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Whose Business Process Is It Anyway?

Who owns a business process? It's probably something CIOs need to consider a lot more often. It doesn't seem like a big deal until someone wants to change, document, monitor, measure, or eliminate one of these amorphous processes.
Who owns a business process? It's not a question I ever pondered much until it was raised in several presentations at the recent Brainstorm conference in New York. And it's probably something CIOs need to consider a lot more often.

It doesn't seem like a big deal until someone wants to change, document, monitor, measure, or eliminate one of these amorphous processes. Then, it's very important to know who runs the operation. Who supports it? How much does it cost? Who's responsible for it—also known as who takes the blame when something goes wrong? Is it the line-of-business manager? The CFO? IT? Operations? And who's keeping track?

This is the stuff that business-process management—and, by extension, business intelligence—is trying to figure out. Specialists with titles like business architects, organizational analysts, or even chief business process officers, as well as a host of consultants and vendors, may be reviewing, monitoring, or redesigning your company's processes right now. Maps, charts, graphs, models, and workflow schematics—fueled by specialty software—may be circulating throughout your enterprise. The results of this analysis may be redesigning or eliminating jobs, implementing new training programs or cutting old ones, and revamping processes. Interestingly, IT may not be involved in any of this. In the January issue of Optimize, we take a close look at the relationship between IT and the business units—and BPM is a good way to begin self-examination.

For example, Coors Brewing Co., a longstanding, loosely structured, family-run business, wasn't tracking the efficiency and effectiveness of its manufacturing processes very well, according to Debra Boykin, business architect for the company. But as Coors has become a more global company, employees are retiring, and the company is moving into a real-time environment, it has recognized the need to document its knowledge and understand what's really going on in the supply chain and elsewhere at the company, says Boykin, who reports to the head of human resources.

That means developing process maps and using XBML—extended business markup language, a variant of XML for business modeling developed by Business Genetics—throughout the enterprise, she says. Because of the need for Sarbanes-Oxley Act compliance and a pending merger with Molson, the business has also been forced to evaluate and document its processes, and to "build a culture of discipline," Boykin says. IT's role is to support the new efforts by publishing models on the intranet, supporting databases, and offering the hardware and software infrastructure so that Coors can become a "process-centric organization," she says.

Dow Chemical was also forced to review business processes when confronted with a massive merger in 2000. The $20 billion company had to seamlessly meld its operations and processes with those of $6.5 billion Union Carbide Corp. Talk about challenges. But Dow forged ahead, and with previous acquisitions under its belt and the knowledge that 60% of all such deals generally fail to create value, the company knew it had to set clear objectives for process integration. These included managing the business without a hitch, quickly realizing synergies, and creating a company that was the new industry leader, says Stephen Graham, who oversees integrated supply chains at Dow. He led the supply-chain operations during this period.

Dow formed six teams of 112 people to understand the previous and combined supply-chain organizations, processes, and systems—including an SAP ERP system—and to guide a program-management office that had to oversee a total of 278 projects. This was change management in the extreme, Graham says. The teams defined, tracked, and analyzed work processes and activities so that business could get running from the first day and stay operational thereafter. All of the goals were accomplished, he says.

Graham's advice? Document work processes granularly all the way down to the individual task; align those tasks with the business strategy, get corporate buy-in at all levels, and get great people to do the job. (In the February 2005 issue, Optimize will take an in-depth look at the IT implications of the merger-and-acquisition activity taking place in every industry. You may want to get your processes in order before a crisis hits.)

Of course, there have been lots of false starts in the BPM market, with too many pure-play vendors and one-off solutions missing the mark. As Buck Krawczyk, VP of marketing at Lombardi Software, says, "2003 didn't pan out for BPM, and 2004 was a time of real evaluation" by customers. Increasingly, though, he sees BPM as a sale to CIOs concerned with enterprise-level integration. But CIOs can take the lead only if they understand the business problems and processes in the first place, and are willing to take a team approach to BPM.

Meta Group VP Janelle Hill told the audience that "adopting process-improvement thinking is as much about cultural change as it is about technology." And that's a perspective CIOs need to think hard about if they want a role in the BPM game plan.—Paula Klein

For more on Coors' effort, see Openers.