Process On The Fly #4 – String of Silos

An end-to-end perspective across departments, across applications and even across companies is within reach. Business Process Management provides the options to break down the barriers between business and IT silos without the need to reconstruct the silos themselves. After all: Silos are good, if you use them for the right purposes. A flexible, BPM-based layer on top of packaged solutions or homegrown applications quickly brings true business agility and better insights, but without disturbing the stable assets that are captured in the underlying core systems.

Don’t fly too low or solo through a Silo!

Business processes are literally devastated when multiple applications are tightly coupled to multiple applications via each low-level application-specific API and data model; it drives unnecessary complexity into your organization’s integration layer resulting in unnecessary duplication of effort across teams.

Who’s afraid of the Big Bad Silo? The CIO apparently

Silos are not always bad as they provide a level of secure distributed processing akin to ‘logic firewalls.’ Despite this benefit (perhaps due to a history of ERP consolidation), the modern CIO still suffers from OIS (Obsessive Integration Syndrome), which is further compounded by the illusion that centralization is more cost effective than the new cloud-enabled distributed processing model.

This ailment is serious and requires treatment that comes in the form of a concoction of BPM, MDM and SOA psychology that should be administered liberally to all disillusioned areas of your IT function.

Treating the ailing CIO with ‘String Theory’

So, relax as we are not delving into advanced physics here (although solving this issue may warp your own personal space-time-continuum!). Rather, it’s an approach where application-driven integration is replaced by process-driven outcomes against a ‘string quartet’ of processes, rules, data and application silos.

In short, if we attempt to push process re-engineering efforts from the application layer, the rules and related data foundations are too specific to the underlying systems (APIs); hence our corresponding logic is unlikely to be reusable.

Our string folds under this pressure as we need to expend enormous effort on low-level integration, which in turn means that our new processes not only lack the intended business agility but, in a bitter twist of irony, actually make the situation worse.

Like a puppet on a string – Leverage your silos

In the infamous words of the Sandie Shaw ’60s hit song, and for 55% of respondents in our recent Global Business Process Management report, it seems our lack of ‘collaboration culture’ (with technology at a ‘tipping point’) is the main barrier to success. We therefore need to accept and align our efforts across our organizational barriers like the proverbial ‘puppets on a string.’

If we start from a common business outcome, then pull only the required processes, rules and information from an interlinked event perspective, we are more likely to align lines of business and existing ‘disconnected’ projects to our ‘embrace not replace’ cause.

We ensure the string holds as we have built our process and rules in the context of the business outcome and, although we may still have underlying application silos, we are both leveraging these assets and gradually increasing business agility over time.

Ensuring your future BPM investment is not money for old rope

So, how do we save our CIO from further suffering in his quest for process transformation?
1) Focus on common business pain and scope tightly

Prioritize an issue that impacts multiple core processes and spans political boundaries. Get a C-level sponsor (the CEO works!) to align key stakeholders towards a ‘shared benefit’ model unlocking departmental budgets, reducing duplicitous project effort and, finally, smoothing unnecessary resistance to the change being implemented.
2) Institutionalize an outcome-orientated approach

Ensure that the scope of your project is constrained to just the processes, rules and information that are essential to deliver the business outcome. At each process iteration (or ‘shade’), ensure you monitor your progression accurately without deviation.
3) Simplify and standardize but do not integrate unnecessarily
Ensure that you embrace concepts such as ‘Process is the New App’ and ‘Data Apart Together’ to wrap your applications silos within an insulated agility layer of standard data, services and rules that are event-centric rather than system-centric in nature.

Finally, don’t forget that when it comes to effective use of silos in your BPM program, ‘You can pull a string and it holds, but if you push it, it folds!’

This contribution by Simon James Gratton  

Part of Capgemini’s TechnoVision 2014 update series. See the overview here.