Incrementalizing Business Process Virtualization
How many projects has your IT group started in the past two years but never completed? If you are like most enterprise-sized companies, I'm confident you can name between three and five off the top of your head, with an additional two or three if you gave it some more thought. In looking back on these projects or having conducted a post mortem review the reasons behind the lack of success most likely stemmed from at least one, and possible several, of the following reasons:
Lack of executive management buy-in and/or an executive level champion
Inadequate skill sets to execute the project
Unclear or poorly defined objective
Undefined linkage between the project objective to a business objective
Undefined project milestones
Project team churn
Unclear linkage between the new project and existing processes
Unknown impact of the new project on the overall business
Inadequate infrastructure to support the technical requirements of the new project
Project was too big to execute in a reasonable length of time, leading to abandonment or the plug being pulled
The list could continue, but the point is: poor project planning will consistently lead to project delays and cost overruns, or worse, project failure.
When a firm is considering taking advantage of business process virtualization (BPV), whether that process is related to IT, human resources, transportation, contact centers, web development or any of a host of other processes, planning cannot be emphasized enough.
Nova Amber firmly believes that the most successful process virtualization projects can be broken down into manageable components to execute and measure success within two calendar quarters. These are the milestones established and defined as a firm moves to a completely virtualized process. A collection of these milestones would be the total project and a collection of projects would be what Nova Amber refers in its book titled The Case for Virtual Business Processes as incrementalization.
Incrementalization builds on the successful execution of milestones, providing measurable value and financial gain each step of the way. With incrementalization, the total gains are greater than the sum of the individual parts.
The most successful virtual companies (Jones International University, JetBlue, P&G's Contact Center,etc.) all started their projects with extensive planning. The plan to virtualize, whether directly from conception launch, like Jones International University; or a department, like Proctor and Gamble, must link inextricably to the company's business objectives and board room. This is fundamentally necessary because the success of the virtual firm or department rests squarely on the proper implementation of an intelligent networked infrastructure (INI).
An intelligent networked infrastructure is not an overhaul or forklift upgrade of your firm's computing environment. An INI can be implemented in phases using a number of approaches. It is the phased approach that defines incrementalization.
For example, the most pressing email issue, if you believe the press, is spam. Nova Amber believes it is virus and worm identification and elimination, but either way, business continuity is linked directly to email and email management. This is where the structured business decision model becomes very useful in the planning process. (For more information on structured business decision modeling, visit the Nova Amber web site.)
Many components make up the business continuity arena, including security, storage, user identity and access control, but for the sake of the length of this column, we will focus on email support.
A company can take the approach of outsourcing email to companies like FrontBridge and Postini, using filtering tools designed for inside the company's firewall and administered internally, or using shareware. Each method has its pluses and minuses, which become the variables that influence the selection decision. These variables would be inserted into the decision model, with or without weighting, producing the optimal method of email management for any firm.
Using structured decision modeling, you have come up with the optimal email management solution for your firm, but there is one problem, your firm is 10,000+ employees scattered across five major geographies. This is where incrementalization comes into the picture.
Nova Amber has learned, in its research of the virtual organization, that incrementalization can occur either horizontally or vertically within a firm. As the lead for the email support team, you could elect to implement the selected email strategy either by department within the company, vertically; or roll out the strategy across the different geographies, horizontally. Either way, the firm starts to see immediate benefits in increased business continuity protection and improved revenues.
By building on the selected implementation strategy, with each successful role out, the firm benefits:
By isolating the protected group from spam, viruses and worms that impact the company's on going business activities
Increases productivity with the protected group due to elimination of email related down time
Improves email throughout the company because the first rollouts will be able to identify corrupted email, alerting the sender and email administrator without propagating the problem throughout the company
It is through incrementalization that a firm obtains the most rapid benefits that grow exponentially with each additional rollout. Incrementalization allows a company to take a huge, unruly project and implement in a structured, logical manner. By controlling the project's size, any glitches can be worked out quickly, and the execution process improved for each successive rollout.
As companies move to a virtual environment, Nova Amber highly recommends each step be put through a structured decision model. It is this planning stage that will drive the most value from each phase of the virtualization process.
About the Authors
Martha Young has more than nineteen years of experience in the technology market and is a partner in Nova Amber, LLC, a consulting firm. Martha is the co-author of The Case for Virtual Business Processes, published by Cisco Press. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michael Jude, Ph.D. is a well-known industry analyst with more than twenty years of experience in telecommunications and management automation. Michael is the co-author of The Case for Virtual Business Processes, published by Cisco Press.