Do you take a "pop soloist" or "jazz orchestra" approach to business transformation?

Forrester report argues process professionals and IT need to work more closely together

Love them or loathe them, there's no escaping the fact that the IT department supports the infrastructure that underpins many of our business processes today. So why are process professionals so reluctant to work with IT?

The intersection of complex information technology and human fallibility can lead to spectacular and high profile failures. IT automation means not only that you fail faster, but also that you can fail bigger - something that Knight Capital Group found out this summer following a software upgrade that sent an algorithm careening around the markets and losing the group $440 million in the process.

And it’s not just the financial wizards of Wall Street who are affected by IT systems going "rogue". More than half a million customers of British banks Nationwide and Natwest had money deducted from their account twice this summer owing to computer problems. The computer problems were blamed on a "one off human error."

These examples are the extreme version of what can happen when IT goes wrong but IT problems that erode efficiency or annoy customers plague our organizations on a daily basis: legacy databases that only someone with a degree in nuclear physics can understand, the requirement to manually update data in multiple applications, painful customer management systems that creak under the weight of real customers. Process sits on top of these sometimes quite laborious tools and we expect employees and customers to navigate through them.

On the other side of the coin, though, technology has enabled new ways of working making services more convenient for customers and employees alike.

So how can we improve processes without involving IT and how can we use both processes and IT to create businesses that serve customers better, delivering products and services in new, more innovative and less painful ways for customers?

Those are some of the questions being discussed in a new Forrester Research report out last month. In the report, Connie Moore, Vice President and Principal Analyst at Forrester Research, argues that it’s time for a "radically new partnership" between business, process and IT teams – with process playing an integral role.

Currently, Moore writes, "most business process initiatives are still isolated within pockets of a business function" which makes it "extremely hard to develop cross-functional processes."

Instead, she argues, breaking down the organizational silos that process improvement teams and IT have created around themselves will be necessary to create a truly "process-driven business." The role of IT will become more process-focused with CIOs required "to build agile and nimble technology organizations that can respond to business process transformation."

So where are we today? Moore breaks the current state of collaboration across the IT-business divide into three archetypes:

Pop soloists – this is where IT and process teams work independent of each other and don’t have much training in process methodologies. According to Moore’s research a whopping 75-80% of businesses fall into this category.

Classical trio – this is where the business, IT and process teams work together some of the time on process improvement. But each team can be so dogmatic about methodologies and approaches that it limits how well they work together. According to Moore 10-15% of enterprise fall into this category.

Jazz orchestra – IT and process teams work closely together, sometimes even going so far as to merge and reporting directly to the C-Suite. Only a small number of organizations appear to be in this category (2-5% of those interviewed for the research).

Companies that had successfully progressed to the "Jazz Orchestra" stage shared several characteristics including active engagement from business executives, the involvement of marketing to ensure process transformation aligns with customer needs, moving beyond meaningless mantras, and the active involvement of business units in process improvement and IT delivery.

Editor's note: Forrester Research is conducting a new online survey of business, process and IT senior executives about business process transformation. The results will only be used in aggregate and your responses will remain confidential. Participants will receive a copy of this published report, Process-Driven Transformation Will Depend On Stronger Business-IT Partnerships, and will also receive a Powerpoint summary of the survey results.

Here is the link to the survey: