Business Process Management of the Supply Chain Hits Brick Wall


In business process management (BPM) of the supply chain, the aircraft carrier still turns slowly. A report released Tuesday sponsored by AT&T's Sterling Commerce group and conducted by the CMO Council and BPM Forum (neither of which I am familiar with) says:

  • Only 5 percent of respondents have end-to-end data and process integration across their partner networks.
  • 51 percent report at least some level of integration with select partners.
  • 64 percent say they have either no ability or an unsatisfactory ability to extend and leverage their internal systems to selling and service partners.
  • 75 percent say they have no ability or an unsatisfactory ability to extend and leverage their internal systems to suppliers and outsourced service providers.


There are a lot of non-IT reasons for these low/high numbers, which indicate that the BPM value proposition and technologies are not yet moving outside the firewall the way they could. Two thoughts on the research findings:

  1. You need to accelerate the process of moving BPM into the supply chain of your enterprise if you want to get the best payback from a BPM investment. After all, you really don't need separate BPM technology inside the enterprise. Just pick a packaged software solution whose business process sets you like and that are all wired in. Tell everyone who works with you to follow those processes. But that's not possible outside your enterprise, and getting much more efficient in dealing with customers and partners is where the big payback in BPM comes. (I admit that dictating pre-wired business process sets is difficult if you are part of a merged/acquired enterprise. In that case, BPM technology serves the same purpose as it does in integrating you with your customers and suppliers.)
  2. From an IT perspective, the main reasons cited for a slow uptake of IT across the supply chain are lack of a single platform and the complexity of product offerings. You will never see a single platform (that was what the 1990s were all about and that idea failed to take off), so forget that option. That means the answer has to be less complex software. The goal of the BPM software and services suppliers-and the features and functions you should look for in BPM-are:
    • ease of use for the folks on the line at about the same level as running a Tivo.
    • the ability for line managers to control business process set changes so it is not necessary for them to come back to you in IT every time a flow changes (which is all the time).


Methodologically, the survey respondents represented a pretty good mix of industries, but it was statistically unbalanced toward IT firms and electronics manufacturers. Still I believe the AT&T-Sterling/CMO/BPM Forum findings represent a real-world issue because if we in the IT industry are not eating our own dog food yet - despite the years that that disgusting metaphor has dominated press reports about BPM - how can we expect the rest of industry to sit up and bark?