All too often the folks in the IT organization are divorced from the actual business. Truth be told, unlike business executives, most of them could work for just about any company because there is nothing about their skillsets that is tied to a specific vertical industry.
As a result, IT folks tend to think in terms of IT infrastructure and applications rather than business processes. And because the business is now so dependent on IT, business executives have come to resent the way IT imposes a structure on the business that many of them find inflexible.
Coming out of the recent economic downturn, the tensions surrounding this issue are increasing. Business executives want to deploy innovative new business processes, but IT organizations are telling them it will take 12 months or more to actually implement them. The good news is that the tension between IT and the business side is starting to lead to some proactive conversations about the nature of IT and business process management.
For instance, Capgemini at the Gartner Business Process Management Summit launched a new global service line based on offerings from Oracle and Pegasystems that is specifically focused on BPM. The basic idea, says Engbert Verkoren, head of the Global BPM Service Line for Capgemini, is to coach companies to leverage IT in a way that promotes business agility. That means thinking about business processes as modular frameworks that can deployed as an overlay on top of enterprise applications. The layer of BPM software, by definition, will be more flexible than the ERP systems that IT organizations have spent the last 20 years or more deploying.
The core problem, notes Verkoren, is that IT systems have been designed for rigidity and continuity rather than flexibility. There's still value in structure, says Verkoren, so throwing everything out that went before is not the right way to go. But it's clear that the business needs to be able to manage processes at a higher level of abstraction than what is generally provided today.
Of course, part of the problem when it comes to business innovation is that too many executives have been conditioned to think in terms of the way application software has been constructed. So just like the IT folks, Verkoren says business executives need some retraining as well. The good news is that Web 2.0 applications that many business executives use at home are opening their eyes to the possibilities of IT. The only thing that really needs to happen is for somebody to tell them that it's OK to think that way at work.