One of the current trends in IT is for CIOs to vie for the right to take over Business Process Management (BPM) for the organization.  This means more than providing BPM tools and linking those tools to the SOA infrastructure… this means having the people who perform process management report up through the CIO.

I guess I have no problem with this idea.  Of all of the operational departments, the one most tailored to supporting a range of different skills, all oriented towards making incremental improvement in the business, is the IT department.  In effect, IT has a native skill set in providing “improvement consulting services” to the business, and process management is an improvement consulting service, so IT can provide that service with the least amount of difficulty.

That’s the theory, anyway.  Problem is that very few people in a typical IT organization have ever actually performed any formalized form of process management.  In other words, there’s a “Readiness” problem.  Most IT shops simply are not ready to perform this task.

I’ve built teams from scratch.  When I was in the dot-com space, I was called upon, time after time, to hire team members for a new team, set up their processes, integrate them into a functioning structure, and get them moving.  Sometimes I did it well.  The rest of time: I learned from experience ;-).  One thing I can tell you, it takes a lot of work to spin up a business function, even one that is well understood.  If it is a new function to the enterprise, the odds of getting it right, the first time, are truly slim.

You need to make sure that you have qualified staff, a realistic engagement process, a reasonable goal for them to achieve to prove their value, and a mechanism by which their work provides value to the business.  As the team becomes mature, their capabiliies change, and their goals must change as well.  This is difficult for any manager to put together.

But if the manager is not familiar with the work that needs to be performed, he or she has some additional problems.  A manager can hire an “expert” and rely upon them to create the team and deliver value, but if the choice of expert is not the right one for the enterprise, not the right cultural fit for the “present-day readiness” of an organization, they will not accomplish much, and the manager will not know enough to provide the backup and support the new team needs to succeed.

Result: CIO says “Build a new function” and people set out to try, and in a year, the CIO cancels the project because no valuable output has emerged. 

This story has played out in many organizations.  This is not unique to BPM.  This has occurred where the intent was to create an Enterprise Architecture team and the team started up without an Enterprise Architect.  The same is now playing out in teams that wish to create Business Process teams within IT. 

So if you are working in an enterprise that wants to take on the challenge of delivering BPM inside the IT organization, be ready for a rough-and-tumble ride.  Jump on that train only if you like roller-coasters and if all of the other criteria are met: experienced members, executive coverage, realistic goals, and an engagement process that makes sense.

It’s a truly wild ride.

By Nick Malik

Former CIO and present Strategic Architect, Nick Malik is a Seattle based business and technology advisor with over 30 years of professional experience in management, systems, and technology. He is the co-author of the influential paper "Perspectives on Enterprise Architecture" with Dr. Brian Cameron that effectively defined modern Enterprise Architecture practices, and he is frequent speaker at public gatherings on Enterprise Architecture and related topics. He coauthored a book on Visual Storytelling with Martin Sykes and Mark West titled "Stories That Move Mountains".

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