As we know, companies are expecting more value-added contributions from CIOs than ever. Meeting these expectations doesn't have to mean reinventing the wheel. They needn't overthink how they can metamorphose into strategy gurus as thoughts of being replaced taunt them from the far reaches of their consciousness. In fact, in many ways, opportunities to demonstrate strategic leadership exist in their current organizations, according to a feature in the new issue of PricewaterhouseCoopers's quarterly journal, Technology Forecast. By recognizing the deficiencies in practices that have long been taken for granted and introducing a new value-creating framework, IT chiefs can reinvent not only the way their organizations do business; they can recreate their own roles and how they are perceived.
The management of the end-to-end process, the subject of the article "CIO can mean more than a transaction wizard" by Vinod Baya and Galen Gruman is an example, According to PwC, there are three types of processes in the end-to-end process. First is the transactional process, which comprises tangible, quantifiable, and often routine activities, e.g. tasks like placing, shipping, or delivering an order or booking a flight. In orchestrational processes, flow of information and decisions inform predefined and structured tasks - customer service, for example, or claims processing. The third process is the creative component of the end-to-end process. By nature it's the least tangible and highly variable. After all, there are no routines to govern activities such as business development or R&D and innovation.
Of the three component processes of the end-to-end process, the transactional has historically been the main beneficiary of technology. This makes sense in that transactions are critical to the running of the business, and technology can make the process efficient and results in consistent and predictable results, which in turn result in customer satisfaction.
All good things, to be sure. Yet Baya and Gruman contend that at most companies transactional process get most of the technology focus at the expense of the other two processes. This is unfortunate because the transactional component usually account for a quarter of the entire business process, tops.
With orchestrational and creative processes, by contrast, what little technological tools they do get tend to be hit-or-miss and rarely the result of a deliberate plan for technology support. Yet these are the processes where it gets interesting. This is where CIOs can truly act as strategic thinkers who can effect company growth and increased value.
Here's the thing: it's pretty straightforward to apply technology to transactions. That's what makes the process so consistent: technology automates many of its activities. (The authors suggest that focusing on technology for transactional activities is "low-hanging fruit.") On the other hand, the orchestrational and, especially, the creative processes, are much harder to develop technology tools for because human activity is a feature of these processes. What kind of technology would augment the work of lawyers, architects, investment managers, and the like - people who rely chiefly on their experience and intellect to generate ideas? This may be why the tech support these professionals do get are mainly to help in execution.
The answer, say Baya and Gruman, is meta-process management, which lets a CIO harness three technologies to effect continuous improvement through the end-to-end process. You may be familiar with them yourself: digital asset metadata, collaboration and content management systems (CCMS), and business process management systems (BPMS). This trio of technologies enables communication and workflow between the orchestrational and creative processes - the two processes with more of that human activity that creates the high level of variability. While you probably can't make technology that improves creative thinking and idea generation, the clever alternative is to leverage the variability of orchestrational and creative processes. CCMS BPMS, and smart digital assets can make the variability of the activies visible, making way for increased interaction among the three processes.
What's important to understand about CCMS, BPMS and digital asset metadata is that while each delivers notable benefits on its own, used together as a system their combined power is more than the sum of their parts. That is together they provide a framework for improvement across all three functions of the end-to-end process. BPMS in particular makes process logic visible enabling collaboration and working directly with the processes. For the orchestrational and creative processes this is a critical benefit. By working directly with other processes they become more agile in roles with such built-in variability from anything from competition to customer retention that success requires the human activity must be nimble enough to respond to the changes that will surely arise.
This post isn't about meta-process managent 101. Returning to my original point that CIOs can find opportunities to show a new, value-creating side to them right in their own organizations - and even in areas that have enjoyed status quo for many years. Baya and Gruman propose the CIO as "the only option." ("If not the CIO, who?" they ask.) The CIO is in the perfect position to lead end-to-end process innovation: the IT chief has the unique ability to see the organization as a whole, across departments rather than in individual departments or groups. Moreover, contend the authors, the CIO also possesses the tools (it's IT after all) and the necessary access to the process to the extent that IT is integrated into the process. Let's not forget CIOs have applied much of this experience and access in improving the transactional process.
Baya and Gruman are aware that their nomination of the CIO as the head role in meta-process management might be ill-received by a number or dissenters, including CIOs themselves, many of whom do not include such a role in their career aspirations. To the naysayers the authors say simply, "But someone must lead."
The main reason technology has kept its distance from orchestrational and creative processes is that they're not sure how to manage human-driven (not automated) processes. Yet even human-based work can be enhanced by technology. How their processes can harness IT's considerable capabilities is for the CIO to answer. Perhaps it seems a daunting challenge to make technology improve human-driven work. The question for the CIO is, Can you come up with a value-adding solution, or are you intimidated?
I believe this is one litmus test for CIO greatness. The correct answer of course is yes; you have the creativity, the vision, and the resources. You also understand that being a true leader sometimes means taking charge when no one else wants to.
As for leading meta-process management specifically, this could be that momen6t for you, CIOs. If you succeed in this role, y0u could become the innovation-officer equivalent of a unicorn. As Baya and Gruman put it , "the CIO can become the value-add [senior officer] that many companies yearn for."
So ask yourself this: Are you the CIO who is so put out by the prospect of using technology to improve human-activity-based work that you will hope your boss doesn't bring it up? Or are you the CIO who is destined to be the object of employer yearning?