committees and serve as liaisons with business process owners, CoEs and enterprise architecture and portfolio management functions.

6. Deploy business process CoEs. The governance framework, unified demand function, and the platform CoEs are critical for the development of business process CoEs, such as those illustrated in our mature organization examples. Business process CoEs become necessary when the organization operates complex cross-functional processes or needs to provide business process support for a particular set of processes across multiple business units and geographies.

Business process professionals often complain about IT's ability to support them in delivering the performance optimization they are expected to provide together. But by following these steps and leveraging the strengths of IT, they will be able better utilize IT to drive business transformation.

About the Author

Alexander Peters, Ph.D., is a principal analyst at Forrester Research, where he serves business process professionals. For more, visit

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About Forrester Research

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