Guest Column | March 19, 2012

A Question Of Faith: Must You Always Reengineer Before Automating?

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By David Buttgereit, senior partner, The BPM Group

It seems cliché that all manual or semi-automated business processes must be reengineered before they are automated using Electronic Content Management (ECM) workflow technologies. Some individuals associated with such processes now ask these questions: Is reengineering an absolute necessity, or is it simply a habit that we've bought into based on faith? Is it possible that re-engineering, at times, is counterproductive to the overall work system? If so, when should we consider re-engineering, and when should we postpone or even reject the process?

Regardless of whether one subscribes to the holistic Business Process Management (BPM) approach – one that focuses on high-level reengineering activities before initially aligning an entire organization with the wants and needs of clients and customers – or the pragmatic Business Process Automation (BPA) approach – one that focuses on immediate automation as a prelude to re-engineering – one assumption holds true for both. To take best advantage of ECM workflow technologies, these approaches require business process reengineering at some point in time.

The question is this one: When should the re-engineering be implemented for specific business processes, if at all? Consider these facts: The strategic BPM approach typically seeks continuous improvements to reengineering systems in a never-ending process optimization cycle. Certainly this approach has driven greatly enhanced productivity and efficiencies for many critical and high-value systems. The complementary but independent and tactical BPA approach also embraces continuous improvement with process improvement models such as Lean, Agile, and Six-Sigma fitting nicely.

Indeed, one can easily envision a scenario where strategy is defined using BPM, automation is tactically refined using BPA, and specific automation projects adhere to traditional Waterfall, Lean, Agile, or Six-Sigma tenets. The re-engineering truism will typically come into play somewhere along this continuum, without fail and without question.

However, there are several considerations to think about regarding whether reengineering is required for semi-automated subsystems.

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