Ideally, companies should be able to quickly automate their business processes while also being nimble enough to optimise those processes over time. In practice, companies often find themselves bound to the business rules hard-wired into their enterprise applications.
When the Defence Housing Authority (DHA) began examining issues around its business-IT alignment and change management framework late last year as a prelude to re-engineering part of its business, it found some of those issues irresolvable. Or rather, they were irresolvable until it adopted a business process methodology known as ARIS (Architecture of Integrated Information Systems), which gave it a way to articulate organisation processes, infrastructure, data and outcomes and the linkages between them.
According to DHA quality assurance consultant Alistair Brooke, using ARIS was like "turning a lot of light bulbs on" in the minds of regional managers. Being able to make visible some highly complex processes helped grab the attention of senior and business managers whose traditional focus was performance and the bottom line, and shifted their thoughts towards an entirely new mind-set.
"I think really the critical thing is that visibility, because visibility creates awareness," Brooke says. "People are simple, they like things being simple, and unfortunately most of our business processes aren't. Even where we do acknowledge there is some degree of complexity, people will always have a simplistic view until you actually can see a process in its entirety. And I think that was the thing that really turned a lot of light bulbs on."
Needing to put a microscope to its relocation process as a prelude to some significant changes, the DHA found that communicating those processes, not only across different business lines and people but also geographically, was a vital first step both to achieving the needed changes and to getting all managers and employees to adopt a process mind-set, Brooke says. And in the evolution to business process management (BPM), that is precisely the name of the game, according to Queensland University of Technology associate professor Michael Rosemann, who is also director of the Centre for IT Innovation.
Rosemann, who recommends ARIS, says having made real progress on implementing integrated applications, Australian organisations must now strive to ensure business process management becomes as much a part of the mind-set of every manager as cost management or leadership. He says the huge upsurge of interest in BPM over the past 12 months in Australia shows many organisations now understand the potential it provides for significant organisational performance improvement. And that potential is very real. For instance, after just three weeks raising the DHA's awareness of business processes, Rosemann's team had helped it identify more than $2 million in savings.
"The message is you can significantly improve the performance of your organisation," Rosemann says. "Thinking in processes should be something every manager executes on a daily basis. Most companies are a long, long way from that, but we see a kind of momentum. It seems like after GST, Y2K and ERP implementations the focus is shifting from reactive IT problem management to proactive business IT alignment (Where do business and IT come together? and Where does it actually make an impact?).
"So instead of thinking: 'Let's approach e-procurement', [it's now:] 'Let's look into how we do procurement in the first place and let's improve that process.' Then later on down the track it's: 'Let's talk about some kind of e-procurement.' "
Business process modelling is a core activity within business process life cycle management processes. And BPM is increasingly where business meets IT, Rosemann says. "When it comes to an IT implementation, there are well-defined pathways and methodologies," he says. "BPM, however, is where business meets IT. As part of BPM you can ask yourself: 'Should I automate this? Should I outsource? Should we change accountability/responsibilities?' So you need a mind-set that can combine workflow management and balanced scorecard, ERP and activity-based costing."
Rosemann says although this is a very new and much more holistic way of thinking for most CIOs, such thinking must eventually extend across the entire organisational hierarchy.
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