Whither the IT organisation? Part 2: Business Process Management

In my last post I wrote about the synergies between IT and organisational change management. In this, the second of a three part series, I’m going to look at another discipline which I believe has a significant overlap with ‘traditional’ IT and discuss how it might co-exist with the IT organisation of the future: business process management.

Like change management, I see process management as something of a Cinderella topic. Frequently the effort put into this area comes down to organisational culture. Some organisations take it very seriously to the extent of having a clearly documented and well maintained business process architecture and even appointing a chief process officer with responsibility for managing and optimising overall business processes. Others have a much less formal approach with no or very limited organisation or governance around processes and with individual business managers being left to ensure that the processes within their area of responsibility are clear and optimal (or not as the case may be). Very often, what actually happens is that processes are documented as part of a project, usually linked to the implementation of a new IT system, and then put on one side where they slowly go out of date.

Why is process management important? For me there are two reasons. Firstly, all organisations (and this includes IT organisations!) should be constantly looking to improve their operating efficiency and if they don’t have a clear view of their operating processes then it will be very hard for them to achieve this. The importance of this is also being increased as more and more business processes include interfaces with external partners where it is absolutely essential that both sides are clear on what their responsibilities and obligations are.

This only works, however, where the right frameworks are in place to ensure that value is obtained from the effort that goes into documenting and optimising processes; too often this is not the case and the exercise is seen as purely bureaucratic and administrative

The second reason why this topic is important is that, very frequently, there are compliance and governance issues which require management to be able to demonstrate that they are clearly in control of the processes being operated in their organisation. It is beyond the scope of this blog to go into this in detail and, anyway, it varies between industries and between countries, but suffice to say that, particularly in areas such as, for example, financial services, the requirements for this are not going to get any less onerous in the foreseeable future.

So how does this relate to IT? Well for me, the clear overlap is in the area of architecture. To operate at maximum effectiveness, an organisation needs applications and business process architectures to be completely aligned. This is the basis of the whole concept of enterprise architecture management. For this to work, however, the business process architecture needs to exist, ideally in a form where it is documented based on consistent standards, and the individuals reasonable for overseeing this* need to be working hand in glove with the individuals responsible for the technology architectures.

Does this mean that the two groups need to sit in the same organisation? Well, not necessarily. Provided that they can work together effectively across organisational boundaries, that should be enough. Like change management, however, the answer to the question often comes down to being pragmatic. If process management doesn’t sit in the IT organisation where should it sit? It needs to be somewhere where both the efficiency and the compliance drivers are appreciated and where process management will be clearly understood as a discipline important in itself for adding value to the organisation, rather than being an administrative burden. The process management team also needs to have the organisational strength to be actually able to promote and enable the ongoing optimisation of processes, rather than just been seen as having a documentary function.

For these reason I see IT as very often being an excellent fit for this function not least because, in my experience, IT is frequently the only area in an organisation that does take a genuine end to end view of processes and has a real understanding at a detailed level of how the organisation as a whole operates.

In conclusion, I think business process management is certainly going to be a growth area and, whilst is probably not core to IT, there are definite benefits in it being integrated into an IT organisation, particularly where there is no other obvious owner for the process function.

So, that’s my take on this topic, but how does this get addressed in your organisation? If anyone out there has a good example of how process management has been carried out really effectively, I would be fascinated to learn about it.

* I use the word ‘overseeing’ advisedly here. Ultimately, I would expect individual business processes, just like IT applications, to be owned by the managers who are responsible for carrying out these processes. Where a process management team can add value (like an applications architecture team) is through ensuring that processes are adequately documented to consistent standards, ensuring that the ‘big picture’ of overall processes is clear and that interfaces are consistent and, in particularly but providing consultancy support to assist in optimising processes.

Comments (6)

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  • 1
    Gareth Davies wrote on 13th Apr 2012

    I recommend you read "Activity Accounting An Activity Based Costing Approach" by James A. Brimson Wiley ISBN 0-471-53985-6

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  • 2
    Steve Boronski wrote on 13th Apr 2012

    Another reason, probably included in the first point, how on earth does a manager know their team are performing to any level let alone optimal level UNLESS they are managing their processes.

    What do we mean by managing? Measuring and monitoring and improving.

    Finally how could a manager prove that their team are overloaded and need more capacity without managing a clearly defined process?

