There has always been disconnect and occasional tension between the camps that follow business intelligence/performance management and those that follow business process management.

KPI and data evangelists sometimes view process advocates as bureaucrats no longer tuned to the dynamics of changing businesses. Even the nation’s CIO, Vivek Kundra, has said he’s now more interested in outcomes than processes.

Meanwhile, the process crowd (outside of manufacturing and a few other industries) has worked incrementally and under a long-held premise that where business/technology initiatives fail, there’s usually a clunky process residing somewhere.

For as little attention as inside process initiatives might have drawn (and internal initiatives are usually secretive), the greater effect of business process outsourcing (BPO) has already shifted workforces and internal appetites for scale. What started with call center outsourcing sooner or later touched or obviated internal departments for travel, payroll, time and expense, software development/maintenance and even customer-facing applications from Salesforce.com and now many others.  
  
In the last few years we’ve seen the process and data worlds merge to the point where process conference speakers actually talk about business intelligence and vice versa. It’s that connection of processes and KPIs (or service levels for BPO providers) that led to some recent thoughts on soft skills and the beginning of what might someday become wider use of on-demand employment.

I’ve been learning about CIO ambitions at huge outfits like Coca-Cola Enterprises to establish internal priorities for employees and outsource the rest. I’m working on a feature now that has a lot to do with data center managed service offerings that are replacing not only IT infrastructure, but discrete IT functions.

You can see where this is leading. As service based infrastructure and process providers trickle up in the enterprise, old roles are slowly moving to tiers of competent but mostly invisible external providers whose value becomes commoditized over time. This is currently much more the case in small and mid-sized organizations where discussions are under way to determine if even key undertakings like business intelligence are better outsourced to service providers.

The Fortune 500 isn’t going to be outsourcing business intelligence or even key data functions anytime soon. But the jumble of capital assets, business architecture and roles that have arisen in enterprises over time are becoming less defensible to maintain.

Just as BPO vendors have demonstrated their competency, it may be that core competencies will increasingly be handed to process owners inside the organization, (as is already happening at companies like HP, Ford and Cisco), to manage internal and external resources. We already have people doing this sort of thing in the form of project and program managers, whose roles are enjoying elevated status these days.

But it goes further. One of the best lessons I’ve gotten in this vein came a couple of years ago from Rungson Samroengraja, the VP of product development at Pitney Bowes, who explained the political risks and rewards of instituting process owners over traditional management ladder appointments.

"What if, instead of having a head of supply chain and a head of finance, you make someone an end-to-end process owner?" Samroengraja told me. "Maybe it's the order-to-cash process. You decide who has the visibility and the incentive to make that whole process work most efficiently and then define the right technology to support it."

There are all sorts of political and compensation minefields associated with such a strategy, and process management has its own pitfalls in compartmentalization. "Because of the speed at which we are required to innovate,” Samroengraja said, “it's very difficult to have a meta-process that says, 'here's how we will go about designing and deploying processes, how we will improve them over time and how we will maintain them.' "

It takes a lot of study. But that’s the goal for Samroengraja and there’s reason to believe that, with improved operational metrics, performance management and business intelligence will be the enablers of the process and on-demand movements.

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