Whose Business is Process Improvement Anyway?

Whose Business is Process Improvement Anyway?

Business and IT are locked in a struggle over who controls the management of business process improvements. CIOs who seek to lead the charge have their work cut out for them

Many BPM practitioners believe that since the business owns the processes, it should drive BPM. However, Burlton says, you don't have to own a particular process to lead the charge. "IT doesn't own the data stored on its servers, but they do provide the service of assuring that the data has integrity, is managed well and is secure," he says. Similarly, IT can guide the business through a process improvement initiative by offering process analysis, modelling, design and automation services.

"If anybody in an organization really understands the importance of process, it should be the people in IT because . . . they have more experience in building models, doing analysis and looking for optimal solutions," says Burlton.

There's no reason why IT can't lead BPM, he adds. "The question is whether they'll be allowed to by the rest of the organization."

CIOs who seek an active leadership role in BPM have their work cut out for them. But if they can earn the trust of the business and take charge of BPM, the payoff is big. Doing so will boost their profile and that of their IT organization. It will also facilitate their SOA plans, says Burlton, because process management initiatives identify the business services common across the enterprise that IT can then program and package for reuse as part of its SOA strategy (see "SOA: Here Be Dragons", CIO October). "If companies do process management properly across the board, IT can do service-oriented architecture properly," he says.

Finally, if IT can offer the business BPM services the same way it provides application development services, it will increase the department's value inside the company and bring it closer to the business.

CIO talked to three IT executives who are successfully leading BPM inside their companies. They share their experiences below.


In 2001, the city of Minneapolis got serious about creating a 311 system to better handle the 10,000 phone calls made to city offices daily. At the time, if a caller needed to report a stray dog, a pothole or a bum traffic light, she had to search through more than 275 listings for city government offices in the phone book's blue pages. Callers often didn't reach the right office on the first try and got bounced from one municipal worker to another. Some just called 911 (the equivalent of Australia's 000), tying up emergency operators with reports of broken parking meters. The 311 system, which included the creation of a call centre and the implementation of a "constituent" relationship management system to track issues and route them to the appropriate offices within city government for resolution, would make it easier for citizens to get access to information and increase city government's responsiveness and efficiency.

CIO Kaiser took charge of the project, which the city had been mulling since the late 1990s. He was ultimately responsible for getting the project approved, obtaining funding, implementing the system and promoting it to city residents.

During the implementation, he occasionally encountered municipal employees who pointedly told him that he and his IT department shouldn't be in charge of the project. Officials inside the Public Works department, which handles city-wide maintenance such as repairing potholes and erasing graffiti, didn't like IT meddling with their processes or weighing in on how they should coordinate their efforts with other agencies. They had their ways and they wanted to stick with them, says Kaiser.

And what did IT know about repairing potholes anyway? The department, then known as Information and Technology Services (ITS), had a reputation within City Hall before the initiative started for barely being able to fix frozen computers, let alone manage large projects. Some city workers translated the acronym ITS as "It Totally Sucks".

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