BPM Milan: Managing Process Variability and Compliance

We finished the day with a panel on Managing Process Variability and Compliance in the Enterprise – An Opportunity Not To Be Missed, or a Fools Errand? This was moderated by Heiko Ludwig & Chris Ward of IBM Research, and included Manfred Reichert, University of Ulm, Schahram Dustdar of Vienna University of Technology, Jyoti Bhat of Infosys, and Claudio Bartolini of HP.

Any multinational company ends up with tools and business processes that are specific to each region or country, adopted typically to respond to the local regulatory environment. This presents challenges in establishing enterprise-wide best practices, process standardization and compliance: the issue is to either establish compliance, or accept and manage variability.

The consensus seems to be “it depends”: compliance provides better auditability on high-value processes, whereas variability provides benefits for processes that need to be highly flexible and agile, and you may not be able to apply the same principles across all business processes. It’s only possible to enforce enterprise-wide process compliance when there is a vital business need; it’s not something to be taken on lightly, since it will almost certainly decrease process agility, which will not have the support of regional management. Even with “compliant” processes, there will be variability across regions, particularly those greatly different in size; compliance may then be defined in terms of certain milestones and quality standards being met rather than a step-by-step identical process.

The panel was run in my least favorite form, namely serial individual presentations (which were fairly repetitive), followed by direct questions from the moderator to each of the panelists. Very little interaction between panelists, no fisticuffs, and not enough stimulating conversation.

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