Efficiency or agility?  Now you can have both

When it comes to efficiency and agility, it’s now possible for IT organizations to have their cake and eat it too.

Conventional wisdom dictates that you can’t have agility and efficiency at the same time.

After all, to become efficient you’ve had to excise all the fat from your processes and ruthlessly eliminate all unnecessary activity and resources.

On the other hand, we all know that agility requires spare capacity that can be redirected at the drop of a hat to some new venture.

But there is a new way of viewing the world which seems to offer the best of both efficiency and agility — at the same time. The name of this technique is Business Process Fusion.

Business Process Fusion T

To understand why Business Process Fusion matters, we need to revisit exactly why agility and efficiency are so elusive and yet so important.

Agility, the ability to change quickly at low cost and risk, is central to enterprise responsiveness to competitive and market changes. Efficiency on the other hand is much more focused on the nitty-gritty of process outcomes and resource inputs. Variety and spare resources are the enemy of efficiency.

Business Process Fusion integrates previously autonomous business processes, application software and information to form a new management focus across the entire enterprise.

How is this different from old fashioned centralization? Management focuses on the performance of enterprisewide business processes, software and information, not on the performance of individual business units.

Business Process Fusion exists when there is one end-to-end process for the same activity across the enterprise. People with the same responsibilities and tasks follow the same process. There are few, if any, handoffs.

It’s where there is one configuration of business applications, such as customer relationship management, enterprise resource planning or supply chain management and one “way” to use business processes and applications, regardless of geography, product or business unit.

There needs to be one enterprise architecture and technical infrastructure supporting these business applications, and a common definition of data and one set of management information and metrics that guides decisions, quantifies best practices and manages the enterprise as a whole.

Changing the organization

Business Process Fusion builds on and extends prior practices. It is not a return to re-engineering, and it cannot be gained by buying commercial software.

Companies fusing business processes have to change more than business processes and technology. They have to change their organization and the basis for measuring corporate performance.

A single business process and application that’s used across the enterprise enables managers to monitor performance directly. Unified monitoring and reporting are essential to manage customer-service levels, identify issues and prove the value of best practices.

Managing with real-time information requires understanding in detail the operational processes, service levels and drivers of cost, quality and cycle times. Commonality inherent in Business Process Fusion provides this.

Business Process Fusion requires a robust enterprise architecture focused on managing architecture complexity, information connectivity and application flexibility. It needs content management software — software that can manage structured and unstructured information. And service-based communication — the ability to link applications and information across applications.

It also needs enterprise application integration technologies to provide access to information as business logic changes, without having to significantly alter the transaction-processing systems and information.

Most of all it needs the will to change — to fuse processes and reinforce them with properly architected systems.

Is it worth it? Enterprises need agility and efficiency to respond to competitive and customer demands. Business Process Fusion provides a path to achieving them both.

Andrew Rowsell-Jones is vice president and research director for Gartner’s CIO Executive Programs.

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