The activities of every organization define what, when and how it operates, and the association of similar activities is a business process. Thomas Davenport and James Short define a business process as "a set of logically related tasks performed to achieve a defined business outcome." While the definition of a business process is elementary, the practice of designing, implementing, utilizing and refining business processes can be extremely challenging. Davenport further defines a process as "a structured, measured set of activities designed to produce a specified output for a particular customer or market. It implies a strong emphasis on how work is done within an organization." Understanding and enabling business processes is critical to providing relevant, timely and accurate information to individuals. As a component of an information enterprise, business processes must be understood in order to create a meaningful information environment.
While there are numerous business processes that are performed every day within an organization, they can be grouped into two categories for descriptive purposes: infrastructure and core. The infrastructure business processes are those activities such as purchasing or payroll that are conducted in the same manner from one organization to another and from industry to industry. Although there may be variations in the purchasing business process, it typically begins with a need or requisition. If the requisition is approved, a purchase order is then created, and potential vendors are notified. Vendor quotes or responses are reviewed, and a vendor is selected. The vendor provides either goods that are inspected by the receiving department or services that are approved by the requesting individual. The vendor then invoices for the goods or services. The accounts payable group matches the requisition, purchase order, bill of lading or approval of completed services to the invoice(s) to determine its validity and then pays the amount that is owed. These tasks follow a logical order and define the purchasing business process. This is an example of an infrastructure business process that is standard and generally very similar across enterprises. Infrastructure business processes are so well defined that they can be outsourced without impairing the ability of the organization to function effectively.
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