The Rise of Business Process Architects

Michael Vizard

One management maxim that usually holds true is that when people start complaining about something, it's time to put somebody in charge of it. Given all the complaining that's been going on about the divide between the business and IT, perhaps the time for companies to follow that advice is long overdue.

Of course, IT leaders such as CIOs will tell you this is what they do. But in reality they are usually too removed from the business and far too consumed with keeping IT running to really do it. So as part of an overall effort to get more companies to focus on business process management (BPM), IBM has begun to campaign for the creation of business process architect positions within its customer base.

According to Doug Hunt, the newly appointed IBM vice president for business performance and optimization, the issue that most companies have today in terms of getting the real value out of IT is that they "can't get their left and right brains to work together."

To help bring those brains together, IBM is trying to educate customers to think of processes as "moments of truth" that need to be correlated to gain some real insight into the business. For example, IBM helped a shipping company come to the conclusion that rather than just automatically requiring tankers to refuel when their fuel levels reached one-third full, they could save $20 million a year by making sure tankers fueled up in areas of the globe where fuel costs less as much as possible. That may seem intuitively obvious, but it turns out that most business processes are inherently flawed to one degree or another. The opportunity for business process architects is to identify and fix those flaws.

Hunt admits that in many ways a business process architect is the logical extension of the existing business analyst role that many companies have in place today. But instead of analyzing existing systems, architects would leverage their knowledge of the business to create new processes beyond the rigid ones typically found in existing applications.

Surprisingly, Hunt feels that IT people are in a better position to become business process architects than most of their business counterparts. This is because the right IT person can develop an enthusiasm for the business, while most business people will never develop a passion for what IT can do. This may change, however, as the next generation of technology-savvy business executives moves into management roles.

In the meantime, IBM is working on making it easier to manage business processes at a higher level of abstraction using modeling tools. These tools, as exemplified in IBM acquisitions such as Lombardi, ILOG and AppSoft, are all intended, says Hunt, to ultimately put "the business user back in control of their own destiny."

The trick, however, is going to find enough business process architects to get companies out of the rut that most of them have fallen into when it comes to business process innovation.

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Jan 19, 2010 1:42 PM Dave Wiltz Dave Wiltz  says:

Great article/blog Michael.  For years I've been trying to concisely explain what I do best, and this is it.  I've been titled a developer, Enteprise Architect, Solutions Architect, process modeler, Business Analyst and Business Architect.  Yet none seem to convey what I truly do -- bridge the business and IT together in helping both act as a unified team to document processes, develop a vision for how to improve, and then come to agreement on what system/application changes need to be made to help the business operate as they need to for better customer service, increased quality, and quicker response. 

The one issue, however, that I've continually seen with clients is that unless someone high up enough in the chain (on the business side) truly understands how important a process-centric focus is to their success, it is very difficult to provide the help of a Business Process Architect.  Hopefully that will change.



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