SABMiller case study: Aligning business and IT

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In an era of disruptive technologies and pervasive business intelligence, one of the biggest organisational pressure points lies in the development of innovative processes.

Showcasing a practical, real-world example of innovation, SABMiller and triVector have demonstrated how business process management (BPM) can engender business performance breakthroughs, thereby driving change.

One of the major challenges in the corporate world is to ensure that information technology (IT) design documentation is workable and remains dynamic, facilitating business and process flow.

IT has a definitive purpose to enable proper communication between business functionalities, which is largely dependent on the alignment of structures and business process flows.

"Too often, extensive hours are spent designing business processes and workflows, which are documented and signed off by management, but never get implemented and aligned with IT systems. This documentation generally gets archived, dying a sudden death and leaving the organisation where it was or worse off than before," says Fleur Morris, global design authority tools and methodology lead for Project Triumph at SABMiller.

It was this realisation that led SABMiller to consider a BPM approach as part of its Global Project. Upon investigation, the company realised that this problem often occurred due to a gap in terms of understanding between what is documented, the interpretation of design and process flow, and IT requirements to ensure system implementation thereof.

"Traditionally, business is very much business-focused and IT is very much technology-focused. The tools to align the two are few and far between, and where they exist, there is often a lack of understanding in how to marry them," Morris explains.

SABMiller realised that to maximise value, it would have to create "one version of the truth", a common language. To do this, it would have to merge "business speak with IT speak". On top of this, design documentation would have to be working documents, being live and dynamic for everyone to understand and use in real time.

The strategy underpinning the BPM approach aimed to get business and IT involved simultaneously in the design of business processes and the documentation of information. Including IT in the building of repositories and usage of the information created a better understanding of business requirements.

Morris notes that IT became an independent check and self-correcting tool in the business process, improving accuracy and the reliability of information.

The BPM team focused on alignment between business and IT through continuous liaison around specific needs and requirements. Repositories now comprise the common language. IT feedback information is utilised to correct gaps in process flows. Questions from IT are used to address and improve process flow designs, and "IT speak" has become part of process flow methodology.

This alignment, Morris says, "ensures that reports are functional and relevant for both business and IT". Facilitating the process, the IT department was structured according to business structures and accountability was assigned in the same way.

With business architecture and business processes positioned at the core, the success of BPM as part of the Global Project could be ascribed to technology expertise and the use of appropriate business process modelling tools.

As a specialist in the field, triVector contributed through BPM and the application of appropriate tools. Utilising a repository-based BPM tool enabled the reuse of objects and created relationships between the business processes and the enabling IT functionality.

"We used appropriate technologies that are easy to customise and produce user-friendly information and reports, which are vital for the success and sustainability of such a project," says Dina Jacobs, CEO of triVector.

"This allows business and IT access to relevant information, resulting in the evaluation of the correctness and completeness of the information, which fosters continuous improvement."

Not only was the objective of the strategy local - to align business and IT - the scope of the solution was to offer a workable model that could be rolled out to address similar problems at a country and global level.

"We needed the model to be multidimensional, not only focusing on aligning 'business and IT speak', but solving typical issues within a multidimensional scope. As business processes are at the core of the solution, business structures (including IT structures) with multidimensional touch-points needed to be mapped and a common language was required to ensure proper communication," says Morris.

There are a number of critical factors that ensured success and sustainability of this project, which took approximately 18 months to fully implement. It is pertinent that responsibility was assigned to individuals that were held accountable.

The testing team within the IT department could immediately see the benefits of using the information, which in turn generated more questions that led to gaps being closed. What SABMiller found was that the more people started to use information, the more questions were asked, which improved the accuracy and reliability of the information.

"We soon realised that business models and business processes can always be improved. To ensure continuous improvement, information must be tracked and applied from both sides and questions must be consistently raised," Morris adds.

"Our business processes have become the master of many IT deliverables, which at the same time has improved the reliability of IT information. This has led to improved productivity. Documentation can be generated in a customised format from repositories, and substantial time has been saved, "says Morris.

"In the past, IT did their own thing. Now, using business processes as a basis, through role-mapping and the reuse of objects, IT can easily assign transaction codes where it is required.

"It was the blend of people within the SABMiller and triVector teams that made a difference. Each team member came with a different skills set and contributed to the success of business process management in the project context," he adds.

"Through the pivotal role of BPM in aligning business and IT, the project has established a sustainable BPM methodology that assists SABMiller to manage the 'single truth' across the application life cycle. Process documentation with reliable information can be generated quickly. This way of working enables quick changes with all the necessary information updated immediately," Jacobs concludes.

Attend the ITWeb BPM Summit, where Morris will present the SABMiller case study, titled "How business process modelling can become the cornerstone/foundation of the IT ALM (asset life cycle management) process". For more information about this event, click here.

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