Michelle Cowan's picture

This is a serious pet peeve of mine. Many business professionals think of business process management (BPM) purely in terms of the technological tools that enable it. Countless vendors sell “BPM” as though you can buy it in a box, hire a developer, and magically experience fully integrated BPM throughout your organization.

BPM often constitutes a fundamental shift in the way managers think about running a business. It’s about knowing and deeply understanding how your organization works, what makes it tick, and how all the cogs and wheels make everything function. IT solutions are not the core of BPM; they are supports for the deeper intellectual practice and daily application of BPM.

I’m not saying that IT capabilities aren’t important. They can be tremendously useful, but they aren’t essential to begin building BPM maturity. I love my IT brethren, and I don’t know a single IT professional who wants to waste his time developing, rolling out, and training people to use software applications they do not know how to apply in context. Just as nails and a hammer do little good if you don’t know what you’re supposed to build, IT tools offer very little if the people expected to use them do not understand what their organization’s vision of successful BPM is.

If your organization needs more aligned business processes, better cohesion from department to department, and a deeper and more responsive understanding of itself, do not simply throw money at IT fixes and vendor promises. BPM is not something money alone can bring. Growing mature BPM primarily takes time. And yes, time is money, but it’s money much better spent. Developing a deeper understanding of BPM before purchasing high-dollar IT solutions will help you make a better decision when it IS time to buy.

For more about what BPM really is, APQC’s first major BPM report hits the spot: Business Process Management. For a lighter read, try Ten Characteristics of Successful Business Process Management Initiatives or Seven Tenets of Process Management. And to assess your BPM maturity, study Evaluating Your Organization's Process Management Capabilities.


Transformation Field Officer's picture
Hi Michelle I cou;dn't agree more with you about tools. Throwing technology at a problem will never fix it... For me a good service needs: An organisation with people (and skills), good process, technology (systems) and resources and good mangement. If these are not flying in close formation then it will not work! If you have these then a workflow solution can really help 'oil the wheels'. Especially as these are now both accessible, highly configurable and inexpensive. I am currently involved in redesigning the processes, work practices, roles and responsibilities of a large IT department here in Scotland. I am delighted to have (at last) a real opportunity to see how the APQC framework can help in anger, as I found one of the early frameworks some time ago and maintained my interest in it. We are referencing sections 7.0 and 12.4 to help us with what is a major restructuring exercise. We are also using both the CoBIT and ITIL frameworks in designing the funvtional piece of the 'new world'. Section 7.0 maps really well on to the ITIL framework at the process level incidently. One specific issue we are facing is that this IT operation has a large outsourced component and we are therefore splitting section 7.0's processes between the suppliers and the in-house teams. We are therefore having to craft the processes to cater for the supplier management piece where processes are sitting 'on the boundary'. In some cases the process is replicated, in others it needs to be broken in two. As 'Supplier Management' is s specific ITIL process, I was wondering if you had come across others who faced this issue and how they dealt with it? Regards Niall
Michelle Cowan's picture

Hi Niall,

Thanks for your input.  It sounds like you are on the right track.  Those processes that don't fit perfectly in the PCF can be tough to deal with, but the most important thing is to make sure that you don't duplicate elements.  We encourage people to customize the PCF as needed, and since you have ITIL and CoBIT, you can bring in elements from those frameworks to flesh things out.  It is perfectly fine to craft new processes and add them to your customized framework, but make sure that you aren't duplicating processes or activities within those processes that you are using elsewhere.  Ensure that each process is very well-defined and fleshed out.  Assign responsibility and accountability for the process using a RACI chart or other tool. Those RACI assignments can help you differentiate between processes that might otherwise seem similar. 

I talked to a couple of other people here at APQC, and they know of organizations that have dealt with the IT/supplier issue.  Unfortunately, they don't know the specifics of what they did.  Our PCF guru, John Tesmer, is in London speaking at Inspiring Performance 2011.  When he gets back next week, I'll see if he has any additional insights.  He may have had some experience with organizations dealing with this issue.

Until then,


John Tesmer's picture

Hi Niall,

I'm not sure I understand if you're crafting "supplier management" processes, or processes dealing with the delivery of work where the people delivering it are somewhat in-house and somewhat outsourced.

If what you're referring to are "supplier management" processes, I suggest you look to our procurement process group, and include the respective processes or activities in your process maps for the higher-level process of dealing with your suppliers. For example, consider "select suppliers and develop/maintain contracts" or "appraise/develop suppliers". (These are from v5.2.0 cross-industry).

If however you're talking about the actual performance of the work in the function, I would want to understand what additional activities are required to effect the delivery of work as a result of the outsourced relationship. I suspect that there shouldn't be any more activities than you would have had you performed all of the activities in-house. If there are more, then I think you can wring some additional activities out of the process.

I hope that helps - let me know if I can help further.


John G Tesmer