Is Business Process Management Relevant Anymore?


Business Process Management (BPM) has been around for a long time and is a good example of an old product in new packaging. Going back to Total Quality Management from the 1970s and 80s then Business Process Re-engineering popularized by Hammer and Champy in the 90s, the focus has now evolved to the ‘management’ of current processes rather than a ‘big bang’ approach to re-engineering an organization’s processes.  While process management had its purposes during the Industrial Age, one should question, is it relevant anymore? A case can be made that its time has passed and companies should focus on innovating processes instead of managing them.

Kevin Kelly outlined 12 Principles of the Network Economy in his now-famous Wired Magazine article 13 years ago. Kelly suggested “wealth is not gained by perfecting the known, but by imperfectly seizing the unknown.” This can absolutely be applied to process management which focuses on optimizing business processes inside organizations and represents a lost opportunity. Instead of ‘fixing’ a process, companies should focus on “imperfectly seizing the unknown” which will transform how they do business and lead to greater opportunities.

Read more about the National Programme for Information Technology via the Connecting for Health website

NHS - NPfIT at the Connecting for Health website

Take the NHS in the UK for example. The ongoing NPfIT project initiated in 2002 to modernize the legacy IT systems that had been the backbone for a long time has been frequently criticized in the press for taking too much time and costing too much. However, there is a good explanation for this; it is not another process management initiative where processes are optimized iteratively to bring marginal benefits to the organization and keeps consulting companies in business. It is far, far bigger than that. As NHS veteran Sean Brennan points out eloquently in his 2005 book The NHS IT Project: The biggest computer programme in the world… ever! the programme is about far more than improving the NHS; it’s about innovating and fundamentally changing the operations throughout the entire organization. In effect, it is the king of change management initiatives considering all the factors involved ranging from the technology to the staff to the critical nature of working on systems where lives are literally at stake. The commercial organizations charged with this project are not simply identifying processes, modeling, analyzing and redesigning what has been done in the past; they are looking toward the future by leveraging technology to completely transform the entire operations of the organization through innovation. This impacts how the stakeholders both inside and outside the NHS will interact with the organization for years to come.

THAT is beyond managing processes; it is process innovation. In the new economy, as Kelly suggested, this is where organizations should focus the bulk of their efforts going forward.

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