When ballooning costs and chaotic workflows send projects spiraling out of control, IT often gets called to put out the fire. But to execute successful business process management, a CIO must not only extinguish the flames, but redirect IT’s role from order taker to solution provider.
Four and a half years ago, CIO Helen Cousins of Lincoln Trust was hired to do just that. When she first came to the Denver-based financial services company, its processes were literally on the verge of collapse. Over 100,000 mailed customer requests poured in each month, inundating the office with 16 tons of paperwork annually. File cabinets amassed so much weight that employees had to move them around the building to prevent the floor from sinking in the spots where they sat. On top of that, the intensely manual workflow processes exposed the company to high risks and costs. Cousins’ first priority had to be to stop the bleeding.
Cousins, whose innovative BPM projects have won accolades, including a recent CIO 100 Award, believes IT must take a more proactive role when introducing a new BPM strategy, primarily by marketing itself to other departments. “Before we could even suggest a BPM program, we need to have gained the trust of our business partners,” she says. “One of the key business partners stated she would ‘fire all of IT’ if she could when I started with the company. Without a foundation of trust, true collaboration is not possible.”
A Program, Not a Project
The first step is to approach BPM not as a project but as a program. It is up to IT to sell that program to the rest of the organization, which automatically means planning must be done up front. This avoids the common pitfall of investing in costly BPM suites before data is properly analyzed. Spend more money on planning and less on getting there, Cousins says.
Successful planning requires that IT get to know its constituents. To gain a thorough understanding of company processes, Cousins and her team job-shadowed other departments to identify their needs. This not only made for a more robust BPM plan, it also restored the trust of IT within the organization and helped Cousins identify key players who could be relied on to promote other IT initiatives within their departments.
The marketing approach also helps IT keep the customer in mind, says Cousins. “We looked at the full value chain, from our vendor service supplier to our customers, during our process evaluation. This focus allowed us to reduce customer complaints by 90 percent.”
Once the business is given the tools needed to streamline its processes, it’s crucial for IT to remain tactful. The evaluation process will likely uncover embarrassing inefficiencies. To maintain trust, you must create a safe environment and allow the people involved to present the issues as well as the solution, Cousins says.
The big-picture objective is to increase IT’s business-process orientation. “CIOs are uniquely well positioned because they straddle all business units,” says IT analyst Alexander Peters of Forrester Research. Rather than “fighting for ownership” of the process, Peters advises CIOs to become providers of meaningful BPM tools. “By doing this, IT executives can boost their visibility in the organization, increasing IT’s value and accelerating its transformation to a service-oriented delivery model.”
Marketa Hulpachova is a freelance writer based in Massachusetts.