Gartner Blog Network

Improving business processes is a core expectation of IT

by Mark P. McDonald  |  February 4, 2010  |  5 Comments

When asked CIOs estimate that 80% of their business processes are automated or supported by IT.  The strength of this connection ties changing business processes and applications together.  It also changes the scope and role of IT in the enterprise.

Improving business processes has been one of the CIOs top expectations from the business for the last five years.  In 2005, 44% of the CIOs responding to that year’s survey indicated that it was among their top 5 priorities.  In 2010 CIOs responding to the survey indicate that the percentage of firms with business process improvement in the top five had risen to 58%.

This is a significant issue for IT as in 2010 more than half of CIOs do not feel confident in their ability to achieve results when improving business processes.  The inability to create business results through process and technology change limit IT’s ability to create value and respond to changing economic conditions.

Responsibility for business process improvement raises several issues for the CIO including:

  • Process ownership and the working relationship with the business
  • Skill development and deployment
  • Transformation responsibilities
  • Business process management
  • Organizing business process responsibilities inside the IT organization

There is extensive Gartner Research and Gartner analysts’ blogging about these issues (McCoy, Sinur , among others) so I will not try to repeat their insights here.  Just offering an analogy that may help CIOs incorporate and enhance their business process improvement capabilities.

Think of improving business processes as requiring the same type of organizational structure as application development.  Sounds simple, almost too simple, but here is what I mean.

You have dedicated teams concentrating on developing and managing applications.  You need a similar but smaller and more focused team concentrating on process improvement.  Generally you may need 1 process expert for every 20- 40 people in IT.  Note I said process expert, not process aware — everyone in IT should be process aware.

Your application development specialists have training on the application and the technology.  The people in the business process improvement group have their own set of unique skills in things like process mapping, six sigma, lean principles, statistical process control, root cause analysis, etc.  Give those people the skills they need and the opportunity to use them.

Your application development teams work on priorities set by the business, often through an IT steering committee that governs investments.  Deploy the business process improvement group according to enterprise priorities determined by the process owners.

These three points provide some general guidelines using the application development analogy.  However there are a few points where business process improvement skills should not follow this analogy including:

Process expertise should avoid becoming siloed in the way application development skills are often siloed around a single application or package system.  I have never met a business process expert in SAP.  I have met business process experts who have worked with SAP, but they have also worked with other groups.  A process expert dedicated to supply chain should be called a supply chain expert.

Process experts create value through working with their business peers in an environment of discovery and problem solving.  This is in contrast to many application development shops that gather requirements then go away to build the system.  Process change makes the sausage best in open collaboration with the business.

Process expertise should seek the cleanest and strongest solution to business performance issues across a range of job, skill, organization, process, information, technology, facility, equipment, management and other changes.  Often the issue can be resolved quickly by adjusting different aspects of the process rather than defining and deploying a whole new process.  The alternative, everything is solved with a process change, is no better than an IT professional who believes every issue requires a technology solution.

These are a few points surrounding business process improvement in IT.  There are many more provided in Gartner Research to help CIOs and IT executives recognize and address this core responsibility of IT.

Category: cio  strategy  

Tags: business  business-process  it-organization  

Mark P. McDonald
8 years at Gartner
24 years IT industry

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a former group vice president and head of research in Gartner Executive Programs. He is the co-author of The Social Organization with Anthony Bradley. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Improving business processes is a core expectation of IT

  1. Jeremy Lipp says:

    “A process expert dedicated to supply chain should be called a supply chain expert”…

    If I understand well, a process expert should have no specific business knowledge, but only focus on process improvement, being a kind of middle-man between process owners and the IT people implementing BPM applications?

  2. Mark McDonald says:

    Jeremy thanks for your comment and what I was trying to do was to make a distinction between someone who is an expert in a functional areas versus someone who is expert at the process improvement process.

    The middle man role is the least of the process experts responsibilities and sorry if that did not come through. They are primarily there to bring techniques, approaches and practices to raise process improvement without being jaded or invested in a particular process. That helps the company get greater innovation and reuse of best management practices.

    Otherwise its likely that a process expert specializing in supply chain for example will not see or appreciate the potential to improvement by borrowing from practices outside of his discipline.

    Let me give you an example. Recently a Tier 1 Automobile supplier has a significant Work in Progress (WIP) problem — too much growing too fast. Traditionally addressing this problem would have gone to the head of Supply Chain for reconciliation. A common solution is to change production planning and implementing changes to reduce bottle necks – often with the effect of moving the problem from WIP to Raw Materials or suppliers etc.

    In this case the CEO gave the problem to IT and the CIO. The reason he states was “Our WIP issue is not one of the supply chain, but rather one of information which is why I have asked the CIO and the process improvement teams ….” You get the picture. The answer they came up with was to find and fix information flows and information bottlenecks around their most critical resource — which was engineering time — this addressed the WIP issue in a new and innovative way.

    Hope that helps illustrate the point as the innovation came from looking at the process without traditional bias or blinders — that is what a process improvement expert has the ability to do.

  3. […] the experts who do the work and the experts who understand how work processes may be improved.  Mark MacDonald describes this well with respect to how an IT department can assist in improving business […]

  4. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by markpmcdonald: Business process improvement is a core expectation of IT, some thoughts at

  5. […] well they don’t. Don’t believe me? Believe Mark McDonald at Gartner. In a blog from February 2010 he points out: “… in 2010 more than half of CIO’s do not feel confident in their […]

Comments are closed

Comments or opinions expressed on this blog are those of the individual contributors only, and do not necessarily represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management. Readers may copy and redistribute blog postings on other blogs, or otherwise for private, non-commercial or journalistic purposes, with attribution to Gartner. This content may not be used for any other purposes in any other formats or media. The content on this blog is provided on an "as-is" basis. Gartner shall not be liable for any damages whatsoever arising out of the content or use of this blog.