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Enterprise automation strategies: A guide for CIOs

A strong enterprise automation strategy can improve your organization's approach to business process management and cut costs dramatically. Learn how in this guide.

As business process management (BPM) programs take off in organizations, IT executives are seeking proven methods...

for completing tasks more quickly, and doing so with less manpower and fewer hiccups along the way. Many are turning to enterprise automation, which comes with promises of greater efficiency and cost savings that have made it the mantra of many CIOs since the recession began.

How can IT departments get the most out of their automation efforts and effectively integrate business processes from across multiple applications and areas of the organization? Find out how to launch an enterprise automation strategy, or take your existing program to the next level, in this guide.

This guide is part of SearchCIO's CIO Briefings series, which is designed to give IT leaders strategic guidance and advice that addresses the management and decision-making aspects of timely topics. For a complete list of the topics covered to date, visit the CIO Briefings section.

Business process automation strategy

It may be an understatement to say that Joseph Marcella, CIO for the city of Las Vegas, has thought hard about business process automation (BPA) and business process management (BPM). As the Great Recession continues to take a toll on city services and employment, his centralized IT operations have focused relentlessly on finding ways for this hard-hit municipality to conduct business. A recent example is the Las Vegas municipal court system, for which the IT department developed an automated voice service in anticipation of radical cuts to the courts' service counter staff.

Marcella, who manages a total IT budget of about $20.4 million, is no exception to the belt-tightening: His department has shrunk from 119 people a few years ago to 71 now. "It's like dancing through a food processor," he said. SearchCIO.com asked him about his approach to BPA. It's less about technology than one might think, and of course, it's always evolving, he said. His latest point of pride is a mobile website that makes citizens part of the municipal workforce.

Learn more in "Social media, mobility shape business process automation in Las Vegas." Also:

  • How to automate and improve business processes, Las Vegas style
    Business process automation remains a high priority for CIOs. In this piece, a big city CIO and inveterate business process improver shares his thought on what works.
  • How to build a BPM program focused on people, not projects
    Business process management (BPM) programs are shifting from single-process projects to building people-focused processes that align employee roles across a network.

Implementing a BPA program

When Ed Bell was dispatched as a consultant to the commonwealth of Massachusetts' Senate and House of Representatives, the gig was to last four to six weeks, and his mission was fairly straightforward.

A veteran CIO from the financial services industry, Bell had been asked to assess a failed business process automation project that was supposed to streamline the work of the legislature and point the way forward.

"When I evaluated it, the platform they had then was not good, but they could limp along with it. I said, 'Let's step back. Let's figure out what we really want to get out of it, and re-engineer the whole thing,'" recalled Bell, who was named interim CIO for Massachusetts shortly after taking the assignment. "My point was that they were going to have to spend money on this either way. Do it right. Don't settle."

Business process automation (BPA) is king in IT shops for good reason -- it saves money, cuts redundancies and enforces a fluid, repeatable workflow. But automation for automation's sake? That's a recipe for failure, say CIOs like Bell and the analysts who cover this discipline.

Learn more in "Business process automation for the business' sake." Also:

  • Business process automation vs. business process management: A primer
    Do you know the difference between BPA and BPM? Learn the importance of business process management and business process automation in our comparison.
  • Experts: CIO moving more into business, process optimization
    The role of the CIO was under the microscope at the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium, where industry executives and academics offered scenarios that bring CIOs deeper into the business.

Making enterprise automation flexible

Heavily regulated industries might be leading the charge, but organizations of all types are feeling the pressure to achieve business process transformation -- and fast.

Macy's corporate, systems and merchandising groups, and various store brands currently run their own enterprise resource planning or business process management (BPM) systems, according to Jon Nam, director of technology at Macy's Merchandising Group Inc. in New York.

"Our business is constantly changing, with new brands coming up. Even the [point of sale] is changing: How do we appeal to Gen-X'ers and Millennials who don't want to wait in line?" Nam asked, thinking aloud about checkout options that are more like an E-ZPass automatic toll collection system, where customers might be able to pay with a phone and someone checks the bag. "A shopping fast lane. Or a customer could walk into a store and get bonus points," he said. "The question is, how do we leverage technology" to make the experience more efficient for the customer?

Learn more in "Business process transformation hinges on a flexible management model." Also:

  • Get the most out of your lean BPM solution
    The demand for BPM solutions is up, and budgets are down. Learn how specific lean BPM tools can help streamline your processes and reduce costs.
  • Business process management strategy, terms and tips: Take the quiz
    Find out how much you know about business process management terms and business process strategy with this quiz. And learn a few BPM tips along the way with our expanded answers.

Establishing an enterprise application architecture

[Technology analyst Niel Nickolaisen writes] This must be my season for enterprise application architecture. To be honest, I have not even thought about application architecture for a long time. But in the past few weeks, I have been confronted by three separate application architecture situations.

In the first, I was having lunch with one of my IT gurus. This guru typically is on the forefront of the next wave in IT, so I like to get together with him every so often and pick his brain. As we were discussing the looming anytime, anywhere nature of IT, he leaned back in his chair, looked at the ceiling and asked, "Do we really even need to talk or think about enterprise application architecture anymore? It seems that we have outgrown it."

He then returned to our conversation about anytime, anywhere IT, and I kind of blew off his comments about enterprise application architecture being passé.

A week later, I got a call from one of my CIO friends. Her company recently completed a global implementation of enterprise resource planning (ERP). The rationale for the project was to get the entire organization onto a common set of business rules and horizontal processes. Now it seems that departments and business units are busy creating application silos by localizing their business rules, and defeating the purpose for the ERP. After she had explained the problem, she asked for my advice. My first thought was to blurt out, "It sounds like you need to develop a solid enterprise application architecture." But, haunted by my guru's comments on application architecture, I instead offered my condolences and asked her for some time to think about her situation.

Learn more in "Why an enterprise application architecture strategy is still needed." Also:

  • Best practices for a SOA implementation and application integration
    A service-oriented architecture (SOA) implementation and application integration allow information to be transferred and supported efficiently. Learn more about SOA best practices.
  • Enterprise application integration and development: Special report
    Should I build or buy? The answer depends on what's right for your business. This special report looks at application development in the midmarket: Web services, open source and agile development. And there is always offshoring.

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