Business Process Redesign: An Overview

© Copyright, 1998, Yogesh Malhotra, Ph.D., All Rights Reserved
E-Mail: Contact Us

Reference citation for this document is given below:
Malhotra, Yogesh. "Business Process Redesign: An Overview," IEEE Engineering Management Review, vol. 26, no. 3, Fall 1998. (URL:
This article may be printed as a paper copy for non-profit, non-commercial, academic or educational use provided no alterations are made and the copyright notice is maintained intact.
Any other use requires a written preapproval from Contact Us

Related Articles and Links
[How to Progress Beyond TQM and BPR with Knowledge Management]
[More Related Articles in the Online Book on Knowledge Management]
[Related Resources on Business Process Reengineering & Innovation]
[Related Resources on Knowledge Management and Innovation]

What is Business Process Redesign?

Business Process Redesign is "the analysis and design of workflows and processes within and between organizations" (Davenport & Short 1990). Teng et al. (1994) define BPR as "the critical analysis and radical redesign of existing business processes to achieve breakthrough improvements in performance measures."

How Does BPR Differ from TQM?

Teng et al. (1994) note that in recent years, increased attention to business processes is largely due to the TQM (Total Quality Movement). They conclude that TQM and BPR share a cross-functional orientation. Davenport observed that quality specialists tend to focus on incremental change and gradual improvement of processes, while proponents of reengineering often seek radical redesign and drastic improvement of processes.

Davenport (1993) notes that Quality management, often referred to as total quality management (TQM) or continuous improvement, refers to programs and initiatives that emphasize incremental improvement in work processes and outputs over an open-ended period of time. In contrast, Reengineering, also known as business process redesign or process innovation, refers to discrete initiatives that are intended to achieve radically redesigned and improved work processes in a bounded time frame. Contrast between the two is provided by Davenport (1993):

	Process Improvement (TQM) versus Process Innovation (BPR)
                       From Davenport (1993, p. 11)
Improvement Innovation Level of Change Incremental Radical Starting Point Existing Process Clean Slate Frequency of Change One-time/Continuous One-time Time Required Short Long Participation Bottom-Up Top-Down Typical Scope Narrow, within functions Broad, cross-functional Risk Moderate High Primary Enabler Statistical Control Information Technology Type of Change Cultural Cultural/Structural

What is a Business Process?

Davenport & Short (1990) define business process as "a set of logically related tasks performed to achieve a defined business outcome." A process is "a structured, measured set of activities designed to produce a specified output for a particular customer or market. It implies a strong emphasis on how work is done within an organization" (Davenport 1993). In their view processes have two important characteristics: (i) They have customers (internal or external), (ii) They cross organizational boundaries, i.e., they occur across or between organizational subunits. One technique for identifying business processes in an organization is the value chain method proposed by Porter and Millar (1985).

Processes are generally identified in terms of beginning and end points, interfaces, and organization units involved, particularly the customer unit. High Impact processes should have process owners. Examples of processes include: developing a new product; ordering goods from a supplier; creating a marketing plan; processing and paying an insurance claim; etc.

Processes may be defined based on three dimensions (Davenport & Short 1990):

. Entities: Processes take place between organizational entities. They could be Interorganizational (e.g. EDI, i.e., Electronic Data Interchange), Interfunctional or Interpersonal (e.g. CSCW, i.e., Computer Supported Cooperative Work).

. Objects: Processes result in manipulation of objects. These objects could be Physical or Informational.

. Activities: Processes could involve two types of activities: Managerial (e.g. develop a budget) and Operational (e.g. fill a customer order).

What are the Myths about BPR Created by the Popular Literature?

The popular management literature has created more myth than practical methodology reengineering. The concept of BPR has been with us since about 1990, however it is widely misunderstood and has been equated to downsizing, client/server computing, quality, ABC, and several other management nostrums of the past several years. Based on interviews and conversations with more than 200 companies, and 35 reengineering initiatives, Davenport & Stoddard (1994) identify seven reengineering myths.

. The Myth of Reengineering Novelty: Reengineering, although about familiar concepts, is new in that these concepts are combined in a new synthesis. These key components have never been together before.

