It's not hard to find someone who will rail against outsourcing, and often it's an IT person who is upset about the outsourcing of IT jobs to India or somewhere else. But the fact of the matter is that Western business outsourced itself long before the rise of India and other manufacturing and engineering centers. Ironically, the rise to power of that IT person is a result of this outsourcing.
It started about 45 years ago when business people began abrogating responsibility for their business information, and outsourced control of their processes and information to IT. It's led directly to the inability of business people today to think about their processes in a structured way and further, an inability to change those processes in controlled, scalable ways. Sure, business people do change... but almost all change today is via ad hoc changes carried via Excel, email and folk lore. And all the while, the business simply yells at IT to "fix my problem, faster, you idiots."
But the problem isn't solely IT's; the business has to acknowledge culpability. Mr./Ms. Business Exec: Who do you have specifically allocated to understand the totality of the processes, the data and the technologies that support your processes? Probably nobody. Or, more likely, someone in IT.
Six Sigma initiatives are not an answer. I'm not talking about measurers and abstractionists, I'm talking about people who are in there, shoulder-to-shoulder with every stakeholder, who have operational responsibility to understand, own and improve the processes.
This month's signature Harvard Business Review article discusses the manufacturing drain in America, and why it is so important to keep it. Not simply because the ability to produce is a Good Thing, but more importantly: product innovation requires the ability to understand the specifics of implementation. Similarly, business innovation requires the ability to understand the specifics of implementation!
That's because in most of these industries product and process innovation are intertwined. So the decline of manufacturing in a region sets off a chain reaction. Once manufacturing is outsourced, process-engineering expertise can't be maintained, since it depends on daily interactions with manufacturing. Without process-engineering capabilities, companies find it increasingly difficult to conduct advanced research on next-generation process technologies. Without the ability to develop such new processes, they find they can no longer develop new products. In the long term, then, an economy that lacks an infrastructure for advanced process engineering and manufacturing will lose its ability to innovate.
In reality, there are relatively few high-tech industries where the manufacturing process is not a factor in developing new - especially, radically new - products.
Gary P. Pisano and Willy C. Shih; Restoring American Competitiveness; Harvard Business Review (July - August 2009)
Read that first bit again: "Product and process innovation are intertwined..." The business is in large part defined by the processes of the business, so business people have to regain control of every aspect of the process, including the technology. I am not saying business people have to learn how to deploy applications... I am saying that you can no longer abrogate your responsibility for the details of what gets deployed. You can no longer hide behind the apron strings of Microsoft Word or some Visio drawing.
The only way to really get this detailed operational knowledge is to participate concretely in the development and operations of the process applications.
This single notion is what gives BPM its power. Everything else, from Business Process Analysis to Six Sigma to Microsoft Word requirements documents are simply delaying tactics, abstractions that don't really convey the specifics in meaningful ways, because they are not directly tied to the implemented process in a structured, traceable manner.