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Innovative Use of Business Process Management Can Benefit IT, Too

We have all heard stories of innovative use of business process management (BPM) in the business. There are any number of good articles dealing with the innovative use of process solutions for saving money and time. While most organizations are discovering the monetary and time saving rewards of BPM, there are a growing number of organizations that are using BPM to innovate with processes. Process innovation does deliver hard benefits, but it also adds a dimension of "out-of-the-box thinking" and some "cool" softer benefits. A common soft benefit revolves around the image of the organizations that have embraced leveraging processes for innovation.

As BPM evolves, it will head towards more collaborative processes that take into account better human interactions. One innovative use is around incorporating social networks into the human capital processes. As we all know, attracting the best employees possible to our organizations is crucial for long term success. One organization that I am aware of is creating a social network that will surround a number of targeted college campuses and surrounding gathering spots where creative students hang. While there are no hard measurements right now, this organization believes that they will have the inside track for gathering potential new employees and extending the on-boarding process outside the four walls of the organization.

This same organization has created another social network for retired and about-to-retire employees. The intention here is to take known performers and extend their social experience with this organization. With the "grey wave" about to retire, this organization believes that they can extend the social and work experience of these retirees and to leverage their knowledge as stringers who can earn extra money without the hassles of employment. This seems like a winning idea that is likely to yield remote mentoring opportunities as well. Both of these creative applications of social networking make sense for a "win-win" situation in personnel management. A good experience with human capital may very well spillover into customer and investment relations down the road, but that is not clear yet.

This kind of thinking could also help IT, but there are some issues around IT leveraging BPM. One is that IT leveraging BPM is like a doctor healing himself. In other words, the master of change, IT, is ill equipped to change itself. IT has been suggesting that business lines leverage BPM for improving the key processes of the business. As business professionals experience the success, it is just a matter of time before the business suggests leveraging BPM in IT as well. The second is, there aren't many cool processes in IT. Most IT processes are rather mundane. Still there are a multitude of processes in IT that are ripe for BPM implementation and they will be highlighted in this article. Furthermore, there are some easy opportunities for those IT types that want to challenge themselves.

IT is New to BPM
Sometimes it is difficult to find the right place to start your BPM efforts because there may not be the right business visionary on board at your organization that is infected with the process bug. This is frustrating because many organizations are riding the BPM wave and you might be watching from the shore. One suggestion is to start in the Information Technology arena and glean savings while improving the IT image through excellent and consistent service. This is what I term IT process management (ITPM). There are two major ways to approach IT processes.

The Architectural View
Architects generally look at processes for a holistic and/or top down perspective. Interestingly, architects have coalesced around ITIL and its definition of process areas. ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library) is a framework of Best Practice Guidance for IT Service Management. Since its creation, ITIL has grown to become the most widely accepted approach to IT Service Management in the world. I've included a list of IT service management areas, from ITIL, that directly relate to the production of processes for your convenience:

  • Access Management
  • Availability Management
  • Capacity Management
  • Change Management
  • Demand Management
  • Evaluation
  • Event Management
  • Financial Management
  • Incident Management
  • Information Security Management
  • IT Service Continuity Management
  • Knowledge Management
  • Problem Management
  • Release and Deployment Management
  • Request Fulfillment
  • Service Asset and Configuration Mgmt
  • Service Catalogue Management
  • Service Level Management
  • Service Measurement
  • Service Portfolio Management
  • Service Reporting
  • Service Validation and Testing
  • Strategy Generation
  • Supplier Management
  • Transition Planning and Support

One can only imagine the number of support processes needed to support these large grained functions that are performed inside of IT. Change management, for example, would contain promotion and back-out processes. Imagine the number of process opportunities in incident management. There are good starting points that can be derived and attempted from the above list. Processes around service requests are certainly rife with opportunity.

The Pragmatist View
There is also a bottom-up approach that looks for hot buttons that involve potential BPM activities. One only needs to ask people what drives them nuts in terms of response time, visibility and cost issues. Examples might include getting security authorizations, ordering hardware/software, or project set up/project management. One does not have to look far to find opportunities in IT. The issue with this approach is that it might be hard to justify the cost of BPM technology on such a localized problem, but if you could tie the process to the above ITIL list, you may win the hearts of minds of the management levels in IT. This is certainly worth a shot to get started. Once momentum occurs and you get rave reviews from process participants and the recipients of the process benefits, more opportunities will present themselves. In rare instances some of these new processes could be recognized by the business folks and lead to a business focused process. Incident and problem management are traditional areas to start leveraging BPM, but release and vendor management are crying needs. A real innovative use of BPM would revolve around supporting PPM with BPM. .

