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Process Populism

With the adoption of new tools and delivery models including software as a service, business process management is more accessible than ever to business stakeholders. When adopted as a program, this new access to BPM is likely to expand rapidly across the organization and beyond traditional boundaries. Failure to support BPM at a department or higher level, however, will result in employees taking matters into their own hands without proper security or governance – something is clearly happening already.

Web 2.0 and social tools have already found their way into collaborative business processes through Google or Zoho documents online. Customer interactions are now commonly addressed outside the enterprise architecture in tweets and Facebook pages.  

Forrester Research analysts say a surge in consumer-side SaaS has created a populist movement that is driving demand for more process control inside the business community. Clay Richardson, senior analyst for Forrester, describes it as an “open revolt against IT,” with the business demanding greater collaboration and inclusion across all phases of the process lifecycle.

Not all managers are populists, but a substantial percentage of professionals are “pumped up,” says Richardson. A 2010 survey of workplace personas conducted by Forrester found that 28 percent of the workforce is racing ahead with Web 2.0 and other consumer technologies. These employees make use of better technology at home than at work and are wondering why they are restricted by what IT provides on the job.

As the do-it-yourself culture grows and social media continues to spread, the move to provide business users with more control over business processes is gaining endorsement in vendor activity and announcements. Recent acquisitions only confirm a push to appease the demand for business-friendly product, including Software AG (IDS Scheer), IBM (Lombardi) and Progress Software (Savvion). Whether CIOs will follow suit and adopt the messaging has yet to be determined.

Workplace Impact

IT leaders are trying to determine how to provide business process professionals greater control and flexibility to discover, develop and deploy process solutions, while maintaining the controls and policies they are used to. If they are unable to meet both requirements, the business-side will – and already is – going behind the back of IT to improve processes with emerging consumer tools.

The promise of user-friendly business-driven technology has always been out there, but the demand to follow through has been lacking, says Richardson. “Tech populism outside the company has spilled over and sparked conversation inside the company.”

An important question centers around who is actually listening to the chatter. Those in IT who want to work closely with the business to build a relationship before major change is enacted will be in a better place than those resisting change.

In that equation, the person likely to suffer the most from process populism is the CIO, who will be expected to give up some power with this shift, according to Richardson. “They are realizing that they have to give up a bit of the crown.”

Smart CIOs are getting out of the gatekeeper mindset and finding the right tools to give the business what it needs and applying appropriate governance, Richardson says. “The power has shifted over to the business and probably is not going to come back.”

Richardson says we’ll see the CIO transitioning projects formerly under IT jurisdiction to the business, and, to some degree, working themselves out of a job. In return, they are likely to see title changes that reflect more than managing and maintaining infrastructure. They’ll be more likely in position to drive strategy and partner with the business to seek out opportunities to innovate. “Instead of a pot of money, the CIO will become a revenue center.”

Inside the Business

While consumer-side software and services are appealing for ease of use and other advantages, they bring several new challenges to the enterprise. Ideally, these are challenges that the business-side can avoid mirroring. Beyond security and access control, anyone who’s had repeated run-ins with Twitter’s “over-capacity whale” knows full-well that a number of services are not good at handling capacity.

“If we look at the trend of these systems not being available, that same sort of scenario is going to be problematic for the business. They are going to come up against these challenges living in the cloud and will need to assess what is actually worth keeping there,” said Richardson.

More and more it will call for a new awareness for IT leaders and a new sense of responsibility on the part of business users. This is not the populism of old, pitch forks primed for battle, but it is going to need to stabilize at a negotiable middle like so many movements. Richardson doesn’t expect it will completely change the roles of technology and business professionals, but change is in the wind and needs to be confronted.

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