Business Processes – an overview of current research

Focus on the process – rather than on the product – is what sets business processes (BPs) apart from most other management techniques. Anna Sidorova (College of Business, University of North Texas) and Öykü Isik (Operations and Technology Management, Vlerick Business School) have studied academic research literature to find out which aspects of BPs have been studied so far, by which academic disciplines, and in relation to which other organisational activities, if any. Their findings have been published in a paper titled ‘Business process research: a cross-disciplinary review’ in Business Process Management Journal.

The goal of a Business Process is to achieve a business objective by following a fixed order of steps to turn input into output. The outcome of this process creates value for a company more efficiently than previous processes. Compared to other management techniques, business processes increase competitiveness by:

  • increasing efficiency,
  • enabling quick reaction to changing environments,
  • offering superior value to customers

Key BP Elements

In their paper, the authors suggest that business process research can be divided into core research and applied research. The core research investigates the design, implementation and management of business processes, as well as the technologies used for BP implementation and management.

  • Design
    Designing a business process hinges on analysing the company’s business goals. Once this analysis has been performed, a process can be developed to achieve the business goals in the most efficient manner.
  • Implementation through technology
    Business processes can only be managed efficiently when they can rely on adequate technological backup. Advances in IT – including Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Service-oriented architecture (SOA) and web services – provide managers with a wider range of options when designing, implementing and managing BPs. 
  • Implementation through organisational actions
    Analysing the reasons for success or failure in BP implementation can highlight what management needs to provide or foster to implement BPs successfully. Research has identified several key aspects that make or break BP initiatives, including: organisational structure, interdepartmental communication, change & project management skills, support from management, and IT and technological backup. 
  • Management
    Once BPs have been designed and implemented, they require day-to-day monitoring to maintain continuous improvement. Six sigma is a method for managing the quality of a process. The method originated in manufacturing, but its adoption has spread and the concept is now widely embraced in, for example, sales and purchasing.

Careful design does not guarantee success, however, when it does not account for the factors needed to implement or manage the BP, or when it fails to integrate technology adequately. Likewise, implementation or management will fail to reach the design’s full potential if the analysis of the business goal and the design logic behind the various steps of the BP are not taken into account.

A Holistic Approach for Better Understanding and Adoption

Applied BP research highlights how BP management is related to other organisational areas and initiatives, including Supply Chain Management, Performance Management, Knowledge Management, etc. This in turn underscores the importance of a holistic approach to managing various organisational initiatives. Such a holistic approach can yield synergies for managers as they identify best practices and compare procedures used for different initiatives.

Related article

Anna Sidorova and Öykü Isik, Business Process Management Journal, Vol. 16 (4) 2010.

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