AccessMyLibrary provides FREE access to millions of articles from top publications available through your library.
The coming of a new panacea?
Business process re-engineering (BPR) was popularised by two academic papers which were published in 1990 (Davenport and Short, 1990; Hammer, 1990). These publications claimed that the process rationalisation and process automation efforts of the past had failed to improve significantly productivity and performance. Furthermore, new technology had been applied to the organisation in mechanistic ways, reinforcing existing work norms and leaving traditional work processes intact. BPR proposes that work process becomes the focus of organisational transformation, revolutionising the organisation to the same degree that Taylor did with his principles of scientific management. A business process can be defined as a set of "logically related tasks performed to achieve a defined business outcome" (Davenport and Short, 1990) but the gurus claim that, in the past, the processes have been too rigid to cope with a fast-changing environment and have been readily hijacked by individuals and groups more interested in building empires and careers than securing business goals.
Although process thinking became widespread in the 1980s as a result of the quality movement (Davenport and Short, 1990), the language of radical BPR is clearly different from that of TQM. Whereas TQM was designed to improve existing business processes incrementally, BPR radically transforms business processes, creating new ones. This amounts to a new theory of the business where the assumptions on which an organisation has been built are changed, becoming tailored to an increasingly unstable business environment (Drucker, 1994). Indeed, the emergence of BPR coincides with an economic age where innovation, speed, and quality are assumed to be the arbiters of competitive advantage.
Since 1990, a deluge of BPR articles has appeared in academic and practitioner texts. Despite the absence of a universal or proven BPR methodology, concrete distinctions can now be drawn between an incipient radical BPR literature (Davenport and Short, 1990; Hammer, 1990) and a more reflective, revisionist BPR literature (Champy, 1995; Davenport, 1993; 1994), with a number of writers such as Davenport changing their BPR perspective. It will be argued that the revisionist BPR literature has emerged in response to a number of practical problems associated with the implementation of radical BPR programmes. A number of parallels between the revisionist BPR literature and discourses on TQM are apparent, suggesting a degree of convergence between them.
BPR -- the language of radical transformation
The radical approach to BPR was pronounced as the only means of salvation for organisations trapped in outmoded and outdated business processes and general ways of working. It is presented as an "all-or-nothing" proposition which should be applied across the whole organisation, although the end result is uncertain. The transformational focus is one of "reinvention", or "starting over" as the gurus euphemistically put it (Davenport and Short, 1990; Hammer, 1990), involving a process in which the past is forgotten in favour of revolutionary new principles and procedures. It seems to undermine and displace conventional process structures since they are seen as fragmented and piecemeal, lacking the integration necessary to improve product development, product quality and speed of delivery (Hammer, 1990). Organisations are encouraged to become introspective, identifying the implicit rules that govern their conventional process structures. These implicit rules derive from taken-for-granted assumptions about technology, people, and organisational goals. It is argued that these assumptions are no longer appropriate in today's economic environment, and organisations must reinvent their business processes from scratch, …