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BPR is one of the best known approaches to achieving IT-based change in organizations. It was first set out in a book by Hammer and Champy in 1993, entitled Reengineering the Corporation: A manifesto for business revolution, and was received with much enthusiasm from the business community, appearing to offer the answer to how to achieve radical change and maximize effectiveness. The tenets of this approach are:

  • Rigorous focus on business processes that deliver value to the customer.

  • Radical process redesign from scratch, leading to radical transformation.

  • All unnecessary process detail is eliminated.

  • Old processes are obliterated.

  • Redesign produces processes that give significant strategic improvements in competitive performance.

  • Enabled by IT.

Unfortunately the number of BPR successes where expectations have been fully realized is said to be quite small. Advocates of BPR take some pride in this. They claim that the potential gains of this approach are so great, it is bound to be risky. However, Sauer and Yetton (1997) say, ‘Not only is the risk [of BPR] substantial, but the stakes are unusually high. The cost of failure for a project that involves organizational transformation is likely to be much greater than the simple loss of investment. The time lost in undertaking a project that fails may give competitors a lead that cannot be recovered.’

This is a mechanistic approach that spends little effort on the social or organizational side of the process. A typical BPR approach follows the steps seen in Figure 8.3. There might be some team work, some multi-skilling and some group problem solving; there is usually quite a strong prescriptive element to the IT solution. Also, although the impact on structures, skills, culture and standards is thought about, it is often not acted upon until the later phases of the programme of change, as an add-on. Many believe that this approach is not the most effective way of engaging people in defining what process improvements are needed, and in making them happen. Resistance may be encountered, which will waste effort, or cause the initiative to fail.

Click To expand
Figure 8.3: A typical BPR approach
Source: adapted from Davenport and Short (1990)

BPR therefore offers the very attractive prospect of radically transforming key processes by starting from a totally blank sheet. The downside comes during implementation, when resistance from those who have not been involved may be encountered. Radical process improvements which lead to staff redundancies are difficult to manage, and team performance will dip during the implementation period. Staff read the signs of a new systems implementation where redundancies will result, and are demotivated at an early stage in the lifecycle.

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