Who Leads BPM Not as Important as Cooperation Between Business, IT


On Friday I wrote a post in which I asked whether the CIO is the right person to champion process improvement. My conclusion was that he or she very well could be, thanks largely to his/her high-level, cross-functional view of an organization. I also think CIOs have an edge over other C-level executives such as chief operating officers because they tend to have more hands-on experience modeling and mapping processes than other areas of the business.


Not everyone agrees with me, of course. Shortly after I wrote my post, I found an interesting eBizQ discussion on the same topic. (Thanks to @BouncingThots for helping me find it!) The title of the piece, In BPM, B Stands for Business, tells you which area is favored by author Tom Allanson and it's not IT. He is right, of course, in that in theory business units understand their own processes better than IT. However, that doesn't necessarily mean they understand how to streamline and improve them. As a commenter named Pat points out "adherence to standards and generally-accepted frameworks for business process often are best-known to the IT crowd."


Of course not just any CIO can lead a BPM effort. It would have to be a CIO who is well-versed in the overall business, not one suffering from technology tunnel vision. In addition, he or she will need great communications and change management skills, since introducing BPM requires folks to make fundamental changes to the ways they work. A CIO without those skills shouldn't be the go-to person on BPM. But guess what? A CFO or COO lacking those skills probably won't fare any better.


Like most questions, I think there might be no one right answer to who should lead a BPM effort. lt will vary from organization to organization, depending on the skill sets of their executives.


Commenting on the eBizQ discussion, Doug Mow, director of marketing for Virtusa Corp., notes that any of the folks who might logically be tapped to lead a BPM initiative have shortcomings:

  • IT staff aren't usually experts at the business. (That's likely true of general IT staff, but might not be for a smart CIO, I'd add.)
  • A business owner from a specific line of business will likely only be familiar with his or her specific area. (BPM stands a better chance at succeeding if it's applied to as many business processes as possible, a point I made in my prior post. For that reason, I think the sponsor probably needs to be a C-level executive, if not the CIO, then perhaps the COO.)
  • A general business executive sponsor, "would not know the details of any of the LOB's or functions," writes Mow. (Yikes, I would hope that's not true. A good COO might be more familiar with some areas of the business than others but, like the CIO, should have a decent high-level view of the entire organization and to some degree its major processes. I agree with Mow that the BPM sponsor "must have great expertise in extracting the right process details from each participant." Again, I think that's a primary requirement for any person responsible for BPM.)
  • A CFO "may make financial decisions that would compromise efficiency or practicality," writes Mow.


The obvious answer is that a BPM initiative should involve IT and the business working closely together. That seems to be the conclusion reached by several folks interviewed in a Computerworld piece mentioned by Allanson. Gartner analyst Nigel Raynor, for example, advocates BPM projects "jointly driven by IT, finance and line-of-business management, typically sales and marketing."


In a follow-up blog post, the article's author, Robert L. Mitchell, linked to another piece he wrote, a case study describing a BPM project at Chiquita International that went badly off the rails. As Mitchell notes, the project was led by finance, which worked with a third-party integrator, and IT played only a supporting role. Chiquita CIO Manjit Singh described a sales process in which BPM provider Hyperion (owned by Oracle) didn't include IT in the sales process and glossed over the complexity of the project. (IT's familiarity with under-the-hood technology and with the process changes required with any technology implementation are good reason to involve IT in talks with vendors.)


The IT department and individual business units both seemed to react to the new software as if it was being forced upon them, in IT's case maybe because it was left out of the initial loop and with the business units perhaps because they didn't perceive enough benefit from switching to the new system. Well. There's that need for communications and change management skills. Better upfront cooperation between the finance department, IT and business units certainly might have helped mitigate some of the problems. As Mitchell wrote:

The idea of launching a BPM initiative of this size and scope, with little or no involvement from IT, speaks volumes about how far many IT organizations still have to go to get respect -- and to be equal players at the table. Considering IT as less than a full partner in major project like this ... is also out of step with what the the most competitive, most successful businesses are doing out there today. Just ask leading-edge companies like Procter and Gamble. Gartner estimates that a whopping 50 percent of BPM projects fail. Most of those are led by finance. If IT played a more central role, perhaps fewer BPM projects would end so badly.