Journal of Management Information Systems

Volume 12 Number 1 1995 pp. 9-30

Special Section: Toward a Theory of Business Process Change Management

Kettinger, William J and Grover, Varun

This special section comes during a period of tumultuous change in business. Global competition, economic downturn, and the potential offered by emerging technologies are pushing firms to fundamentally rethink their business processes. Many firms have reached the conclusion that effecting business process change is the only way to leverage their core competencies and achieve competitive advantage. This belief has led to a near "re-engineering frenzy."

Consultants, seeking to provide solutions to these issues, prescribe business process re-engineering (BPR) as a means to re-engineer aging processes to achieve strategic objectives. BPR practitioners typically repackage existing change theories and techniques from organizational behavior and design, information system management, operations research, quality and human resources disciples in a new synthesis directed at dramatic improvements in business performance.

While earlier cross-functional process redesign conceptualizations including Porter's [93] value chain analysis and Gibson and Jackson's [38] business transformation via information technology (IT) existed, it was the writings of both Davenport and Short [21] and Hammer [48] that triggered intense interest from both academia practitioners in re-engineering. Similar to the "classic" success stories touted on strategic information systems about a decade ago [64], early literature on BPR included many examples of BPR successes, such as Ford, Hallmark, Bell Atlantic, Taco Bell [47], AT&T [45], Kodak [108], Texas Instruments, Merck and Cigna [104].

Despite the five odd years this phenomenon has been the rage, there is little research support for its effectiveness beyond anecdotal evidence. This is in part because no theory describing, explaining, and predicting the impact of BPR has been presented to guide the progress of empirical research. In fact, the role that this phenomenon has played in the formalization and advancement of management theory (or vice versa) remains a relatively unexplored topic.

Clearly, the purpose of radical process change (re-engineering), as well as more incremental business process improvement approaches (continuous improvement), is the transformation of business processes. The desire to achieve such transformation has served to propel practice ahead of formalized theory. We believe that the formalization of the theoretical context of effective business process change management is essential for improved implementation and, more generally, to advance systematic inquiry in the field.

The goal of this special section introduction is to present discussion that moves toward a theory of business process change (BPC) management. The beginnings of such a theory are based upon both conceptual synthesis of observations from practice as well as drawn from research literature from several related social science disciples.

Our analysis leads to the conclusion that the theoretical basis of business process change should concern the creation of an organizational environment that develops a culture supportive of change through learning, knowledge sharing (including IT enablement), and internal and external network partnering which facilitates the implementation of effective process and change management practice, which leads to improvement in business processes and greater stakeholder benefits, both of which are important in achieving measurable performance improvements. Implied in this statement is the vital role that the strategic leader plays in establishing strategic initiatives such as communicating a vision to move the organization toward business process change and providing tangible support to enable and maintain an organizational environment that is receptive to BPC management practice.

Key words and phrases: business process reengineering, process change management