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
Radical process redesign from scratch, leading to radical
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.
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