Rushing your IT organization headlong into business process transformation may sound appealing. It is a great opportunity for IT to demonstrate its true business value by making some lasting and far-reaching changes to the way the business works. The problem is, it is also an opportunity for IT to get it spectacularly wrong and blow its credibility.
Business process change is not new. What is new is that, after a few false dawns, IT might finally have a big role to play it making it work.
But first, what do we mean by business process change? Is this just warmed over business process reengineering or some completely new management fad to be mastered then discarded? Yes and no. Yes, business process reengineering is still with us, but no, it isn’t the entirety of the sorts of business process change we’re seeing.
Process change now comes in four flavours. First there’s straightforward process automation — applying IT to automate manual tasks, including manual interfaces between systems or departments. Sound familiar? Yes, we’ve been doing this in IT for a while now.
Next there’s business process re-engineering (BPR). BPR looks at the human factors as well as the technology to improve productivity, connecting individual functions with process flows and using business intelligence to make better decisions.
More far reaching is business process fusion. Fusion is an extended type of business process re-engineering which integrates previously autonomous processes into a managed end-to-end enterprise-wide whole.
If major transformation of the way your enterprise interacts with its suppliers, customers, regulators and competitors is more to your taste, or if you’re trying to forge an integrated business out of a recent merger with an equally huge competitor, then ‘process innovation’ is the technique for you. Cataclysmic, scary, and challenging — process innovation puts everything into the blender.
IT’s role in process change
The four types of business process change translate into four possible roles for IT. If your enterprise is really only interested in task automation, then the only role for IT is implementer. The implementer delivers technology to automate manual processes.
On the other hand, if the enterprise is ripe for re-engineering change, IT can play engineer. The engineer works with the business to co-design new processes by understanding performance issues and proposing technology solutions. In addition IT must play, or hire, an implementer to put in the IT to make these process changes stick.
If the business is into large-scale internal change in a big way then it will be looking for help from the integrator. The integrator works with senior management to create end-to-end enterprise-wide business processes by bringing together disparate processes and technologies. More of a business consulting role, IT will need lots of credible business leader types with lots of business smarts if it’s to take the lead.
Finally, where a radical rethink of the business model is called for and the business is recreating its business ecosystem, an innovator is called for. Innovators are strategy consultants that can conceptualize the future for the enterprise, then get people to follow them there.
The way to figure out what role to play is to weigh a couple of critical things. First, the extent of change the business is seeking — or at least will accept if pushed. IT’s capabilities cannot be too far ahead of business demand because the business cannot leverage those capabilities. When this is the case, IT will be seen as a nuisance.
The next thing to do is to figure out how good IT’s capabilities really are. IT’s capabilities cannot lag too far behind what the business needs, otherwise it will rapidly blow its credibility and instead of being asked to help in process change, may actively get pushed down into a more supporting role. The business will simply bring in the required resources from outside.
You don’t have to rush into process change leadership, nor do you have to hang back. Seize the opportunities presented but watch out that you don’t overstep the mark.
— Andrew Rowsell-Jones is vice president and research director for Gartner’s CIO Executive Programs.