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Process management bridges IT and business

Eliminate the disconnect between what the business expects and what IT delivers in your customers' shops with business process management (BPM).

IT channel takeaway: Make sure a customer's business and IT requirements are being clearly communicated. Business process management (BPM) can help.

With Kiran Garimella, a VP with the CTO's office at webMethods and the author of a recently released book on process management titled "The Power of Process: Unleashing the Source of Competitive Advantage."

Question: Your book looks at how process management helps companies create a competitive advantage in a global economy. Can you give us a quick view of how process management can do that?

Garimella: My book seeks to build awareness of what process management is all about. Process management, or BPM, brings together the IT, business and process improvement people, such as Six Sigma and Lean experts, all onto the same platform or model of the business. There is no more disconnect between what the business expects and what IT delivers. So, in a way, process management enforces a discipline and a rigor, forcing alignment between IT and the business. In so doing, it ensures that changes to the business are implemented very rapidly. It allows operational excellence in the sense that businesses, especially operations managers, can monitor the business in real time and make decisions in real time.

Process management also offers a way for companies to bring together various types of information -- customer data, business rules, policies, services, competitive intelligence, business transactions, Six Sigma-related measures -- into one common meta-model. This ensures there is no loss in the translation between business-speak and IT-speak. All this ultimately translates into a fast, superior execution capability, without sacrificing control and governance.

Question: You have quite a resume. You're currently a VP in the office of the CTO at webMethods. You were the chief architect and CIO at a GE company. Plus you've been a consultant, a business architect, an assistant professor and a project manager. How have you used business process management to create IT/business alignment in the real world?

Garimella: One of the biggest challenges I've seen is how to take business requirements and communicate them clearly to the IT community. The most critical interface between business and IT are the business analysts. The question then becomes, how do you train your business analyst to become more business savvy? What BPM does is it provides a clean segue from business requirements as the business explains them, to IT requirement specifications. By using the principles of process management, one can implement a strong communication model between business analysts, quality experts and subject matter experts from the business. In so doing, the time taken to capture and analyze requirements, which may be about 40 percent of the total project time, decreases significantly.

Next, BPM further reduces the project cycle time by allowing the business users themselves to configure and manage their applications, without direct IT support. This cuts down the traditional systems development time. In many cases, business activity monitoring provides an immediate real-time monitoring and decisioning capability. IT is then seen as very responsive, business-savvy and having the same sense of urgency as the business.

Question: What do CIOs need to do with process management to create competitive advantage?

Brown: CIOs today have a lot of pressure to build value for the business and not to be seen purely as a tactical or reactive organization. They have to respond to criticism such as Nicholas Carr's "Does IT Matter?" The problem is that CIOs are not in the business of managing a business. It is unfair and unreasonable to ask a CIO to think and act like a CEO. So, CIOs can reasonably affect their company's competitive position only indirectly. The only feasible way to do that is to remove distractions for the business. All senior executives spend way too much time in administration, and not enough in innovation. They worry about quality of data, accuracy of reports, control over business processes, productivity, costs, how employees work, and so on. They are frustrated because even with all the advances in information technology, they can't get a reliable report on how their business is doing; they cannot manage their corporate knowledge. Instead, they should be focused on customers, competition, innovation and growth. BPM facilitates all that.

Immediate and practical application of BPM for forward-thinking CIOs should include common process modeling and analysis, linking business knowledge to processes, ensuring process governance, managing metadata, implementing business activity monitoring solutions, and most importantly, adopting a technology platform that facilitates the integration of business processes with their applications. By doing this, the CIO morphs into a Chief Process Officer. The result, a process-oriented environment, frees up employees' brain cycles from dealing with non-essentials. This is the true source of competitive advantage.

This 3 Questions originally appeared on IT Business Edge.

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