Information Management: The Organizational Dimension

By Michael J. Earl | Go to book overview

4 Business Process Reengineering: A Phenomenon of Organization

MICHAEL J. EARL


Introduction

Business Process Reengineering (BPR) is the latest management recipe being offered for the survival of Western businesses. Also known as Business Process Redesign, Process Innovation, and various combinations of these keywords, it has become the subject of best-selling books, a new practice area (sometimes trademarked) for consultants, a phenomenon upon which most business academics feel they should have a view, and a growing endeavour in many companies. The protagonists seem convinced that it is a new approach to improving business performance even if it may be a synthesis of recent and not-so-recent ideas. The cynics feel that they have seen it before in different guises and stress the apparent naïvety of some of the component concepts. Meanwhile some companies claim that 'it has worked for them', even if some did not realize it was BPR they were practising!

In this chapter BPR is 'deconstructed' into six elements and, as argued in an earlier paper ( Earl and Khan 1994), three are seen as 'new' thinking and three as 'old'. This provides a visual model (Fig. 4.1) of two domains and a structure for this paper. However, one element in each domain is seen as the key to understanding BPR and assessing its viability. In the 'new' domain it is argued that process is the distinctive conceptual contribution or breakthrough offered by BPR. In the 'old' domain change management is seen as the element which makes or breaks BPR projects in practice.

So why is Business Process Reengineering dubbed 'a phenomenon of organization' in the title of the chapter? First, it is argued that process is a concept of organizational design. There are several attributes of process, but they are essentially ways of conceiving organization or indeed of organizing. Secondly, it should be clear that change management rests on an understanding of organizational behaviour and on practising many of the principles and skills of that subject area. In at least two senses, therefore, 'reengineering' is an unfortunate title: it does not reflect the complex,

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