It's an exciting and potentially career-altering notion for CIOs: that the tools and processes they use to manage IT can be used to manage business processes.
Because something is happening here But you don't know what it is Do you, Mister Jones? - Bob Dylan, 'Ballad of a Thin Man'
Technology has a history of wresting power from complacent elites and forcibly redistributing it in ways that rock the foundations of the known world. The Gutenberg press, in putting the Bible into the hands of the common man, helped weaken the grip of the venal priests of the 15th century Church of England and paved the way for the geopolitical earthquake that was Martin Luther's Reformation.
Now the Internet, in seizing business information from the corporations who have hoarded it and putting it in the hands of the customer, is precipitating an economic power shift from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and companies will never be the same. With the tectonic plates heaving under our feet, we are entering the era of the "Global Innovation Wars" and "process-based competition", and to further paraphrase business process management (BPM) expert Peter Fingar, corporations and their CIOs alike had better start swimming, or expect to sink like a stone.
The Internet is not about a Web site; it's about no less than the transformation of the global economy, says Fingar, the co-author of The Real-Time Enterprise: Competing on Time, and Business Process Management: The Third Wave. Because of its "reformative" power, the whole idea of having a vertically integrated company - or even a horizontally integrated conglomerate - is, or will soon be, over. Business is increasingly being done across multiple companies and multiple countries, the customer and the talented individual are both king, innovation is the new black, and organizations must learn to compete in that new, utterly unforgiving landscape or become but footnotes in history.
That is why major oil company Exxon Mobil is now in the gourmet coffee business. It explains how Virgin Mobile became the 10th largest mobile phone provider in the US in just 18 months without installing a single mobile phone tower, defying the hundreds of millions of dollars and years of infrastructure development and deployment leading rivals like AT&T, Cingular and Verizon invested to get where they are. It is why the research for Fingar's new book is being done by three talented IT graduates in India, and why the Apollo Hospital group in that country has performed more than 60,000 major surgeries on North Americans and Europeans over the past two years.
Indeed it is why a new middle class has arisen in India on the back of IT outsourcing, and it is why many of their jobs too could soon be a thing of the past. "Caveat India," Fingar has written. "The combination of BPM software and next generation self-service systems is likely to recast two of India's growth industries as sunset industries. BPM software will drastically reduce the need for labour-intensive software development for business process implementation and change, and advanced self-service systems will drastically cut the need for customer service representatives, as growing numbers of customers serve themselves in real time."
It is why in recent presentations Fingar has taken to quoting approvingly the words of Application Development Trends columnist David Chappell. "My guess is that over the next few years, many people working in IT will face a simple choice. One option is to get involved with business processes in a much more explicit way. The other? Pack your bags and move to Bangalore, India, because that is where your job is going to go."
So it is bye-bye chief information officer, hello chief process officer (CPO), and get ready for a very bumpy ride.
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