Globally, there’s a powerful trend towards consolidation and rationalisation of technology systems in an attempt to cut costs, improve efficiencies, support the speed of change, and reduce risk.
And those are worthy objectives, indeed. The problem is, however, that most consolidation efforts are focused either at the hardware or infrastructure level or on integration of software systems ‚ and very rarely at the business process level.
In fact, Gartner’s 2009 BPM Adoption Survey research shows that only 20% of enterprises globally are exploiting business process management (BPM) as a means of increasing speed to market, gaining competitive edge, or continuously improving the efficiency of their business operations.
Agility can be achieved using two different approaches, of which one is reduction and minimising and the other is expansion of ideas, capability, and opportunity.
The first has always felt easier to achieve in business terms ‚ and now, with virtualisation, it’s easy to achieve technologically.
The second, expansion of ideas, capability, and opportunity, has been limited, until now, by the means to execute business process changes quickly and affordably with what are still relatively intractable technology installations.
Even with virtualisation, enterprise technology systems are incredibly complex – with multiple types of hardware and many instances of applications, few of which are integrated with one another and all of which need specialist teams to install, manage, and maintain them.
By their very nature, business processes usually need to change long before – or more frequently – than systems tend to be upgraded or replaced. And, the more complex the systems serving business process, the more onerous and inhibiting the related lifecycle management is in terms of upgrades and replacements.
To be able to effect business process change before an upgrade, therefore, it’s always been necessary to recode sections of existing systems, with all the domino impact that has on ancillary systems. As a consequence, business process change has consumed months if not years as well as a great deal of money. Invariably, the technological execution of the required business process innovation happens long after the reason for the innovation has been superceded by other shifts in the market. Large organisations have always lagged market opportunities by significant periods of time. And innovation has always felt like too much trouble.
The good news is that business process improvement can now be easier than making a cup of tea ‚ because technology specialists have understood the business need, done the development work, tested the solutions in the field, and proven the business case.
So, there is now an innovation layer that runs on top of an organisation’s technology layers, giving the company the ability to continuously adapt to market conditions on the fly, without ripping or replacing existing systems.
The definition of an innovation layer is a solution that automatically translates business innovation information into business process execution.
Getting the IT guys to, first, understand the business guys and, then, accurately deliver in terms of technological operations the outcome that the business guys want has been a long standing complaint.
The obvious thing to do, therefore, is to cut out the step of explaining to the IT specialists ‚ and give the business executives control of the IT processes they want adapted to their new business processes.
But, you can’t expect business executives to learn software code. You have to hide the programming behind a very simple graphic process. The executive draws a picture of how he or she wants the process to change: this connects to that and that connects to the other. Just some lines and circles on a computer screen. And then the underlying, very clever software translates the drawing into technological processes.
That’s only useful, however, if the underlying software is able to work with all an organisation’s applications, hardware, and infrastructure. It has to be able to recognise and reuse or reapply the ‚services’ and functionality in every aspect of an organisation’s systems and devices without disrupting them. Otherwise, the scope and scalability of the change is limited ‚ and, therefore, pointless.
More than that, the business process management software has to be able to work not only with an organisation’s internal systems but also those the organisation has committed to the Cloud and those it shares with its supply chain. A single drawing can, for instance, affect all the elements of a global procurement process. So there can be no limits, no exclusions to the business process management software’s capacity to integrate with and absorb from existing systems.
This is particularly important as organisations begin to commit more and more of their data and functionality to the Cloud, often through multiple specialised Cloud service providers, each with their own infrastructure and provisioning models. The customer organisation needs to know that any business process changes it makes in-house will automatically flow through to its Cloud providers.
Business process change technology must, therefore, be technology agnostic.
However, there is no point in business process software that costs more than recoding existing systems has always done or that takes more than a few weeks to implement. Otherwise the benefits of agility and speed to market are utterly negated.
The only really useful business process management solution, therefore, is one that can be tailored to an underlying system in no more than three weeks and implemented in not much more than that. It is also one that enables the organisation to start cashing in on revenue benefits from the moment the first executive draws a process change on his or her screen.
Sounds like a wonderful but unachievable ideal, expressed like that, doesn’t it? Actually, there are, right now, organisations with up to 20 000 users innovating continuously, slashing their time to market, outdoing their competitors on price, and getting ahead of market dynamics.
Consolidate your data centres, virtualise your desktops, by all means. But, at the same time, have a good hard look at your business process management and your capacity to refresh them at will. You may just see a whole new world opening up.