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Mihnea GaleteanuMihnea Galeteanu, Toronto, Canada.

Chief Storyteller - IBM Blueworks Live, IBM Software Group

Remember when a new mall or lounge opened up in your area? Everybody wanted to be seen there. That was the place where you went to show off your latest toys or fashions. The cloud is quickly becoming that coolest hangout place in town. If you’re not in the cloud, it’s only because you are still trying to figure out what to wear or what’s the fastest way to get there. It’s only a matter of time.

And while running your applications on machines managed by third-party providers might be exciting and the gadgets that come with the cloud might be flashy, what motivates many to look up into the clouds and daydream has nothing to do with technology. The ecosystems in which our businesses operate today are changing at tremendous speed. The engines driving this complexity include everything from regulatory compliance to demographics to trade disruptions, from the way our customers bank to the way they purchase and consume. Not only is everything changing rapidly but, perhaps like never before, business leaders are starting to feel a loss of control and are turning to innovation in an attempt to regain some of that control over their operations and infuse a sense of nimbleness in the way they do business. The ability to quickly scale your computing resources might have been the spark that gave rise to the cloud, but it will be the strategic imperative to innovate that will transform the cloud into a place where business goes to do … business.

The opportunity

If you’re anything like me, doing business has a lot to do with managing your inbox, so email in the cloud has been a natural fit as business has been testing out the cloud waters. As the cloud is transitioning from a cost saver into a growth vehicle, however, more and more organizations are turning to the cloud in an attempt to redesign their core business processes. Fortune 500 companies waste $488 Billion every year due to process inefficiencies.¹ The opportunity for process innovation is real, it is immense and it will take the disciplined approach of Business Process Management (BPM) together with the computing prowess and accessibility of the cloud to make the most of it.

The democratizing of process improvement

Bill Hurley, the CTO of WestconGroup, possibly put it best when he blogged, “The conversion to the cloud requires a deep understanding of the target company’s business processes …. They need to understand how their business flows, in detail ….”

This and only this can drive the next stage in any organization’s evolution. Towards that end, today’s agile organizations are looking for ways to standardize on the way they document, communicate and act upon process change. More importantly, they know that the type of actionable insights they are looking for will not come from one part of the organization or another, but rather from the organization as a whole. Business and IT, finance and HR, C-suite and mid-level management – they are all in this together, and need cloud offerings that act, for lack of a better term, as flatteners where entire organizations can engage in meaningful, lasting and “democratic” business process redesign initiatives. Through social networking concepts that are the underpinnings of tools like IBM Blueworks Live™, the barriers of entry for documenting, finding opportunities for and communicating process change have been significantly lowered. By leveling the playing field, both in terms of how processes are being managed and of who can engage in their management, the cloud provides the basis on which the business process understanding that Bill talks about can occur.

The cloud-enabled enterprise

Business process redesign in the cloud, in and of itself, is the means, but not the end. The end, as stated earlier, is the ability to innovate quickly, at scale and often. In the 2010 IBM Global CEO Study, 81 percent of the executives who participated indicated that innovation will be the key factor in determining how well their organizations meet and exceed their customers’ expectations. Customers are looking for organizations to service them whenever and however they choose, and it has been technology that has empowered these demands. Acting on new delivery channels has become an imperative of many businesses. And in this environment, adapting your business processes constantly to keep up with these rising expectations is paramount.

Brad Jefferson, the CEO of Animato Productions, observed, “Cloud computing … allows you to test your business plan very quickly for little money. Every start-up, or even a division within a company that has an idea for something new, should be figuring out how to use cloud computing in its plan.” ²

Prototyping has moved upstream from technology into the ranks of business as a favourite methodology for innovation. Designers have been using it for decades to create the new. When the director of a prestigious healthcare institution was tasked with unleashing innovation in a new hospital that was being planned, he looked to IBM Blueworks Live to blueprint what that was going to take. Within a short period of time, his team was not only able to identify and correct inefficiencies that have been plaguing the organization for years, but, more importantly, they were also able to put in place the type of organizational culture that encourages grassroots innovation. Cloud embodies the ideal environment in which business leaders are free to become designers and experiment with new business processes that can get them closer to their customers (if not going all the way and inviting customers inside their previously safeguarded business processes).

We are living in unprecedented times. Technology is fueling tremendous and seemingly continuous change all around us. However, those treating the cloud as yet another technology will miss out on the significant value it holds in empowering business leaders to bring about significant agility in their business processes and, in doing so, bring their operations in lock step with the changes happening all around them. The cloud might be the coolest hangout place in town, but what will get everyone talking will be organizations showing off their latest business processes there.

¹Tech CEO Council Report Oct 2010: “BPM improvements can be expected to yield savings of up to 5% of sales;” CNN Money U.S. Fortune 500 Revenues, May 2010

²“15 Memorable Cloud Computing Quotes,” Techno-Pulse blog

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A message from Nancy Pearson, Vice President BPM, SOA and WebSphere

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