Who Should Drive the Omnichannel Initiative: BP or IT?

When it comes time to make the omnichannel a core element of a business strategy—which includes integrating both customer-facing and backend channels—a familiar obstacle can arise. There’s a balancing act involved between the business process management team and IT that can sometimes cause the omnichannel initiative to lose its footing.

This wouldn’t be the first time business strategy and IT have pushed up against each other. They’re in many ways broadly different disciplines. IT’s objectives are consistency and standardization. Their discipline is to get things working flawlessly, and then to make as few changes as possible in order to ensure things keep working that way.

BPM has to be more nimble, eager to take advantage of new methods, new approaches, new talent, changes in the business climate and market conditions, shifting partnerships, and more. Their role is to continually find new ways to deliver competitive advantage by being faster, smarter and leaner.

So then, when it comes to the omnichannel, who drives: the needs of BPM or the needs of IT?

We usually (but not every single time—there are exceptions) recommend that business process management be behind the wheel—and that IT work to create an omnichannel infrastructure that solves the problems of the business.

“Let BPM drive” is easy to say. But it requires discipline to execute well: to avoid the conflicts and missteps that might occur as the two groups—and their sometimes conflicting priorities—work together.

Making It Work

I’ll give you an example of how it works well. We’re involved (as I write this) driving the prime analysis phase for an international services company. They agreed with us that BP should lead the charge. And I thought I’d share, briefly, and without giving away any proprietary information, how we’re handling this phase.

This particular customer’s centers of gravity—those parts of the operation with the greatest impact on the customer experience—are customer service and fulfillment: especially logistics. They have tens of thousands of employees worldwide involved with both the front-end call center and backend fulfillment operation. We identified that some of the organizations that impacted the success of those two groups were shipping, accounting, fleet management, HR, third party suppliers (and others).

USAN, BPM and IT are probing each of these organizations on a number of issues, including:

  • When do you come in contact with the customer?
  • When do you come in contact with the fulfillment chain?
  • Which channels do you use to communicate and interact internally?
  • Which channels do you use to communicate and interact with customers?
  • How would a presence across more channels help?

IT Is Central

This isn’t a case of operating in a vacuum: gathering together requirements from the people we’re talking to and then dumping marching orders on IT. Just the opposite, in fact. IT is in the thick of things, participating in all those needs analysis meetings and bringing their own creative ideas to the table. They’re learning—sometimes for the first time—how each of those organizations interact with customers and how the customer experience depends on those organizations. You know, IT often operates in isolation. They’re not always exposed to the needs and processes of the customers and the organizations that help drive the customer experience. This is a great opportunity for them to get immersed in it.

For that matter, BPM operates in its own hemisphere as well. There’s a tendency (and here I’m not just talking about this client), for business strategists to think that executing any idea they have is just a SMOP (a Simple Matter of Programming). This process was eye opening to them as well. They began to understand how complex and risky some of their ideas actually were, and worked with IT to craft better, safer, more practical ways to accomplish the same goal.

In the end, we’re building a solid omnichannel design and everyone involved is learning a lot at the same—about the business, about the customers, about IT. And we’re developing a great idea generation process:

  • Internal organizations say what they do.
  • BPM says what they want.
  • IT says what’s possible and what’s practical
  • And we share how that can be done in the omnichannel.