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How to build a BPM program focused on people, not projects

Business process management (BPM) programs are shifting from single-process projects to building processes focused on people that align employee roles across a network.

LAS VEGAS -- It's not your daddy's BPM. A new economic reality is forcing some companies to look more broadly at their business processes and move from a "build-to-last" approach toward designing business processes that are built for change.

That was one of the take-home messages in the opening keynote at the Gartner Business Process Management Summit at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, where some 1,000 business and IT leaders from 30 countries can sample the slot machines along with the latest offerings from the likes of IBM, Oracle, BEA Systems Inc., Lombardi Software Inc. and Savvion Inc.

When it comes to business processes, "People are again taking center stage," said keynote speaker Janelle Hill, a Gartner analyst who heads the Stamford, Conn.-based consultancy's BPM practice.

Modern software miracles often have involved taking people out of the equation, and, in doing so, improving the accuracy and efficiency of rote chores. Today, BPM initiatives need to look at enhancing human activity, not eliminating it, Hill said. In a knowledge economy, people are the power and, more than ever, she said, they affect business outcomes.

BPM focused on people

Marty Metzker, from Wachovia Corp. in Charlotte, N.C., said he came to the conference to learn about BPM and how it differs from other management disciplines such as Total Quality Management, Six Sigma or lean manufacturing . "Is it something new, or is it just a repackaging of existing disciplines?" asked Metzker, who identified himself as the "process owner" for eight IT core processes in Wachovia's 8000-strong IT department.

BPM, a nebulous term at best, is not new. Indeed, Gartner's Hill pointed out that the core principles of scientific management, or Taylorism, were laid down by W. Edwards Taylor at the turn of the century. W. Edwards Deming's ideas on improving production were put to use in World War II and later in Japan. Six Sigma, Total Quality Management and the packaged application suites developed in the 1990s all aim to improve business processes.

What's different now, Hill said, is that businesses operate in a worldwide marketplace, often with numerous partners outside their corporate walls, and are subject to regulatory mandates from every corner of the globe.

To keep up, BPM is shifting from a focus on discrete projects aimed at improving a single business function to architecting flexible processes that increase visibility across a company's network, Hill said. "This is a long journey. Business process management is a program, not a project."

Most companies are organized by functions, such as sales, marketing and human resources, and much effort has gone into optimizing those business functions. BPM breaks out of those boundaries, Hill said. Employee roles and responsibilities are aligned with a process, as well as a function. "It's a new way of thinking about your business."

How BPM benefits the business

Initial BPM efforts go after cost savings or productivity improvement, the low-hanging fruit. Once the process is perfected, the process -- and the benefits -- don't change much. Why fix what isn't broken?

With processes that provide visibility for everyone involved in the task, the benefits can be huge and they accrue as time goes by. Once everyone sees how each person is contributing, they understand the upstream and downstream implications of their work. Having a common picture of how a process works "stimulates tremendous innovation and improvement," Hill said.

Hill cited the example of a large insurance carrier that gained visibility into its claims management process from end to end, and then discovered that more than 70% of data collected as part of insurance claims was never used.

Familiarity may breed content, but visibility does not, Hill posited. "In a process-centric organization, leaders will have much more visibility, and so will line workers. No one wants to be the weak link."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Linda Tucci, Senior News Writer.

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