PPM is Ripe for the Application of BPM
PPM stands for program and portfolio management, but that alone is not clear enough. It's much clearer to say that PPM is about managing projects and aggregations of projects generally leveraging a project management office (PMO). Basically PPM is all about projects, but more mature organizations extend beyond IT to business projects and manage application and project portfolios as well.

There is confusion because projects leverage processes in creating project deliverables, thus attaining project milestones. Some would go so far as to say that a project is a process. Others would still consider a process an asset that would fit in a portfolio that could be managed like projects. After all don't processes have dashboards similar to those found in a mature PMO?

Some would say that the process center of excellence (PCE) view that process portfolio management is much different than project management, because projects are temporary and processes are institutional for supporting business on an ongoing basis. Still others would say that the management techniques for processes vary differently than those for projects. BPM is all about business processes.

PPM practitioners believe that project management is a discipline aimed at meeting deadlines and budgets allocated to project efforts that is performed more consistently in IT than in the business, but few project managers see the applicability of BPM to projects. It is clear to them that PM is crucial to BPM efforts. Processes can really help PPM in recognizing best practices in creating deliverables and making these best practices a repeatable process that is leveraged in many future projects that need to create the same deliverable. In fact there are a number of BPM-minded folks that believe a project can be imported into a BPM engine and executed like any other process.

Some BPM folks would view project management as just another enterprise process that can be managed and tracked like other business outcomes, but business processes are more predictable and repeatable, where projects are more flexible by nature. There is, however a stream of best practice processes that can be leveraged in producing project deliverables.

Project management can help BPM during the process building phase by leveraging scaled down project methods that are iterative in nature. These methods are likely to include the following:

  • Common terminology for projects
  • Project charter template
  • Schedule template
  • Formal client feedback procedure
  • Defined project meeting formats
  • Scope statement templates

Project management, however stops once the process is built and another set of improvement techniques take hold. I like to use the analogy of the manufacturing line. PM can be used to build the manufacturing line, but managing the running of the manufacturing line is not a project, but an ongoing effort. BPM employs process measurement and improvement for correct and consistent products done in a timely fashion for the cheapest cost while leveraging resource utilization like a manufacturing line.

BPM can help PPM as it becomes more collaborative. The next generation of BPM is all about servicing knowledge workers, such as project managers, and can handle more complex and ill-defined processes. In the mean time there are steps in a project life cycle that would benefit from the use of BPM, content and workflow. Examples would include requirements gathering, cost benefit analysis, technical design, test procedure, etc. Organizations that have higher CMM levels have created repeatable processes that are ideal to implement in workflow-based BPM engines. There is a large amount of content related to the deliverables around IT projects that could also be managed with a content focused BPM engine that would leverage SharePoint or other content repositories.

Bottom Line
You do not have to search far to find BPM opportunities in IT. Some are pretty mundane, but some are challenging and innovative like PPM. You can do this yourself by leveraging a BPM platform, such as a BPMS, with a couple of assertive process-focused personalities. There are any numbers of vendors from which you can buy some pre-built IT processes, if you do not have the time or the skill to attempt BPM. There is not an option to ignore BPM for IT or the business. You will have to pay attention to the application of process management to IT. Why not start today to leverage process to cut some of the cost issues facing IT?


About the Author

Jim Sinur is the Chief Strategy Officer for Global360 and is responsible for the advancement of Global 360's products in the BPM and Process Intelligence markets. He also leads the company's Best Practices Success initiatives to ensure that Global 360 customers deploy their new solutions more efficiently. In addition, Jim is involved with accelerating acquisitions. Prior to joining Global 360, Jim Sinur served as a VP and Distinguished Analyst at Gartner Research where he researched topics including BPM, business modeling, business activity monitoring and process intelligence technologies. During his tenure, he was instrumental in the creation of Gartner's first "Hype Cycle" and regularly contributed to the BPM & Rules Magic Quadrant. From 1988 to 1992, Jim Sinur served as the Director of Worldwide Technologies for American Express. While there, Sinur was responsible for the development of the company's model-driven merchant management system. He was also instrumental in the development of American Express' broader architecture strategy, data and database administration and the company's advanced technologies. Before joining American Express, Sinur spent 18 years at Northwestern Mutual Life, where he was involved in the design and building of business-critical applications in the investment and annuity departments. Additionally, he led the development of the company's Underwriting Workbench.

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