Sales and marketing. Customer satisfaction and quality. New products and offers. Global logistics.
The specific process names might vary, but the patterns never do.
And if you're a progressive IT leader looking for new opportunities to introduce change into the landscape, I'm going to argue that the people leading these initiatives are your new best friends.
As we contemplate IT transformation in all its forms -- cloud, big data, trust, mobility, etc. -- the new business process owner is turning out to be the key actor in driving meaningful and substantive change.
While many IT groups are arguably heroes for what they've accomplished, when I go digging deeper, I often discover that their stories wouldn't exist unless a key leader (usually a business process owner) is willing to sponsor -- and drive -- meaningful change in how IT is used.
For those of us who are passionate about IT transformation, our ability to identify and rally around these new business process owners is proving to be an essential skill indeed.
Functional Leaders Vs. Cross-Functional Business Process Owners
It might be easy to fall into what I've started to call the "organizational leadership trap". You look at the org chart, and you see the familiar heads of state: head of sales, head of marketing, head of engineering, head of customer services, head of finance, manufacturing, HR et. al.
While each of these functional leaders are clearly important -- and most likely have many self-contained business processes that they'd like to get better at -- that's not where the real corporate prize lies.
No, I've found that the really meaningful business processes -- and the ones most likely to initiate substantial change -- are the ones that involve process integration across two or more functional silos.
And they can be everywhere when you go looking for them.
Sales, for example, must rely on manufacturing, marketing, customer service and finance. Product engineering depends on sales, marketing and customer service. Customer service and quality depends on all other disciplines, and so on. No organization is an island, when it comes to new business processes that really move the needle.
A senior leader is appointed to own the process reengineering on behalf of the entire organization. A cross-functional team is then assembled with empowered stakeholders from all involved disciplines.
And, if conditions are right, forward progress is made on things that really matter.
Look inside any well-managed, dynamic organization and you'll likely find several of these cross-functional business process reengineering teams at different lifecycle stages -- some just forming, some well along, others who are declaring victory (or sometimes defeat) and moving on.
Much like a gravity well will draw in any nearby matter, these process teams are "change wells" -- they can draw in new ideas and new ways of thinking about things. And for progressive IT leaders looking to accelerate change in their own organizations, they're turning out to be an extremely important class of internal customer.
What's The IT Connection?
At a conceptual level, it's not that difficult to appreciate: new, important cross-functional business processes will inevitably require information to be used in new ways: captured, processed and consumed.
There's usually not much legacy in place that has to be migrated forward.
Very often, there's a well-established business case as to why the new investment is required -- conveniently constructed and advocated by the cross-functional business process team.
And, of course, there's usually a strong motivation by all involved to strongly consider new ways of doing things vs. simply perpetuating established tradition.
Think new applications, new tools, new delivery methods, new consumption platforms -- with a strong bias towards speed and agility. Put differently, well-developed cross-functional business initiatives are turning out to be excellent anchor tenants for newer forms of IT service delivery.
Examples Are Everywhere ... If You Know Where To Look
Want to change the way you design and develop new products? You're probably talking new forms of collaboration as well as self-service IT environments for key knowledge workers.
Want to change the way you reach and engage your customers? There's probably mobility and social involved, not to mention new platforms that produce content and measure how they're being consumed.
Want to take quality and customer satisfaction to a whole new level? It's hard for me to imagine anyone getting good at that without a pronounced investment in making analytical data easier to experiment with.
Note that these are popular examples of cross-functional business processes that stakeholders get very excited about. Note that these process leaders are frequently being groomed for additional executive responsibilities. Also please note that each of these (as well as other examples) frequently involve a healthy dose of new IT thinking and capabilities.
The Organizational Change Management View
So many IT leaders I meet these days are deadly serious on re-tooling their organizations to look more like competitive service providers, and less like traditional IT shops.
But there's only so much they can do on the supply side before they must partner closely with individual business stakeholders who are demanding better answers to business problems.
Six months ago, I didn't have a good framework around exactly *who* you might want to target on the business side -- but now I have one.
When I go looking using this filter, I can often find multiple examples of aggressive business leaders who are very passionate about doing things in new ways, especially in those organizations that are thriving in particularly competitive environments (like EMC!).
Change agents can help each other in powerful ways.
Especially when the partnership spans the all-too-familiar IT-business divide.