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


Robert Salazar, the vice president of process management for financial services firm First Horizon National in Memphis, oversees his company's BPM initiatives. First Horizon has been doing BPM since July 2005. Salazar's role is to define the direction of all the initiatives and serve as a liaison among all the parties engaged in them.

This makes him the go-to guy when a business manager realizes a process needs attention. In 2005, for example, the business wanted to improve its process for handling exceptions that come up during loan origination. Salazar got the process owner for exception handling (here, the executive VP of risk management) together with business analysts and with representatives from each functional group (loan processing, underwriting and IT) that plays a role in the process. The group defined and documented the scope of the process improvement project, the goals and the key capabilities to be delivered. The team analyzed existing processes, modelled new ways of handling exceptions and implemented new technology.

The goals were to be more responsive to end customers, to make decisions about exceptions more quickly, to reduce costs and to increase the accuracy of the loan origination process. The key capabilities were automating a manual workflow and providing visibility into the process as well as supplying mechanisms for tracking and escalating all related transactions. Although Salazar declined to share specific metrics, he said the cost of handling exceptions has decreased, while customer service has increased.

Salazar says IT hasn't battled the business for control of BPM. Instead, IT views BPM as a way to work with the business to serve customers. "You can't view BPM as a technology issue. It's all about creating business value," he says. Salazar adds that the key to making IT's governance of BPM work is close-knit collaboration between the two parties. First Horizon achieved that through Salazar's reporting relationship and through a home-grown methodology he uses for BPM.

Salazar reports directly to the CIO but maintains a dotted line to First Horizon's executive VP of operations. That dotted line gives Salazar the ability to get process owners and line-of-business managers involved. His tight link to the IT department ensures that any automation effort is in sync with what line-of-business managers need to run their shops effectively and with the broader IT strategy.

First Horizon's custom BPM methodology also secures the business-IT partnership by defining those who need to be involved in any process improvement initiative and their responsibilities. For example, the methodology spells out that a process improvement initiative must involve representatives from every functional group involved, and it must be led by a process owner. The process owner is responsible for ensuring that the project team stays on track, and for playing the role of tiebreaker when the team can't achieve consensus.

The BPM implementation group developed the methodology with Fuego. It is based on the principles of agile software development, which emphasizes a close working relationship between business users and developers, frequent face-to-face conversations among stakeholders and regular work reviews, both of which keep all parties on the same page.

The close-knit collaboration between the business and IT resolves the control issues that dog many BPM initiatives. Since BPM is a service IT provides to the business and because Salazar reports in to the business through the executive VP of operations, line-of business managers and process owners feel comfortable approaching him for help with process improvement initiatives. And the BPM methodology he's put in place gives the process owners the control they need over their processes. IT, meanwhile, is never left out of any planning.

"I know many companies that have successful, IT-driven BPM initiatives and that's because their goal was always to serve the business and to collaborate with the business, not to define the latest, greatest, coolest technologies," says Salazar.

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