Chief Process Officer revisited

A while back, I read a post by Phil Gilbert (CTO of Lombardi) on his blog about the position of Chief Process Officer. Although he joked (I think) that the term sounds somewhat Orwellian, he rightly points out in this increasing complex world, the process is becoming the business, and that every business needs someone — the CPO — to focus on making this transition to a process-based organization.

About a week ago, I saw this CSC white paper From CIO to CPO via BPM by Howard Smith (co-author of BPM – The Third Wave with Peter Fingar), which opens with:

The prediciton that the CIO’s job will evolve into managing business processes — not just technology — is not new. What is new is the state of process technology. It has reached a point where it is about to go mainstream.

(Note that normally I don’t bother to quote from PDF files that have such an overabundance of DRM wrapped around them that they disallow copying text, and force me to retype a few sentences to reference, since I know that they’re not all about sharing the information anyway. Even Gartner doesn’t do that.)

It’s a rather thinly-veiled CSC promotional piece, and a bit academic and long, but there are some interesting points. First, he makes the point that BPM can fit in a lot of places. He uses an ERP orchestration example, which is really just a subset of the entire SOA/orchestration integration picture that BPM helps to pull together. I believe that too many organizations still think locally when they’re buying BPM initially, and end up with departmental systems that don’t have the legs for the enterprise needs; Smith talks about some situations where BPM can replace ERP (which even I think is a bit radical).

He has a great sidebar called “Distortion of BPM by the IT Industry” (page 24) that I completely agree with, about how any vendor who had anything to do with process suddenly relabeled themselves as BPM. I teach a seminar on BPM called Making BPM Mean Business, and I spend what must seem like an inordinate amount of time on this exact subject, looking at how all of these disparate technologies came to be called by the same name.

Ultimately, Smith’s white paper says almost nothing about the role of a CPO. Is this a new role for the CIO? Or, as some others believe, is this a business-based role (rather than a technology-based role) that works in tandem with the CIO to effect process change across the organization? Or something that lies in between IT and business, much like the postion for the enterprise architect that I discussed back in this post? Organizations have been using this title internally now for a few years, and I’m sure that it will take a few more for there to be any sort of agreement on what a CPO really is, and does.

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