The Process-Centric Company and the Value of BP Frameworks

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Ken Orr is the founder and chief scientist for The Ken Orr Institute, a business technology research organization. He is an internationally known and recognized expert on technology transfer, software engineering, information architecture, and data warehousing.

According to Orr, improving business processes is essential for all enterprises. Business processes are not that hard to conceive of, but they are very hard to manage in the real world and especially hard for big organizations. The trick is to create truly executable business models so that BP can be made to work. Business processes need to be integrated with the rest of the enterprise architectures. Good models are important, because they help people visualize new directions and procedures such as BPM. If you can't communicate the vision, people won't get it. Orr said having a one-page visual model is the best way to communicate this information. Visual models are important. They have to describe two concepts: the business processes, which is the understanding of what is needed from a business standpoint, and the Enterprise Architecture, which is understanding what now exists in IT. Collaboration between the two gives the understanding of how to deliver the results.

Orr listed five models:

  • Benson and Parker's Square Wheel
  • Porter's Business Value Chain
  • Rummler and Brache's Enterprise Feedback Model
  • Nolan's S-curves
  • Orr's Information Technology Architecture

Orr said that the Information Technology Model developed in the late 90s to describe technology architecture has proved useful in describing the complexity of technology options to management. On his PowerPoint, Orr showed several dozen slides of how these models look.

Enterprise Architecture, the IT side of an organization, is always expanding. There are hundreds of applications with thousands of databases using more than 250 different technologies with more on the way all the time. And the older stuff never goes away completely. So changes in EA are difficult and expensive, and take a long time to implement.

According to Orr, collaboration is the key to what he calls, "Liberation Technology." IT has to provide technology everywhere to everyone. When it is done right, it is indeed liberating.

Turning all of this into business processes that truly make the work easier, faster, and with more and better information is the promise of BPM. The reason it is difficult for large organizations is that BP is not intuitive and runs against existing organizational bias. Yet, it is still the key to business improvement, quality improvement, and leveraging technology. Orr agreed with Rummler and Brache's supposition that most managers do not understand their business. They don't understand in a detailed way, how their companies develop, make, and sell products. They have a flawed view of their own organizations. But the basics are fairly simple. There is a main process and there are inputs, outputs, and outcomes to this process. In order to clean and simplify what the organization does, it is necessary to get a good picture of the mainline process and how everything feeds into and out of it. Once the picture is complete, the organization can begin to clean it up.

A common mistake is trying to automate existing processes without completely understanding how they fit into the main process. Another is nano-management, which insures the big picture will never be seen.

The new generation of applications includes process model-driven architecture and data-centric not document-centric applications. Orr predicts that business process will drive more and more initiatives. Organizations will be purchasing processes rather than software suites. But, as always, tying workflow to data will be the most common problem.

Ken Orr recently spoke on this topic at BrainStorm's Business Process Management Conference in New York. For more information on this conference, visit


Jon Huntress

Special Events Correspondent


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