This may be heresy to say here at a business technology site, but technology is not very good at fixing problems. As noted business author Mike Hammer once put it: “automate a mess, get an automated mess.” Enlightened, forward-thinking organizations get that way because of the way they are managed. (Or, you could say, not managed—executives and employees have a great deal of discretion in their jobs and are highly motivated by intrinsic factors.)
The key to solving business problems is reworking, upgrading, replacing, eliminating or creating entire new business processes. That's why we have an entire discipline called business process management to fix another BPM, “big process mess.”
Yes, you can buy lots of shiny new technology. But the catch is BPM is one of those areas that requires the input of everyone across the business, yet no one tends to take ownership of it. It is also an area that can be greatly helped or hindered by technology, however, it's often difficult to pinpoint what technology approaches would best serve a process.
With these challenges in mind, Chris Taylor recently outlined the three key questions every executive or manager interested in an effective BPM effort. Here they are:
First key question: Who owns it? All too often, Taylor points out, BPM is an effort that has many cooks in the kitchen. A central organizer, evangelist, center of excellence-type, enlightened executive—call it what you will—is the type of leader needed to “create awareness, decide on scope, standards, skills, technology and where to start, initiatives move forward very slowly.” Keep it close to the business unit most affected, but let IT handle the systems and technology side.
Second key question: Where to begin? BPM efforts are often fragmented, Taylor says. “We see situations where there are many, widely varying scraps of process-capture as well as situations where business process is in people’s heads and on post-it notes.” Taylor suggests choosing an established BPM framework (available from the APQC) “that provides a clear scope for the work to be done.” Data can be collected and information distributed within that framework.
Third key question: What technology should be plugged in? Storage management—an under-appreciated field of endeavor—really makes the difference here. “Just as BPM initiatives need centralized leadership, they also require centralized storage of data,” says Taylor. “Putting information into documents that reside on PCs throughout the organization doesn’t provide version control or collaboration. The most effective way to store data is in a place that allows everyone to work from the same source.” Make sure the IT tools employed are easy to use.
Joe McKendrick is an author, consultant, blogger and frequent INN contributor specializing in information technology.
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