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.
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