. The Myth of the Clean Slate: Regardless of Hammer's (1990) exhortation: "Don't automate, obliterate!" clean slate change is rarely found in practice. Or, as Davenport and Stoddard (1994) state: A "blank sheet of paper" used in design usually requires a "blank check" for implementation. Hence, a more affordable approach for most companies is to use Clean Slate Design which entails a detailed vision for a process without concern for the existing environment. However, the implementation is done over several phased projects. Also supported by preliminary findings of Stoddard & Jarvenpaa 1995: their findings ran contrary to Hammer (1990): "although reengineering can deliver radical designs, it does not necessarily promise a revolutionary approach to change. Moreover, a revolutionary change process might not be feasible given the risk and cost of revolutionary tactics."

. The Myth of Information Systems Leadership: In contrast to the much touted leadership role, Information Systems (IS) is generally viewed as a partner within a cross- functional team that is generally headed by a non-IS project leader and a non-IS business sponsor who have better control over the processes that are being redesigned.

. The Myth of Reengineering vs. Quality: Unlike Hammer & Champy's (1993) call for all out "radical change," most companies have a portfolio of approaches to organizational change including reengineering, continuous improvement, incremental approaches, and restructuring techniques.

. The Myth of Top-Down Design: The implementation and execution of the redesigned processes depends upon those who do the work. Hence, the participation, and more importantly, acceptance and ownership, at the grass roots level is essential for successful BPR.

. The Myth of Reengineering vs. Transformation: BPR is a process that contributes to organizational transformation (OT), however it is not synonymous with transformation. OT is defined as, "Profound, fundamental changes in thought and actions, which create an irreversible discontinuity in the experience of a system" (Adams 1984). OT is generally about the emergence of a new belief system and necessarily involves reframing, which is a discontinuous change in the organization's or group's shared meaning or culture. It also involves broad changes in other organizational dimensions besides the work processes: such as organizational structure, strategy, and business capabilities.

. The Myth of Reengineering's Permanence: Davenport & Stoddard (1994) speculate that reengineering has peaked in the US in 1994 and would probably become integrated with much broader organizational phenomena: such as another synthesis of ideas that includes the precepts of reengineering; its integration into existing change methods; or its combination with quality and other process-oriented improvement approaches into an integrated process management approach.

What is the Relation between BPR & Information Technology?

Hammer (1990) considers information technology (IT) as the key enabler of BPR which he considers as "radical change." He prescribes the use of IT to challenge the assumptions inherent in the work processes that have existed since long before the advent of modern computer and communications technology. He argues that at the heart of reengineering is the notion of "discontinuous thinking -- or recognizing and breaking away from the outdated rules and fundamental assumptions underlying operations... These rules of work design are based on assumptions about technology, people, and organizational goals that no longer hold." He suggests the following "principles of reengineering": (a) Organize around outcomes, not tasks; (b) Have those who use the output of the process perform the process; (c) Subsume information processing work into the real work that produces the information; (d) Treat geographically dispersed resources as though they were centralized; (e) Link parallel activities instead of integrating their results; (f) Put the decision point where the work is performed, and build control into the process; and (g) Capture information once and at the source.

Davenport & Short (1990) argue that BPR requires taking a broader view of both IT and business activity, and of the relationships between them. IT should be viewed as more than an automating or mechanizing force: to fundamentally reshape the way business is done.

Business activities should be viewed as more than a collection of individual or even functional tasks: in a process view for maximizing effectiveness. IT and BPR have recursive relationship. IT capabilities should support business processes, and business processes should be in terms of the capabilities IT can provide. Davenport & Short (1990) refer to this broadened, recursive view of IT and BPR as the new industrial engineering.

Business processes represent a new approach to coordination across the firm; IT's promise -- and its ultimate impact -- is to be the most powerful tool for reducing the costs of coordination (Davenport & Short 1990). Davenport & Short (1990) outline the following capabilities that reflect the roles that IT can play in BPR: Transactional, Geographical, Automatical, Analytical, Informational, Sequential, Knowledge Management, Tracking, and Disintermediation.

Teng et al. (1994) argue that the way related functions participate in a process - - i.e., the functional coupling of a process -- can be differentiated along two dimensions: degree of mediation and degree of collaboration. They define the Degree of Mediation of the process as the extent of sequential flow of input and output among participating functions. They define the Degree of Collaboration of the process is the extent of information exchange and mutual adjustment among functions when participating in the same process. In their framework, information technology is instrumental in Reducing the Degree of Mediation and Enhancing the Degree of Collaboration. Also, innovative uses of IT would inevitably lead many firms to develop new, coordination-intensive structures, enabling them to coordinate their activities in ways that were not possible before. Such coordination-intensive structures may raise the organization's capabilities and responsiveness, leading to potential strategic advantages.

