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Managing to the business is like standing on your head

Jan 26, 20044 mins
Data Center

* Approach business process management from the right angle

Probably one of the most confused terms in an industry where confused terms are the norm is “business process management.” There is virtually no consistent agreement among vendors and IT on what a “business process” is – just as there is no unanimity on what “management” might or should mean in this context.

The confusion is multiple because there are multiple approaches to business processes: those that are IT centric, and those that are not; as well as those that are entirely service-dependent and those that are aimed predominantly at software and automation.

The traditional IT approach to defining a business process is to start with infrastructure elements – and move in logical steps towards increasing business relevance. The simplest way to explain this is to look at the evolution of service-level agreements from technical objectives featuring network-specific parameters – say, the availability of a WAN link – to server availability and responsiveness, to application response for the end user. In other words, the tendency of many IT vendors is to treat the migration to business value as a migration up the OSI stack.

But I would like to suggest that true business process management might best be understood by, figuratively and (who knows, perhaps literally) standing on your head. In other words, if you begin with the infrastructure and its components and try to reach BPM in incremental upwards steps, you’re left with the old Maine adage, “You can’t get there from here.”

The place to begin, I would suggest again, is with the business and its goals without any preliminary reference to IT. For example, let’s imagine that the State of Illinois is seeking funding to promote more effective police action, to shorten the time it takes to apprehend criminals and provide a better, more sympathetic profile to its citizens. As you can imagine, the motives are a mixture of functional effectiveness and politics, and those funding the program want to see both goals answered.

So, standing on your head – this is where you must begin, even if you’re only responsible for planning IT. Otherwise, you may miss valuable opportunities to contribute and you’ll similarly fail to see the real context behind everything you’re doing.

Within our fictional initiative will be numerous programs, many of which will directly touch IT. For instance, we’d need a wireless infrastructure for remote communications with police in the field, or better diagnostic tools that might ultimately suggest data warehousing, or more cost-effective control of operations (that might involve IT instrumenting police vehicles for inventory tracking and location information).

Components for the business processes surrounding this operation are mixtures of transport (cars), police intelligence equipment, and more traditional IT equipment. As an innovator, your insight on business process needs to include a vision of all these elements, with a creative mind as to how you might best contribute. You might even be able to provide the best central tracking system for all these components, and lead in metricizing real programmatic goals, if you step up to the opportunity.

So the bottom line is, stand on your head when planning to support the business. The business is not a permutation of multiple application processes. It is a real-world set of human directions and objectives in which applications, networks, chairs, trucks, video cameras for security, and – in our example, police cars – are all components, along with organizational structures and financial/political objectives. Once you’re prepared to recognize this, you can be free to contribute, and hopefully enjoy the richer dimensions of your contribution – without the constricting myopia of technology for its own sake.