The following case study/profile was originally published by BI Review. For similar industry implementations and profiles please visit BI Review's Web site.

 

 

Yvonne Antonucci
Widener University

 

In historic and religious literature, it is often written that the sins of the father are visited on the son. The Roman poet Horace once said, "For the sins of your fathers, you, though guiltless, must suffer." At the risk of hyperbole, the institutional allegory to paternal sin has been business process management, where evangelists from Henry Ford to Michael Hammer exhausted careers trying to eradicate this failing. Yet more than ever, as businesses recombine and proliferate, we revisit this pitfall and find that repeatable yet agile control of "start to finish" in extended, fragmented processes seems less and less achievable.

 

Traditionally, young leaders at corporations such as GE and Intel interned across multiple divisions and activities over a period of years in order to ascend the management ladder. Today's young MBAs are more usually plunged into deep specialties to fill a gap required by business change, and have little hope of understanding the organization at large. If we accept that business process management (BPM) is a fundamental failing in most enterprises, then it's time to acknowledge that its attendant skills must be addressed remedially - or better yet, before managers enter the workplace.

 

Yvonne Antonucci has been teaching at Widener University near Philadelphia since 1983. An associate professor, she earned her master's degree in management science and industrial engineering, a process and optimization-oriented art that paved her interest in BPM. With a Ph.D. in information sciences from Drexel University, the groundwork was laid for her to begin proselytizing the merits of BPM in a formal graduate curriculum.

 

"Part of me was just thinking we really needed a breath of fresh air," Antonucci says. "Everyone knows that silo thinking perpetuates localized advances and doesn't address global advances. We finally have methodologies that seem to be working in some companies." As much as anything, Antonucci saw end to end process management as no more than an extension of what was happening in the old days of IT-centric information resource management. The fresh air she refers to arrived only when top management took an interest in addressing BPM throughout the ranks of business as well as information technology.

 

Help From Friends

 

As the framework for a BPM program took shape, Antonucci looked for other colleges and universities that might be on the same course. "We issued a survey because, as it is in the process world, we didn't want to reinvent the wheel. What we found was a lot of universities with one or two courses and a good bit of consulting and training, but not a whole focused curriculum. In the end we wound up inventing the wheel."

 

Antonucci and a few interested colleagues came up with a list of 10 courses based on the BPM lifecycle that were soon boiled down to four, for practicality and adherence to the process mindset. The lifecycle approach includes an overview as well as focused classes on strategy and implementation: the four graduate courses taught in Widener's evolving process center curriculum cover BPM generally and dive into process analysis and design, workflow management, e-Business, CRM, process interoperability and inter-organizational process design and implementation. It's not a single methodology. "We have to deliver concepts, but more importantly, we want to focus on ways to operationalize those concepts. We use a variety of methodologies and case studies simply because it is a new area without a lot of proven methods, so we look at what has and hasn't worked for companies."

 

As do most schools of business, Widener had benefited from grants and partnerships with technology vendors. A primary partner is SAP, and 14 classes in graduate and undergraduate programs use SAP infrastructure in the classroom - not pure SAP training per se (though SAP certificates are offered), but as familiarization with tools used in enterprise resource planning (ERP) or customer relationship management (CRM). Through her exposure to SAP, Antonucci became acquainted with BPM specialist IDS Scheer. SAP and IDS had just created a program called the Institute for Business Process Innovation, forged to strengthen ties between the academic and business communities. IDS integrated its ARIS toolset with the SAP infrastructure at the operational level and in 2003 called on Widener to become one of seven university centers of excellence in BPM. Of these, Widener and Queensland University in Australia are presently in teaching mode; the others are primarily research oriented.

 

Antonucci drove faculty retraining to embrace BPM thinking in a variety of courses and separately called on the business community to join in. In graduate BPM courses five faculty members are paired up with eight to 10 industry domain experts from the private sector. IDS Scheer North America CEO Mathias Kirchmer and other software executives also lecture regularly. The 18 credit-hour MBA core curriculum now contains three credit hours dedicated to business process - twice the amount dedicated to areas of leadership, strategic planning or information systems. The curriculum at WidenerMBA.edu preaches plainly to applicants: "In business, process is everything. It's the way products are transformed from raw materials into marketable goods, and how new ideas are transformed from vision into reality." With the core and additional electives, graduate students can earn a process-oriented MBA that follows the ISO 9000 Malcolm Baldridge award concept. Widener's first MBA class graduated just last month.

 

Momentum

 

"When we started in 2003 it took a while to get the word out so the first courses drew about 10 people," Antonucci says. "Now it averages between 15 and 20 and we don't want it to get any larger than that." Extra sessions and off campus study are under consideration as the program gains steam. Much of the interest in the BPM courses is market driven. Antonucci has met with a half-dozen local companies, including some CEOs and directors, who want their own people to have this kind of education, which she says is different from the training offered by institutes such as BPMI. "Our research told us that companies from all over have been looking for this and haven't been able to find it." Most returning students have come from middle management, though Antonucci would like to see top managers take to time to reeducate in order to institutionalize BPM thinking. "Also, some companies with SAP implementations have been living with issues for a couple of years and now realize it needs to be process oriented."

 

Momentum is also gathering among professors who have discovered the need to embed process thinking in their own specialties of sales, marketing, accounting or other areas. Sue Greenburg is an associate professor in accounting information and decision-support systems who was involved on the BPM front by Antonucci. "My primary interest in BPM is performance measurement and continuous improvement," Greenburg says. "In my class we talk a lot about the appropriate metrics for the whole process, for the level of maturity of the process. We look at cascading metrics at the lower levels of process that feed up into metrics we use at the upper levels of the process and how to use those for continuous improvement."

 

Greenburg's first exposure to BPM was at a conference where accounting people were refreshingly talking about flexibility. "In accounting, we always talked about efficiency and effectiveness, but never flexibility or agility. Our traditional metrics are product oriented or department oriented. The process is all the handoffs between traditional functions and it's very difficult to take measurements that are project or product oriented and expand them to a broader definition."

 

With Antonucci as an ally, Greenburg and other Widener colleagues are letting BPM thinking trickle down the ladder of education. Process concepts are now woven into undergraduate studies so that a marketing course will also include study of the processes involved in marketing. Even Business 110, Introduction to Business, is process oriented and taught by several professors with a cross-functional focus. The marketing professor will always stress marketing of course, but with the realization that anyone who goes to work in marketing will interact with functional roles in other key areas of the organization. The proof points come straight from industry representatives who teach alongside the faculty. "CEO interest in the graduate program shows that companies want to tailor these skills to their own needs and at least know they're going in the right direction," says Antonucci. Fundamental as that might sound, it's a correction course long overdue.

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