What is the Role of the IS Function in BPR?

Although, BPR has its roots in IT management, it is primarily a Business Initiative that has broad consequences in terms of satisfying the needs of customers and the firm's other constituents (Davenport & Stoddard 1994). The IS group may need to play a behind-the-scenes advocacy role, convincing senior management of the power offered by IT and process redesign. It would also need to incorporate the skills of process measurement, analysis, and redesign. The CIGNA IS group had to develop a new set of basic values that reflected a change in focus from technology to a focus on business processes and results (Caron et al. 1994). The specific business divisions led the BPR initiatives; IS groups served as partners in enabling the radical changes.

Is there a BPR Methodology?

Davenport and Short (1990) prescribe a five-step approach to BPR:

. Develop the Business Vision and Process Objectives: BPR is driven by a business vision which implies specific business objectives such as Cost Reduction, Time Reduction, Output Quality improvement, QWL (Quality of Work Life)/Learning/Empowerment. (cf: Shared Vision of Senge 1990, Ikujiro & Nonaka 1995).

. Identify the Processes to be Redesigned: Most firms use the High- Impact approach which focuses on the most important processes or those that conflict most with the business vision. Lesser number of firms use the Exhaustive approach that attempts to identify all the processes within an organization and then prioritize them in order of redesign urgency.

. Understand and Measure the Existing Processes: For avoiding the repeating of old mistakes and for providing a baseline for future improvements.

. Identify IT Levers: Awareness of IT capabilities can and should influence process design.

. Design and Build a Prototype of the New Process: The actual design should not be viewed as the end of the BPR process. Rather, it should be viewed as a prototype, with successive iterations. The metaphor of prototype aligns the BPR approach with quick delivery of results, and the involvement and satisfaction of customers.

BPR: All or Nothing?: Insights from CIGNA

At CIGNA BPR meant "breakthrough innovation focused on customer needs" (Caron et al. 1994). BPR was essentially driven by the senior management's strategic planning process that had concluded that the mix of business in its portfolio needed to change. It was viewed as a vehicle to realign strategy, operations, and systems to deliver significantly increased financial results. Caron et al. (1994) argue that the real life story of BPR at CIGNA represents a contrast to the general prescriptions of "radical" "all-or-nothing" organizational transformation. At CIGNA, BPR started out as an experimental pilot. The knowledge from the success of this initiative was disseminated for implementing other BPR projects. The BPR initiative was sustained "from the bottom up, with learning transferred "across."" At CIGNA, the prerequisite for BPR success was a corporate environment that promotes learning, especially learning from failure. Although, the process was initiated from the top, the ownership was moved down to the people who actually had to implement the changes and were affected by those changes. The BPR effort took into consideration the differences in management cultures in different countries. The BPR initiative started at the operational levels and was later moved to "higher forms" (strategic) of reengineering over time.

Why BPR Projects Fail? What Can be Done about it?

70% of the BPR projects fail. Biggest obstacles that reengineering faces are: (i) Lack of sustained management commitment and leadership; (ii) Unrealistic scope and expectations; and (iii) Resistance to Change.

Based on the BPR consultants' interviews, Bashein et al. (1994) outline the positive preconditions for BPR success as: Senior Management Commitment and Sponsorship; Realistic Expectations; Empowered and Collaborative Workers; Strategic Context of Growth and Expansion; Shared Vision; Sound Management Practices; Appropriate People Participating Full-Time (cf: CIGNA: BPR as a way of life); and Sufficient Budget. They also identify negative preconditions related to BPR as: The Wrong Sponsor; A "Do It to Me" Attitude; Cost-Cutting Focus; and, Narrow Technical Focus. The negative preconditions relating to the Organization include: Unsound Financial Condition; Too Many Projects Under Way; Fear and Lack of Optimism; and, Animosity Toward and By IS and Human Resource (HR) Specialists. To turn around negative conditions, firms should: Do Something Smaller First (CIGNA's pilot); Conduct Personal Transformation (CIGNA's change of mindset); and Get IS and HR Involved (CIGNA's CIO initiated the change and HR factors were given due emphasis).

