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SOA Success: The Role of Senior Management in Establishing a Business Process Enterprise

by Puneet Suppal

October 1, 2008

Putting business processes — rather than siloed solutions — at the core of your enterprise means preparing employees for change as well. This column offers tips for senior managers who want to build a more business process-oriented company and shows them how to cultivate business process experts — the people who support this transformation.

This article is the second in a series on how to become a more services-oriented, process-focused organization — a Business Process Enterprise (BPEn).

To succeed in establishing an enterprise that thrives on process excellence, organizations must make the most of the flexibility and eff?iciencies that services and enterprise service-oriented architecture (enterprise SOA) offer. Establishing enterprise SOA also requires a new look at the organizational structures and employee competencies that will enable this shift. When this goal becomes a strategic focus, the organization must create an environment that encourages and sustains the work of business process experts (BPXers) — employees who have the skill set to bridge the gap between technical possibilities and bottom-line business process needs.

By creating the proper environment for BPXers, the company takes an important step toward becoming a Business Process Enterprise (BPEn) that thrives on cross-functional processes. But how can an organization prepare its employees to make the shift to a BPEn, whether they are making the move now or are planning to do so in the future? And how do you confront the concerns that employees may have about transitioning to a BPEn?

The onus is on senior management to articulate the case for change and to support the organization through the necessary shifts that this significant transformation involves. Senior management should strongly consider implementing the following five measures, in some shape or form, to prepare their employees for the transition to a BPEn.

1. Assign the Right People as BPXers

Senior management needs to work with the HR department and key functional departments to identify individuals who can be transformed into BPXers and set up a training plan for them. The organization, therefore, begins the shift from a model that relies heavily on specialists characterized by siloed talent to a process-expertise model.

For example, an employee might become the BPXer in charge of the entire procure-to-pay process. While this person must know the IT implications and the industry peculiarities that affect this process, as well as how to model and improve it, it is quite likely that this BPXer is not a programmer. BPXers will demonstrate a healthy mix of business process knowledge, practical experience, and technical knowledge.

2. Realign the Organization

Senior management needs to help realign and possibly re-staff the organization. For example, a traditional organization might be structured around functional areas: finance, procurement, IT, and so on. Typically, each organization will have key individuals contributing their pieces of a process (say, order-to-cash). Often, these individuals are only vaguely familiar with the functions of other departments. When new initiatives begin, these individuals are placed on cross-functional teams that require sharing and collaboration — but upon reaching the immediate goal, these teams are relegated to a secondary spot or even disbanded.

While organizations are increasingly encouraging cross-functional work, the ability to succeed on these cross-functional teams is rarely promoted as a must-have employee attribute. In placing BPXers within processes and focusing on the success of the process (rather than on each functional area), organizations are rearranging to behave constantly and consistently in a cross-functional manner. This shift in mindset is essential for an organization to become a BPEn.

3. Create a Reward Program

Another crucial shift in becoming a BPEn is to implement a suitable performance management program with the aim of rewarding appropriate cross-functional work. In this program, KPIs for BPXers should align not only with effectively completing projects, but also identifying ways that a process-focused outlook can improve projects. For example, some of these measures could be tied to reducing project timelines and the number of failed projects, or to increasing successful user adoption and the number of on-time projects.

4. Ensure Employee Training

Organizations, from senior management down, must take steps to support training. BPXers must make a commitment to training, but too often management fails to actively encourage skill sets and proper certification. For example, if budding BPXers identify key skill sets they should have, it shouldn’t surprise those running the organization’s training programs; they should anticipate training needs and appropriately meet them. Participating in a new project that will fill a knowledge gap for a BPXer is a practical way to further the goal of developing consummate BPXers — don’t make the mistake of seeing a lack of specific functional expertise as an automatic disqualification for joining a project.

5. Support Top-Down Accountability

This aspect can make the difference between success and failure in achieving the nirvana of a BPEn. Accountability, and not responsibility, ought to be the focus of any major transformation initiative; the BPEn initiative is no exception. Someone in the senior leadership team should personally take ownership of this project.

Upper management should clearly communicate the reasons for this change across the organization and how serious they are in ensuring that it succeeds. This top-down accountability also requires that the right leaders down the line feel empowered to perform the nuts-and-bolts work in order to break down the functional silos. Those silos prevent enterprises from optimizing processes across the organization. Again, senior management should take specific steps to support these leaders who will be guiding the changes in the far reaches of the organization.

Change, by necessity, brings some disruption to status quo. While most of this disruption is desirable, it is also common for employees to exhibit passive-aggressive behavior to resist change. Senior management can mitigate this behavior by deploying more intense top-down energy to ensure successful transformation.

The Emerging BPEn

When an enterprise’s senior management has begun a determined approach toward becoming a BPEn and is focused on bringing about the necessary change, a new picture of the organization and its processes will begin to emerge. In this evolving environment, thriving BPXers can model and re-model processes with more agility and can take advantage of SOA-based tools to deliver business value for end users across applications, systems, and technology platforms. Processes will become more efficient, more manageable, and more beneficial to the everyday work of the business, and the work experience will be more rewarding for employees as they recognize the roles and contributions of their colleagues. Eventually, this approach will lead to providing permanent primacy to business processes and, in turn, to building the foundation of enterprise SOA success.

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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