A Systems Approach to Business Process Evolution

Kevin G Doyle

Abstract


The "First World" has become an information society, increasing the complexity of management in a business environment which is characterised by complexity, simultaneity, asynchronicity and de-centralisation. In this world, information systems are no longer simply an adjunct to business, but are at its heart; automating, informating, virtualizing and transforming organisations and work, social groups and human interaction. In this environment one might expect that business managers would readily see the value of, and hence adopt, the use of systems methods. However, managers have largely ignored the systems sciences, preferring instead to adopt a series of seemingly endless management "fads," including Business Process Re-engineering (BPR) and Total Quality Management (TQM). These "fads" are more attractive to practising managers than systems methodologies because they are more easily "sold" as supportive of the pragmatic mind-set. Management take-up of "fads" stems largely from the fact that; "What men really want is not knowledge but certainty".

However, human activity systems are complex, self-regulating and adaptive, and so too must be the systems by which change is planned and managed. Self-generated and self-organised evolutionary change processes can enable systems to adapt, evolve and improve as circumstances, perceptions and requirements change. For successful business process evolution (BPE), the consideration of change and its effects must frequently be analysed and interpreted at more than a single level and in more than a single dimension, often in many (interleaved) cycles of exploration, understanding and change.

Developing a shared appreciation among a coalition of organisational stakeholders of "the best way forward" generally fosters and enables improvement in complex organisational systems. Such a shared appreciation can benefit from a framework that promotes and supports teamwork, synergy, mutual understanding and conflict resolution, in order to support a fusion of horizons.

Organisational effectiveness is difficult to define, often unknown and generally a moving target.  BPE, therefore, must be underpinned by the recognition that there may be many different, and equally valid, views of what might constitute "organisational improvement" and how such "improvement" might be sought. In order to achieve an agreement over desirable, feasible and beneficial change, BPE must somehow address this complex set of pluralist positions. It must also seek incremental improvement through learning, negotiation and compromise while recognising the importance of IT, IS and IM as integral parts of the broader business system. In the Information Economy, BPE must also support a variety of technologies, tools, techniques and approaches from the domains of Business Analysis and Information Systems, to support exploration, understanding and change, using principles of method from both the hard and the soft paradigms. 

This paper sets out an evolutionary approach to organisational change; especially change involving information systems.

The approach described is founded upon the collaboration of people involved in the area of concern; a process of critical enquiry; a focus on social practice; and a deliberate process of reflective learning. The approach is systemic in nature, systematic in its coverage and pragmatic in its application, allowing a balance to be struck between creativity and control. Focusing on enabling systems, rather than on methodical phases, it views organisational change as systems based, rather than project based and recognises that change must necessarily be planned for and managed, but should be systemic rather than formulaic.


Keywords


business process evolution; systems design

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