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SOA Success: Is Your Organization a Business Process Enterprise?

by Puneet Suppal

July 1, 2008

For organizations to succeed in their enterprise SOA journey, they need to prepare themselves, as a whole, for a change in direction — a transformation of the people, skills, and culture that support your business processes.

For organizations to succeed in their enterprise service-oriented architecture (enterprise SOA) journey, they need to prepare themselves, as a whole, for a change in direction — a strategy that senior leadership devises and works to implement throughout the organization.

Traditional organizations, which are characterized (for the most part) by a division of labor into functional silos, are often forced to think across these silos. With the advent of a more process-based approach, the need of the hour is to behave in a cross-functional manner.

An organization that is thus characterized and driven by business processes is what I call a Business Process Enterprise (BPEn). Until an organization can truly function as a BPEn, it will not be able to fully exploit its enterprise SOA capabilities, and its quest for business agility will remain unfulfilled. Let’s take a look at why it is necessary to evolve your organization into a BPEn, and some key aspects that will characterize such an enterprise.

Go Beyond Alignment and Integration

Currently, organizations are seeking to gain the benefits of enterprise SOA. What’s more, the use of technology is becoming more people-centric, which means that increasing numbers of individuals are beginning to relate to technology in a new way.

A successful enterprise SOA journey clearly hinges on your ability to empower your business users and redefine your IT team’s role in the organization so that its involvement with the business goes beyond a few randomly selected projects.

The push for a change of this magnitude needs to percolate down through the ranks. While the day-to-day work happens between individuals from diverse groups within the organization, the strategy and a plan of action must come from the top and then be implemented by middle management.

The disconnect that often exists between IT and the business has spurred many calls for more alignment and integration — seeking to break down the constricting effects of silos and dysfunctional behavior between groups. Undoubtedly, more alignment in terms of strategy and day-to-day work will lead to minimal disconnect, in turn leading to a possible integration of thought and action. However, it may not be sufficient that different functional groups involved (various business functions and IT) are interacting well together and have similar strategies.

For success in this evolving enterprise SOA world, organizations need to go a step beyond functional group alignment and integration, including IT-business alignment and integration. They need to focus on assimilation of IT expertise within the business. Also, the IT team must assimilate business process knowledge, which means the organization needs to establish a thriving culture of working with end-to-end business processes. In other words, organizations need to move their workforces toward adopting more holistic views of the processes that run the business and the technology solutions that aid the end user in operating on a daily basis.

The Need for a Business Process Expert

An enterprise SOA-based business needs to view activities in the organization as complete processes, and not as collections of functional activity where the needs of one department are pitted against the needs of another. For example, an “Order-to-Cash” process should be viewed as a comprehensive process that binds customer interaction all the way from a sale activity to realizing cash, as opposed to focusing on the order-taking function and the collection function as related but separate pieces. Transforming to this type of focus will demand some changes to the workforce, quite possibly a re-alignment of organizational relationships. One necessary change is that the workforce must bring to bear an enhanced skill set, one that enables working with end-to-end processes.

An individual who can articulate this kind of end-to-end process would therefore be the person who can deliver a new or refined solution in that area. Such a person, who is equally at ease with the business and technology aspects of the solution, is increasingly being called a Business Process Expert (BPX). SAP has given birth to an entire community around this notion, which boasts over 250,000 members. It is no longer sufficient to merely bring together individuals with deep expertise and have them work together in an opportunistic manner. These individuals must evolve their skills to gain mastery of entire processes thus bringing to life the vision of who a BPX truly is. In addition, the processes themselves must drive how the enterprise is organized. Such an organization that is served by BPX individuals who thrive in a culture that values the business process view, is a true reflection of a BPEn.

Organizational Challenges

Individuals in the workforce undoubtedly will have concerns about making the shift to a BPEn. Issues of control, and those of getting credit and rewards are often at the heart of such reluctance to accept change. What makes the transformation challenge within organizations even more daunting is the fear that arises out of the accompanying uncertainty around one’s job and career.

People might worry how the new organization will look, what their role in it will be, whether they will be rewarded or punished, what their career progression will look like, and whether their position will become obsolete. These questions are all legitimate and inhibiting factors for effecting real change. Therefore, senior management must lay out a strong case for change, and the use of robust organizational change management (OCM) levers and methods must be called into play in order to see the organization through the changes.

The effort involved in the entire transformation of your organization should not be underestimated. It is distinctly possible that the changes being initiated in the organization could bring about some potentially disruptive effects. This is where relentless support and sponsorship from senior management is needed despite symptoms of disruptive behavior.

While the disruptions will tend to make the organization less open to the changes it needs to make, this point in time is precisely when you need to focus all your energy on staying the course. When the organization emerges from this dramatic transformation, the BPX individuals will, by virtue of their active roles, be very effective change champions.

Begin Your BPEn Transformation

When an organization is serious about attaining enterprise SOA success, it will leverage a strong top-down effort to give business processes the primacy they deserve. When this approach is accompanied by a sweeping change in how people go about their daily business (the bottom-up effort), the BPX will begin to thrive and work will begin to be conducted inherently in a cross-functional manner. The organization will have begun its transformation to a BPEn.

Puneet Suppal is a solution architect for Capgemini, specializing in SAP-centric solutions that enable a service-oriented view of the business. He is one of Capgemini’s key evangelists, propagating solutions that recognize the impact of Web 2.0 and the use of innovative approaches to expedite the realization of SOA-based solutions. He publishes on these topics regularly, and is a frequent presenter at SAP events worldwide. You may contact him at

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