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  • 3
    Geoff Codd wrote on 13th Apr 2012

    Adam - A thought provoking piece that raises some interesting issues that I will just very superficially touch on here.
    Ensuring business process effectiveness on its own is relatively straightforward. However, when juggling with that and with the effectiveness of its constituent functions - most of which will also have an organisation wide effectiveness dimension - it becomes a really complex matter.
    Traditional IT has tended to focus on more effective functional systems - often relegating the overall 'process' dimension to a subservient aim - although in recent years this situation has improved.
    There is no doubt that both dimensions are really important, and indeed that business process improvement needs to be the driving force. It does therefore need to be 'at the core' of IT driven business change in conjunction with the Business Analysis function that often resides within the IT organisation.
    We are of course not talking about the traditional IT organisation with its 'IT Steering Committee' or similar. But we are talking about a change management organisation and culture that from the board down needs to reflect a requirement for constant business process improvement throughout the organisation.
    Of course, IT has its technology focussed and 'factory' activities operating under the CTO, but I am referring above to the CIO's responsibilities for constant improvement in the businesses operational effectiveness in its marketplace.
    My book 'The Drowning Director' describes the transition to the Business Process focussed business change management organisation and culture, based on experiences in a variety of organisations. There is indeed no substitute for Business Process continuous improvement as the constant primary focus, rather than overly focussing on the often dramatic and clearly challenging IT components of business change.
    My answer to you therefore is that Business Analysis and Business Process Engineering are synonymous and are 'at the core' of all business change, whether IT stimulated or not. They are indeed the driving focus of business change, and not simply an adjunct within the 'IT' change scenario.

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  • 4
    John Mee wrote on 16th Apr 2012

    Business Processes drive how an organisation actually achieves its purpose or goal. However, in a large and rapidly evolving organisation they can be difficult to document in detail, largely because processes are always subject to evolution as changes in the environment occur (formally as a result of change initiatives or informally as the humans within the system react informally to change).

    This makes documentation, design, and change management of processes very challenging indeed. It begs the question “is it worth the effort and expense of documenting the business process architecture?” Although I would argue that the answer is definitely “Yes”, it is not always easy to demonstrate the direct benefit obtained from such work, as it is very much an enabling capability, that allows management to understand how the whole organisational system works, and how work flows through the business, to eventually contribute to the rate at which the goal is achieved.

    I do not agree however, that Business Process Management, Business Process Engineering or Business Analysis should be concentrated in the IT department. Processes drive the WHOLE business and, although they are inevitably going to have to be adequately supported by appropriate IT systems, it is essential that they are designed, developed and managed through life to support mainstream business management rather than IT. They must be coherent with, and logically support, the achievement of the business goal and any supporting critical success factors, if business management is to be able to focus on the important issues and continuously improve performance.

    Whilst I accept that many people within an IT department will have been educated to think in holistic, whole system terms, and be trained (to a degree) in systems analysis and systems engineering skills, the IT specialist does tend to focus upon the technology and tends to see solutions to problems in terms of changes to the technology rather than alternatives such as changes to policy, procedure and process.

    My experience has been, particularly recently, that when the management of organisations begin to think in whole system (and whole system of systems) terms, including the human activity systems, then they begin to establish a sound basis from which to launch a continuous improvement initiative. A particularly important part of this “thinking about the organisational system(s)” is the documentation and subsequent discussion of the processes. When the people involved understand the part that they play in the organisational system, and in particular how their efforts contribute (through chains of cause and effect) to the effectiveness of the organisation as a whole, then all sorts of ideas for logical improvement, as well as all sorts of existing illogicality, are exposed and can be evaluated as candidates for change. This last aspect depends upon training, particularly that related to how the whole organisational system is supposed to work and the part that the individuals play in it, which is essential context for individuals to know about if they are to contribute to the “development and learning” of the organisation as a whole.

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  • 5
    gareth davies wrote on 17th Apr 2012

    Well Adam - everybody seems to agree with you. What is cannot be disputed is that the accounts of the business can present information systems as a productive asset of the and thus should be managed as such. What is contentious perhaps but should be refuted is that managers of business processes should regard information systems as supporting assets of those processes. It is the role of the CIO in tandem with process managers to arrive at solutions that support those business processes and the IT function to manage those IT systems in the same way that engineers and craftsmen make and maintain equivalent productive assets in other contexts. The role of the CIO thus becomes central to the management of the organisation.

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  • 6
    Geoff Codd wrote on 4th May 2012

    .I would just add this to the above general concensus.
    - Process engineering should not be a part of the traditional IT organisation. In fact the reverse should apply. Think about that.
    - This calls for a new Business Change organisation that supports and promotes that juxtaposition in roles
    - This drives a cultural shift throughout the organisation that puts the enabling technologies in their subservient place in the overall scheme of things.
    - This in turn encourages top business management from the board down to recognise that IT stimulated change is not the 'techies' responsibility but needs more top level business involvement.
    - Thus the quality of business input and insight is significantly raised with obvious cost and effectiveness benefits for the business.
    - This inevitably leads to a new generation of business change managers, leaving behind our traditional IT dominated approach to change management.

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About the author

Adam Davison MBCS CITP has an MSc in IT from the University of Aston and has filled a variety of senior IT strategy roles for organisations such as E.ON and Esso.

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February 2018