Holistically, business process management (BPM) is a means to study, identify, change and monitor business processes. It includes techniques, methods and technology to improve and align business processes to organizational goals, taking the as-is or current state environment to a future state or state of to-be for the organization. In our research to find the future state, we ask not only what are you doing today but how do you want to do this tomorrow. As we uncover the various aspects of a process, we may also find things that present us with uncomfortable scenarios or findings that need to be addressed — forming an ethical challenge.
Approaching BPM from an ethical perspective, ask yourself how and when should you address issues as they arise. One thing to always remember is that BPM changes the way an organization works and will impact individuals within that organization. For example, in the mid-to-late 70s, I worked for a bank in the Northeast where I collected checks from the branches, filmed, filed and then transferred them to the Federal Reserve. As part of the process in the bank, approximately 50 employees performed data entry and proofs on these checks. Enter process change and technology. As a result of technology and changes in regulatory guidelines, the bank no longer had to manage physical checks and processed all checks electronically. Therefore, we no longer needed a courier to pick up the checks, the proof department for processing or the microfilm person for capture and archive. The question now becomes one of the people. What do you do with these employees who no longer have jobs due to the changes? Perhaps the approach is to offer them retraining and new positions within the bank as it expands rather than terminate their employment, but you are still faced with the challenge.
What we do and how we do it from an ethical perspective is relevant now and even beyond this point. As you move forward with your projects, you will uncover and have to deal with information that is of a confidential or secure nature. Be aware of this; prepare your team; and maintain the highest level of confidentiality. You should also seek guidance on regional regulations as it applies to your processes. There are privacy protection acts that regulate how information is to be managed and monitored for the protection of the individual. Some questions to ask before taking action include: Have you defined the situation accurately? How did this situation occur in the first place? Can you discuss the problem with the affected parties before you make your decision? Are you confident that your position will be as valid over a long period of time as it seems now?
You need to monitor your information and business environments to ensure you improve and grow, but at the same time you also need to have sufficient checks and balances to avoid situations that may jeopardize your organization and place it at risk. What and who you monitor will always be a part of the equation. Understand that things will not always happen and people will not always respond in ways you expect. You need to make the effort and demonstrate and prove that you tried to identify major risks and addressed them upfront. When you uncover something that seems to be wrong, gather all of the facts before you act, and remember that mistakes happen. The goal here should be to reduce or eliminate any uncertainty and focus on improvements that will benefit the organization as a whole.
BOB LARRIVEE [firstname.lastname@example.org] is director and industry analyst for AIIM, an international community that provides training, research and best practices to help organizations find, control and optimize their information. Follow him on Twitter @BobLarrivee.