Rome was not reinvented in a day. Your enterprise business processes won’t turn around overnight either. You’ll need to re-engineer processes while you continue to run an ongoing business concern — albeit one with many buried layers, some splendid ruins, and many construction projects that cause never-ending traffic snarls.

Business process optimization is not a project you can deliver in a fortnight, nor is it a specific architecture or business model. Rather, it’s an ongoing program under which you implement various transformative technical projects in order to enable greater agility, efficiency, and effectiveness throughout key processes.

What are the key components of a business process optimization program? Forrester recommends that you establish an ongoing initiative that involves all business stakeholders, at all levels in the organization. Just as important, you will need to establish tight collaboration between business stakeholders and the myriad change agents, business architects, process architects, business analysts, data stewards, and analytics professionals upon which the success of your optimization efforts depends.

Enterprises should establish cross-functional programs under which to prioritize business process optimization projects around the following key pillars:

  • Select process partners. After reviewing your situation and resources, you may decide you lack the requisite internal resources to handle the planning, design, infrastructure, training, monitoring, and other key functions to establish and maintain an ongoing process optimization program. In such a case, you would need to call in professional services, consulting, outsourcing, and best practice partners to bootstrap your internal process program.
  • Establish process methodologies. If you’re like most business people, you’ve been exposed to a dizzying range of process methodologies, which often depend on which consultants you’ve worked with, which management books your CEO is in love with, which disciplines your process partners have made the centerpiece of their practices, and what’s embedded in the design of your process applications. Establishing a consistent internal practice means that you will need to investigate the pros and cons of Agile, Six Sigma, and other strategic management disciplines in today’s business world — or craft a hybrid or new approach tailored to your company’s specific needs.
  • Implement process platforms. Without an Agile business process platform, you will soon find your optimization efforts stalling from a surfeit of siloed application orchestration and human workflow platforms. Your program depends critically on selecting the right business process management (BPM) platform to support agility. One good place to look for guidance on making this choice is the recent The Forrester Wave™: Business Process Management Suites, Q3 2010, authored by Clay Richardson. Don’t stop there, of course. Your Agile process platform should integrate BPM with Agile business intelligence(BI) to drive flexible decision making. Your Agile process platform should also incorporate other key data analytics infrastructure for enterprise data warehousing (EDW), data quality (DQ), master data management (MDM), metadata management, complex event processing, business rules engine (BRE), predictive analytics, data mining, content analytics, and business activity monitoring (BAM). All of these process platform components should work together to drive optimized “next best action” recommendations into all business processes. Driving next best actions into business processes is a continuing program to make the technology pervasive and evolve the predictive logic and business rules that drive inline recommendations.
  • Leverage process accelerators. Often enterprises implement process best practices through data analytics “accelerators” — application-specific metadata, data schemas, reports, dashboards, calculations, and other content — that are prepackaged with commercial process platforms. This will save you from having to reinvent from scratch the process best practices associated with your vertical industry (such as telecom, retailing, or financial services) or with your horizontal business process (such as customer service, marketing, sales, finance, HR, and logistics). Alternately, you may rely on system integrators and other process partners to customize these accelerators for your needs. As your business process optimization program continues, you may find the need to update these process accelerators periodically to keep up with changing best practices.
  • Deploy process applications. The very heart of many business processes are customer relationship management (CRM), enterprise resource planning (ERP), financial management, human capital management, case management, and other packaged applications. Of course, Forrester offers ample guidance in selecting these application suites, implementing them, and leveraging them for maximum business advantage in an ongoing process optimization program.

In your Agile business initiatives, you’ll find that data analytics provides the key ingredient that helps you define what optimization means at every step of every process. You will need to infuse a steady stream of insights from BI and advanced analytics into every process, driving both human and automated decisions. You will need to power processes from the trustworthy data that only a comprehensive DQ, MDM, and data governance program can provide.

Clearly, you need comprehensive data analytics to take your Agile process programs to the next step in maturity and pervasiveness throughout your enterprise and value chain. Fortunately, you don’t need to discard your investments in BI, EDW, or any other enabling infrastructure to realize this vision. What you will need to do is achieve consensus across stakeholders that this is a practical vision. You can indeed move in this direction if you structure it as a program of prioritized, incremental, tactical projects with clear payoffs.

In that way, you’ll be steering your process improvement programs away from the boil-the-ocean scenario, in which any effort to improve agility spins its wheels in eternal scope creep and integration gridlock.