King (1994) views the primary reason of BPR failure as overemphasis on the tactical aspects and the strategic dimensions being compromised. He notes that most failures of reengineering are attributable to the process being viewed and applied at a tactical, rather than strategic, levels. He discusses that there are important strategic dimensions to BPR, notably, Developing and Prioritizing Objectives; Defining the Process Structure and Assumptions; Identifying Trade-Offs Between Processes; Identifying New Product and Market Opportunities; Coordinating the Reengineering Effort; and, Developing a Human Resources Strategy. He concludes that the ultimate success of BPR depends on the people who do it and on how well they can be motivated to be creative and to apply their detailed knowledge to the redesign of business processes (cf: Davenport & Stoddard 1994, Markus et al. 1994).

Where is BPR Headed?

Over the last few years, the reengineering concept has evolved from a "radical change" to account for the contextual realism (Caron et. al 1994, Earl 1994), and to reconcile with more incremental process change methods such as TQM, towards a broader, yet more comprehensive process management concept (Davenport 1995).

Based upon a theoretical analysis and survey of literature relevant to reengineering, Kettinger & Grover (1995) outline some propositions to guide future inquiry into the phenomenon of BPR. Their propositions center around the concepts of knowledge management, employee empowerment, adoption of new IT's, and a shared vision. Earl et al. (1995) have proposed a "process alignment model" that comprises four lenses of enquiry: process, strategy, MIS (Management Information Systems, and change management and control, and used it for developing an inductive taxonomy of BPR strategies. Malhotra (1996) has developed the key emphasis on these issues based primarily on an integrative synthesis of the recent literature from organization theory, organization control, strategy, and MIS.

King (1994) believes that although the current fadism of BPR may end, however, process reengineering, in some form or known by some other name (cf: Davenport & Stoddard 1994) would be of enduring importance.

Selected References

Bashein, B.J., Markus, M.L., & Riley, P. (1994 Spring). "Preconditions for BPR Success: And How to Prevent Failures," Information Systems Management, 11(2), pp. 7-13.

Caron, M., Jarvenpaa, S.L. & Stoddard, D.B. (1994, September). "Business Reengineering at CIGNA Corporation: Experiences and Lessons Learned From the First Five Years," MIS Quarterly, pp. 233-250.

Davenport, T.H. & Short, J.E. (1990 Summer). "The New Industrial Engineering: Information Technology and Business Process Redesign," Sloan Management Review, pp. 11-27.

Davenport, T.H. (1993). Process Innovation, Harvard Business School Press, Boston, MA.

Davenport, T.H. (1994 July). "Reengineering: Business Change of Mythic Proportions?" MIS Quarterly, pp. 121-127.

Davenport, T.H. & Beers, M.C. (1995). "Managing Information About Processes," Journal of Management Information Systems, 12(1), pp. 57-80.

Earl, M.J., Sampler, J.L. & Short, J.E. (1995). "Strategies for Business Process Reengineering: Evidence from Field Studies," Journal of Management Information Systems, 12(1), pp. 31-56.

Grover, V., Jeong, S.R., Kettinger, W.J. & Teng, J.T.C. (1995). "The Implementation of Business Process Reengineering," Journal of Management Information Systems, 12(1), pp. 109-144.

Hammer, M. (1990, July-August). "Reengineering Work: Don't Automate, Obliterate," Harvard Business Review, pp. 104-112.

Kettinger, W.J. & Grover, V. (1995). "Special Section: Toward a Theory of Business Process Change Management," Journal of Management Information Systems, 12(1), pp. 9-30.

King, W.R. (1994 Spring). "Process Reengineering: The Strategic Dimensions," Information Systems Management, 11(2), pp. 71-73.

Stoddard, D.B. & Jarvenpaa, S.L. (1995). "Business Process Redesign: Tactics for Managing Radical Change," Journal of Management Information Systems, 12(1), pp. 81-107.

[Go To BRINT Business Technology Knowledge Portals]

Domains for Sale

BRINT: 'Your Survival Network for The Brave New World Of Business'tm
Businesss, Information, Technology, Finance, and, Knowledge Management Network
Recommended by Business Week, Fortune, Wall Street Journal, Fast Company,
Business 2.0, Computerworld, Information Week, CIO Magazine, KM World,
Los Angeles Times, New York Times, and hundreds of other worldwide publications.

About BRINT | News About BRINT | Help & FAQs | Users Guide | Advertising

Make BRINT your Start Page | Tell a Friend | Link to BRINT | Submit Articles

Terms of Use | Privacy | © Copyright 1994-2010, Global Risk Management Network, New York, USA