Commit to Business Process Ownership

Without empowered business process owners, long-term deployment of enterprise applications falls flat.

In the early months of an enterprise application deployment, the most common client sentiment is disappointment. While client firms want business process excellence going forward, they too often fail to make a key organizational change when they go live: the establishment (and authorization) of effective business process ownership.

Post-implementation strategy, i.e. what an organization should do after it deploys enterprise applications, is the most neglected of all aspects in the world of enterprise applications. When the lifespan of applications within companies is over 25 years, this makes successful long-term deployment very difficult.

Cost-conscious clients tend to race through implementations without much thought to the organizational changes that will need to occur once the software is operational. Worse, implementation methodologies from the software vendors and their partner integrators generally end at the point of go-live and fail to include sufficient steps for post-implementation planning.

After go-live, it is in the interests of systems integrators (such as Deloitte, Accenture, IBM, Capgemini, DXC Technology, Dimension Data, BPI OnDemand) to ‘fish for their clients’ by doing ongoing management for them (that is, application management outsourcing) rather than ‘teach their clients how to fish’ by helping to build a sustainable client-run post-implementation organization, known as a center of excellence.

What is a Business Process Owner?
A business process owner is responsible for the design and oversight of all business activities undertaken to complete a major business process, such as orders-to-cash or product generation. Such responsibility naturally crosses the borders of vertical business departments.

Groundbreaking concepts regarding business process excellence were defined and evangelized in the mid-1990s by the book Reengineering the Corporation by James Champy and Michael Hammer. Like most new concepts, business process reengineering initially led to mass confusion and set up a power curve for every integrated applications implementation that followed. We all know about the learning curve when going from interfaced applications to integrated enterprise applications. The reality is that a power curve is kicked off by the learning curve when departmental heads in a vertical environment are told that the organization will heretofore ‘flatten’ and become horizontal. Department heads no longer call all the shots in their domains and have to blend into horizontal business processes. Turf wars inevitably proliferate.

In an orders-to-cash business process, for example, the business process owner must deal with managers from the sales, procurement, production, and finance departments. Within those departments, multiple divisions dedicated to pricing, purchasing materials, planning, shipping, invoicing etc. are also part of the flattened process.

The measure of a power curve is revealed in the time it takes for your firm to make decisions relative to the business processes to be adopted either as part of an enterprise applications implementation or in response to business need or opportunity. If there is knowledgeable management commitment from the outset, this curve is shortened. Without that commitment, it never ends.

Since most business processes cross-departmental boundaries, the business process owners are often at odds with department heads. Without a clear charter and authority from top management, a business process owner is constantly buffeted by resistance to process change. The result is an inability to improve business processes beyond the tinkering stage, which does not result in any appreciable business benefit. In such a situation, business process ownership is replaced by business process orphanhood.

Empowered and respected business process owners should be at the heart of business process change, with the key responsibility of continually promoting business process excellence across the entire horizontal spectrum of a company’s activities. While the needs and ambitions of individual departments need to be taken into consideration, overall business process must clearly take precedence. Unfortunately, traditional vertical governance resists adherence to this essential standard.

In the early 2000s, SAP America’s Global VP for Value Engineering and Architecture Jack Childs did an informal poll on the role of a business process owner. He found that the shelf-life of a business process ownership program was only two years. The reasons were unsurprising: lack of process authority leading to high stress and a subsequent inability to succeed. In the intervening years, the industry has improved, but not at all satisfactorily. During a speaking engagement very recently, I hand-polled the audience of 150 people with the query: “Raise your hand if your firm has an established business process ownership program.” No more than twenty hands went up.

If you do not empower good business process owners with proper executive support, then any center of excellence will be useless. Of all the roles that effective post-implementation strategy requires, business process ownership is the most vital. Without it, your best chance is to create a center of mediocrity.