BPM - the building blocks for customising business objectives.

Successful companies over the next few years will be those who design their IS systems like a central nervous system, managing them like a living and changing entity, says one senior analyst.

Addressing the Staffware 2002 Asia Pacific Conference on Wednesday, Gartner vice president, market and business strategy, Neil McMurchy said ability to deploy an "intelligent" software infrastructure will determine the company's level of competitive advantage in the marketplace.

"Because the complexity of enterprise information systems is getting worse, among organisations' overriding goals is to be agile," said McMurchy. "In a softer economy, it's all about rapid change and market differentiation, not similarity. It's about how you do business in this environment, how you engage with people, not what you do."

While still a work in progress, business process management (BPM) is one strategic IT tool for companies to manage their "collective memory" for competitive gain.

According to McMurchy, while the crux of BPM may seem the technology itself, it is simply about developing sound business processes for faster, more competitive business. That is, well integrated information tools and providing the whole organisation with access to this entire infrastructure.

Moreover, the whole organisation either gets it or doesn't. Managing business processes for strategic gain will only work with enterprise-wide support. "The BPM process has to be owned from the high and cannot be a piecemeal approach," McMurchy said. "CXOs will say, my brand and business partners' brand suffers if my deployment fails."

BPM projects need a clear and flexible plan which allows for constant change because the realities of business will always intrude in that original plan, explained McMurchy. "You can't always deploy stuff based on a fixed plan alone. Business requirements change all the time so while the 'finish' might change in the process, a 'building plan' approach is the key."

One of the main mistakes managers make when re-engineering business processes is to get caught up in the plethora of integration technology available, losing sight of the actual value of their organisation's information, according to McMurchy. "You need to take an architectural approach to BPM projects and realise the business' agility will be in process itself."

Illustrating his point, McMurchy said one of the big four retail banks had leveraged its existing business processes by deploying new channels on top of them for speedier business. Declining to name the bank, he said its sales force was targeting the day's transactions by running 200 marketing campaigns overnight on them. The opportunity to develop new banking products on one day's transactions was only enabled by expanding new customer-facing channels.

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