Study: Sarbanes-Oxley 'catalyst' for process management

A new study shows that Sarbanes-Oxley may be grabbing more executive attention than the bigger issue of corporate governance.

What drives improvements in business process management? Don't look for corporate governance at the top of the list -- it's closer to the bottom. Despite that, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and its demand for fiscal accountability still has most executives concerned about tracking performance, according to a recent survey.

In a survey of 230 members of the Business Process Management (BPM) Forum, 68% consider increasing revenue and optimizing profit to be the driving factors for performance accountability, while 61% consider challenging marketing conditions a driver. Only 22% consider corporate governance. Respondents were allowed to give multiple answers to each question. Despite the low ranking of compliance as a driver, 73% said they're concerned about processes, tools and methodologies used to track performance as a result of Sarbanes-Oxley.

"While it's not cited as a primary need, it certainly is a catalyst," said Jim Bramante, a BPM Forum advisory board member and an IBM executive. "With Sarbanes-Oxley, when they talk through it they realize it's part and parcel of BPM."

The underlying needs of the legislation are to improve performance, said Bramante. One aspect of that is reliable, credible information, which is also a Sarbanes-Oxley requirement. Similarly, visibility and transparency are important to executives, which tracks to a section of Sarbanes-Oxley.

The survey also reflected a profound awareness of the need for BPM, with 95% of respondents saying they are somewhat or extremely sensitized to the need for better business process management. Additionally, 76% look to the president, CEO or CFO for mandates, according to the survey. That may not be surprising from a survey taken from a group dedicated to advancing the understanding of BPM, but the results jibe with an earlier IBM survey of high-level executives, Bramante said.

"It's definitely applicable through the wider business community," Bramante said. "There are pockets of excellence within organizations around the whole concept, and overall there's a desire to integrate into a holistic vision [of BPM]. The whole notion that it has such high visibility at the C suite is obviously encouraging."

Additionally, Bramante noted that many of the respondents in the IBM survey were big companies already doing some good things around BPM, but still wanted to improve.

Some other interesting results from the survey include: respondents rated business planning (73%) and operational visibility (69%) as critical results that can be driven by BPM; 70% said they're not sure or are at least 12 months away from Sarbanes-Oxley compliance.

Technology as an enabler was also a key takeaway from the survey, Bramante said, noting that in the IBM survey only 19% of respondents said they were fully utilizing their ERP systems.

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