What is Business Process Engineering?

Emma G.
Emma G.
Businessman with a briefcase
Businessman with a briefcase

Business process engineering is the science of helping a business run more efficiently. A business process engineer analyzes the goals and mission of a business and examines the processes used to fulfill them. The engineer then creates a cohesive business process model to help the company reach its goals as efficiently as possible.

A business process is a series of tasks a business uses to achieve a defined goal. Business process engineering follows the belief that in order to make an improvement, tasks in the series cannot be isolated. They must be viewed as part of a whole and evaluated on how and if they contribute to the overall mission.

To begin business process engineering for a company, an engineer first assesses the mission, goals, and customer needs to be met. He or she makes sure that all of these are clearly defined and that the company is operating under realistic assumptions. The process will not be effective if the process is based on faulty principles.

Once the mission is clearly defined, the engineer examines how and how well the business is achieving that mission. He or she looks at the business processes currently in place and rates the effectiveness of the individual tasks and the process as a whole. Business process engineers will redesign the whole process to make sure every step works toward the goal as efficiently as possible. He or she may recommend that some steps are removed altogether if they are not helping the company achieve its goals.

The idea for business process engineering first appeared in the business world in 1990 in two articles published in two different business journals. The first was by Michael Hammer, a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the second was by researcher Thomas H. Davenport of Earnest and Young research center. Both articles stated the idea that most work being done in business did not actually improve the product or customer service. Instead of trying to automate their processes, companies should focus on whether the process is necessary at all and how all the individual processes fit together.

The idea spread quickly. As information systems, networks, and technology developed, more business were re-engineered to incorporate these technologies. Business process engineering has improved the customer service, product quality, and speed of many businesses.

This science does have some problems. Some people dislike it because it can lead to mass layoffs, as the process is streamlined. Engineering cannot solve all problems because it always assumes that the process is to blame for failure while ignoring all other influences on business success.

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