Re-engineering, the Sequel

James Champy's "X-Engineering the Corporation: Reinventing Your Business in the Digital Age" won't likely have near the same impact as did his 1993 best-seller.


Nine years ago, with co-author Michael Hammer, James Champy launched, if not exactly a business revolution, at least an important trend with the publication of his book "Re-engineering the Corporation: A Manifesto for Business Revolution." Besides selling 2.5 million copies and appearing on best-seller lists for two years, the work inspired many a CEO to stop thinking about a company as a collection of departments or functions and to start thinking about it as a series of business processes that could be refined and tuned in order to improve efficiency, cut costs and get products to market faster. The language of business was changed forever as division vice presidents were transformed into business process owners, and process map drawings suddenly covered conference room walls. IT managers, of course, were called on to support re-engineered businesses with new, integrated, cross-functional systems.

But that was, as George Lucas would say, long ago in a galaxy far, far away. The Y2K bug was, for many companies, still just a rumor. Enterprise applications such as enterprise resource planning were just beginning to appear. The Internet was still a network for researchers. And business managers still had a core faith in the ability of IT to deliver value—or at least cut costs.

Today, not only has much of that faith been replaced--however temporarily--with stubborn skepticism, but many enterprises are also going back to basics, rejecting the transforming promise of e-business and focusing on cutting costs wherever possible.

Its into this environment that Champy has submitted the latest chapter in his re-engineering series. While "X-Engineering the Corporation: Reinventing Your Business in the Digital Age" effectively updates the BPR (business process re-engineering) philosophy for the post dot-com era, its unlikely that his newest book will have anything close to the impact of the original. Thats only partly due to the current conservative business environment, in which the last thing many managers seem to want is new or even recycled ideas. Its also due to some shortcomings in Champys latest work. Often, for example, the formula Champy uses—case studies leavened with stirring appeals for managers to jump on board the X-Engineering bandwagon—feel like a pale copy of what was fresh nine years ago. At the same time, many of the case studies seem short on prescriptive details.

Not that Champy doesnt present a logical case for what he calls X-Engineering. The BPR craze he helped launch in 1993, says Champy, was all about identifying and recasting a companys core internal processes: how it got products to market, for example, from initial customer order to final fulfillment. X-Engineering, on the other hand, is all about extending those processes so that they seamlessly mesh externally with the business processes of customers, suppliers and other partners.

"I now see companies in a much larger perspective," Champy writes, "not just as individual producers of goods and services but as combinations of processes. These processes interact with each other and with the processes of other organizations."

Its hard to argue with the need for companies to extend their business processes in this way or with Champys contention that technology—specifically the Internet—will be the key to enabling this. Champy argues forcefully and well that the failures of many of the e-marketplaces that attempted just this kind of cross-enterprise collaboration should be blamed on incorrect business models and short-sighted investment decisions rather than the lack of a compelling need for inter-enterprise collaboration.

But, while Champy makes a strong theoretical case for X-Engineering, he comes up a bit short on the details. "X-Engineering the Corporation" is full of case studies on companies such as Dell, Solectron, Grainger and SciQuest, all of which Champy describes as having moved well down the X-Engineering path by rolling out e-procurement sites for customers or, in the case of Dell, working with suppliers to build inter-enterprise, Web-based business processes that reduce inventories. The problem with most of these case studies is that they lack the gritty, blood-on-the-floor details on how these leading companies managed to put these cross-enterprise processes and systems in place. While Champy notes, for example, that such work requires agreement on standards such as XML definitions and schema, he never tells the reader exactly how a company such as Grainger managed to get competing suppliers to agree to such standards. Nor will the reader find any specifics on the technologies that were used to turn X-Engineering visions into realities at these companies.

As is now known by many IT managers who bought into BPR Phase I, achieving business change on the scale that Champy advocates here can be an extremely difficult, career-threatening proposition. Without a bit more "how-to" detail from Champy, its unlikely many will be willing to take on the X-Engineering challenge.

  • Title: X-Engineering the Corporation: Reinventing Your Business in the Digital Age
  • Author: James Champy
  • Publisher: Warner Business Books (
  • Length: 232 pages
  • Price: $25.95

Contact eWeek Executive Managing Editor Jeff Moad at