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In BPM, "B" Stands for "Business" – Part Two

Last week I shared my views on a question posed by Robert Mitchell – who should lead BPM? As I’ve contended many times before, I’m of the opinion that a business user should ultimately make the final decisions and maintain executive oversight over BPM projects. To my surprise (and delight), this initial commentary sparked a spirited discussion of the roles played and resources offered by both IT and business/finance sides of an organization in regards to BPM. Several people chimed in to agree with the stance I had taken, while just as many disagreed and put forth compelling arguments to make their case.

Robert Mitchell himself wrote a follow-up piece for Computerworld deconstructing some of the points I’d brought up in an intelligent, thoughtful manner. We had a back and forth written conversation that I feel left us both with some food for thought. Robert expressed suspicion that a BPM project could succeed without any input from IT at all, which is a point I did not clearly address in my last post. I’d like to add some supplementary analysis to my earlier comments about the difference between “providing input” and “owning.”

Below are the opinions I shared with Robert as our discussion on BPM ownership evolved:

I have a huge amount of respect for the IT function and everything they can do to make every business better. My point on the subject of who should lead a BPM project is pretty clear. As you outlined in your article, “Troubled BPM Project at Chiquita International,” IT did not appear to even have an active role in the project. In my response I said “I absolutely disagree with the notion that IT should be relegated to simply providing data and possibly hosting systems.” In fact, IT’s role and active involvement in any large scale BPM system is critical for a successful implementation. As I further said “You are right, without a collaborative effort and active involvement from cross functional and business experts the project will fail or certainly be sub-optimized.”

I do disagree with co-led projects. In my experience, jointly led projects don’t work. Someone, one person, needs to be the single ultimate decision maker. It does not mean they are the one person that knows everything (that person doesn’t exist). It needs to be the person that is responsible for ensuring that all the right people are involved, that the important contributions of each area of expertise are seriously considered and included in the decision and implementation process.

In the Chiquita example, Finance is the owner of the system, the process and is accountable for the final outcome. Finance, in this example, should have been the single leader of this project and implementation. It is also clear to me, based on your story, that IT should have played a much bigger role in the decision process and implementation. Leading a project is not the same as playing a central (and very critical) role.

Robert then asked me how, in my role as CEO of PerfectForms, a solutions vendor, I’d approached IT users at companies interested in the PerfectForms Web form and workflow automation tool (which is admittedly designed specifically for business users). This got me thinking even more:

It is critical that every business and functional leader have a good, solid working relationship with their IT counterparts. Good long term decisions (technology related or not) are not made with an attitude of “just give me the data and get out of my way”. Unfortunately this behavior is prevalent and does result in project delays, cost over runs and in many cases failure to meet the objective.

At PerfectForms we are initially contacted by people with pretty specific problems that they are trying to solve. These people are from all areas of the business – people from sales or marketing, HR or operations and yes also IT. The problems run the gamut – from simple feedback forms for training that need to be routed around a training department, to very complex workflow applications that need to be used offline by agents in the field to collect customer information that is then uploaded (when connected to the internet) and ultimately integrated with a back end ERP system.

The first example can easily be designed, developed and fully deployed with PerfectForms by anyone in the training department. For these types of applications we rarely speak to anyone in IT, nor do we encourage IT involvement. Most of these customers come to us because their existing IT resources are busy managing existing systems and/or developing more mission critical applications. Not to mention the technology cost for this is $360 a year and the training department can manage, report on, and modify the system themselves. In the second example we are working directly with the IT department to get the installation integrated and running. We absolutely could not, nor would we attempt to do an integrated enterprise installation without working directly with IT.

We do see all kinds of unusual behaviors based on politics and protectionism. We see business people purchasing a cloud solution to avoid an increase in the allocated cost they get from IT. We were told by one IT professional, “If I recommended PerfectForms, what would I do?” I’m sure it’s a common concern for any IT professional that sees a solution like ours, but the truth is, a solution that helps business users help themselves, while providing the oversight that IT requires, improves relationships between the two groups (and can free-up IT’s time to work on more important tasks). On the other hand, when IT is necessary for a successful implementation, we outline the reasons for their involvement and then attempt to directly engage with them.

At its core, I’m not sure this is really a vendor problem – we try not to get involved in internal debates and politics — but Vendors can play a role in the interest of a project’s successful outcome. Through the technology we develop, or through our words and actions, we can encourage more Business leaders and Functional leaders (HR, Finance, Legal, Operations) to work more closely with CIO’s and other IT leaders and find more productive ways to grow and support customers, employees and shareholders. We live in a virtual business world that is evolving quickly.

Hopefully the healthy exchange of ideas over the subject of business-IT relations and BPM ownership will spur continued conversations in which professionals from both sides of the equation share their experiences and best practices for management success.

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