In BPM projects IT gets no respect

Who should lead a business performance management project: Business? IT? Or both? In the aftermath of a case study about a troubled BPM project at Chiquita International I wrote a follow up piece that concluded that it takes two to tango: Jointly lead projects work best.

Not so, says Tom Allanson in his blog post at ebiz.com. In BPM, "B" stands for business, he argues that finance absolutely must lead such projects. The folks who chimed in with comments tend to agree.

Allanson, who started as a design engineer and is now CEO of Perfect Forms, Inc., comes from the business side (and his firm offers a cloud-based service to help manage business workflows). Is his view a one-sided reflection of the divergent views of IT and business on this type of project? Or is he spot on?

A real world example

I followed Chiquita's BPM initiative for more than a year and spoke with players on all sides of the project - finance and IT alike. Unlike most case studies, where the players glossed over the issues and only talk about the positive, the Chiquita staff had the courage to be frank and open about the serious challenges folks face with a project like this. With business process change. With selling it to the business units. And with managing a project of this scale.

As CIO Manjit Singh readily admits, most of the issues are not technical. But that doesn't mean that IT shouldn't be leading the charge, right along side finance. IT can offer a seasoned hand at change management, at business process change and automation, at project management. So why is it often viewed as just a group of platform-layer hardware geeks that set up the servers, storage and network connectivity for the business?

Chiquita's project was lead by finance and ran into many difficulties as it progressed. IT was consulted after the project was under way and was relegated to a supporting role.

Business process change, change management, application support, application design, the RFP creation process, vendor selection, security, vendor mangement - all of those were managed by the finance organization, in conjunction with a third party integrator, and with little or no IT input.

Finance must lead from a domain expertise standpoint: They know what they need and should be central in the application's design, operation and support for its end user stakeholders. But in these other areas, where IT could have contributed some expertise, things didn't always go smoothly.

No respect

Yes, the "B" in BPM stand for "business," but does that mean that finance is the "business" and IT is not? Hardly. Both organizations directly support the "business" in different ways. One just doesn't get the respect it deserves.

These days,  IT drives business just as much as finance does. So why is IT still viewed as a second class citizen?

The idea of launching a BPM initiative of this size and scope, with little or no involvement from IT, speaks volumes about how far many IT organizations still have to go to get respect - and to be equal players at the table.

Considering IT as less than a full partner in major project like this - Singh compares its impact to an ERP rollout - is also out of step with what the the most competitive, most successful businesses are doing out there today. Just ask leading-edge companies like Proctor and Gamble.

Gartner estimates that a whopping 50% of BPM projects fail. Most of those are lead by finance. If IT played a more central role, perhaps fewer BPM projects would end so badly.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

  
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