Syncing Data with Business Processes

Tony Summerlin, Senior Strategic Adviser, FCC/CIO, Office of the Managing Director
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Tony Summerlin, Senior Strategic Adviser, FCC/CIO, Office of the Managing Director

The acceptance and continuance, if not the acceleration, of management principles has taken on many different shapes and colors over the years. From Frederick Winslow Taylor’s scientific approach of time and motion studies to Henri Fayol’s operational management theory; basically efficiency vs. human behavior as factors that needed to be addressed for superior output. The bottom up approach of Taylor vs. the Planning, Organizing, Command (delegation), Coordination, Communication, Monitoring of Fayol. So what we have today, is the best of all worlds, we can use Taylor’s principles without looking pedantic and deliver on Fayol’s human factors through the ability to look closely down at the processes and people of our organizations.

BPM is, or can be, a process improvement technique because it explicitly addresses the complexity of inter-application and cross-repository processes, and incorporates data-driven, as well as, content-driven processes–all on an ongoing basis as driven by business rules. The BPM process identifies bottlenecks and allows for changes on an on-going basis in its ideal form. No organization can ignore the process, and probably the tools associated with it, and continue to compete in an ever changing and accelerating economy. As a CIO, one should use BPM as a way to participate in the competitiveness of the organization in the economy and as a partner to the mission specific areas of the organization.

  ‚ÄčThe BPM process identifies bottlenecks and allows for changes on an on-going basis in its ideal form 

So what is Business Process Management?

“Business process management is a field in operations management that focuses on improving corporate performance by managing and optimizing a company's business processes. It can therefore be described as a "process optimization process." - Wikipedia

“Business process management (BPM) is a systematic approach to making an organization's workflow more effective, more efficient, and more capable of adapting to an ever-changing environment. A business process is an activity or set of activities that will accomplish a specific organizational goal.” -AIIM

“BPM is best thought of as a business practice, encompassing techniques and structured methods. It is not a technology, though there are technologies on the market that carry the descriptor because of what they enable: namely, identifying and modifying existing processes so they align with a desired, presumably improved, future state of affairs. It is about formalizing and institutionalizing better ways for work to get done.”

I was recently asked to comment on the state of BPM, iBPM, or whatever the latest acronym might be. This all feels like déjà vu all over again. While practitioners and providers reinvent themselves, the BLUF, (Bottom Line Up Front), is that it is all the same as it was, the tools have changed, but the work and the required outcomes have not. Humans have been trying to make things better, and more efficient, since the beginning of time. The basic premise has not changed, only the IP and technology available to execute it. The latest iteration of development resembles the lack of understanding of what outcomes are necessary, I am sure you have heard of the AGILE malaise, the latest excuse for not deciding on where you are going and what it takes to get there. Never have I seen a development succeed where the outcome is not defined prior to launch.

Let us start with the basics; it takes hard work, human involvement, now as it did 100 years ago. SOP’s (Standard Operating Procedures) for the basics for building a systematic business process. Understanding workflows requires understanding the work. Before you consider digitizing workflows and processes, you should probably consider understanding the content and context. I have not met anyone, and I mean anyone, in the last twenty years, that has represented BPM that has deliberately explained that doing any BPM work involved months of hard work by everyone involved to understand the content and context of the work that they were “enabling” with consulting or tools. You must walk in their shoes before you can understand how to help. Shoulder surfing is not just a fun term; it is the reality of how we can vastly improve our business outcomes.

There are many ways to reach a desired state, whatever state that might be; faster process, fewer people, better transparency, sharing across platforms, less processing power, better agility, etc., but know what you want first. You cannot have it all, I can assure you of that. Once you have made a decision, presumably with input from the people associated with the process, then start systematically looking at the PRESENT state of affairs. What does each step look like? Are there any unnecessary steps? Are there systems supporting process that can be eliminated? There are hundreds of questions, but focus on the outcome, or outcomes, that you have laid out as key(s) to success. You must have OUTSIDE help, people that live the process, whether the business owner or the supporting IT will not provide you with the insight you need to achieve the change; they are, however, essential to the basic understanding necessary for the content and context of the conversation. People do not like things "done” to them, but this is exactly what you are doing, so march ahead and understand the hate. Do not make friends, make change.

When the process is well defined, as in you know the content and context as well as the people you are doing this to, and then evaluate a technology partner capable of supporting your effort. This is where you decide the level of risk you are willing to take. In some case you will embark on a path to build individual applications addressing individual and discrete processes which are, on their own, important to the outcome, but to not define the entirety of the business process; the business output which produces the product that is the mission of the organization. Your choice of partner will be critical to your success. There are very smart people and solutions available and with the proper partnership, approach success can be all but ensured. The premise remains, know the outcome you are looking for, if you don’t know where you are going you are bound to get there, a saying worth remembering.

The high risk approach is boiling the ocean as opposed to eating the elephant with a spoon. You decide on a platform capable of supporting your organizations mission in its entirety. You parse the delivery of processes feeding this platform to the level you can absorb and you embark on a three-year journey. You have to keep the team(s) working on legacy focused while the “newbies” are having all of the fun building out the “modern” “agile” platform of the future. This is not as easy as it sounds. Through all of this, you develop a well-defined digital strategy “digitization” being the word du jour, which means you had better define an approach to your data, which makes it accessible and valuable to the organization as you move forward.

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