MICHAEL HAMMER WAS an engineer. He earned a B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He later became a professor at his alma mater, focusing in computer science and management. In 1993, Hammer (along with James Champy) wrote Reengineering the Corporation: A Manifesto for Business Revolution (Harper Business), which became his life’s work, earning him global acclaim and recognition.

The notion of business-process reengineering, analyzing and designing workflows and business processes within an organization, was accelerated to a boardroom conversation based on Hammer’s book. Hammer’s view was revolutionary, as it was based on the premise that most work being done does not create value for customers and therefore should be eliminated, not accelerated. Much of the writings around the topic of business-process reengineering that emerged on the heels of Hammer’s work ignored this key premise.

As business-process engineering gained momentum in organizations and with the large consultancies, the focus became automation. Instead of eliminating processes, consultants focused on automating existing processes, often with technology. Advocates of the approach often identified disruptive technologies that could aid in reengineering an organization:

  • Shared databases
  • Workflow and decision support tools
  • Enterprise resource planning tools
  • Networking and communication tools

While each of these tools ...

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