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Wachovia IT Exec Scott Flemming Focuses on Process

For Wachovia vice president Scott Flemming, process improvement isn't just an IT initiative, it's a way of life.

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While calling Scott Flemming process "obsessed" may be a bit of a hyperbole, process improvement is something he has trouble checking at the door to his home. "The biggest carryover from my IT background has to do with the analytical approaches I apply to my home and family," he relates.

But cajoling his wife and four daughters to reengineer the washer-dryer process isn't always effective. "They don't always understand where I am coming from," Flemming says with a laugh.

Flemming's process-centric philosophy has proven to be much better received at Charlotte, N.C.-based Wachovia ($719.9 billion in assets), where he serves as a vice president in information technology. The focus on a process-centric view of an organization rather than a tool-centric view, Flemming notes, has shaped his 12-year career with the bank more than any other trend that has hit the industry.


Scott Flemming Wachovia

In fact, this focus has been the impetus behind a business process management (BPM) initiative within Wachovia to automate more than 500 processes. Actually, Flemming concedes that 500 technically is an estimate of the number of processes he believes can be automated to improve the bank's request management system.

What makes this project unique, Flemming says, is the size of the processes he's targeted for automation. Unlike the large, workflow systems Wachovia has implemented within the lines of business, this approach takes aim at smaller, often-overlooked processes. "The value proposition for us is in the efficiency of having it automatically managed for you and having work delivered automatically in an area that generally would have never bubbled up to an area of importance -- enough importance that it gets in front of other things," he explains.

The project began this year within the IT department itself. "We started inside the shoemaker's house," Flemming says. "We had spent an awful lot of time focusing on our business lines and had done a lot in the business areas of the bank. ... So we've put an internal lens to IT and started looking at the request processes for our internal Wachovia processes."

To automate these processes, Flemming is employing a combination of rich Internet applications and business process solutions from Adobe (San Jose, Calif.). "The core of the workflow and request management is the Adobe LiveCycle Enterprise Suite," he says. The product suite utilizes electronic forms, process management, document security and document generation to automate processes. The Adobe Flex solution provides the framework for the rich Internet applications.

The IT organization's internal Wachovia customers already are experiencing the results of the initiative, according to Flemming. "[We are] providing an infrastructure and a services model to go out and help organizations in the bank provide services to the different development arms in the organization," he explains. For example, Flemming says, he sees a "reduction in the amount of head count that is required to process the same number of request fulfillment pieces."

The bank is also experiencing increased productivity in the processes themselves. "In some cases, it's actually allowing the processes to support more of what they need to do because they now have the capability to, in parallel, have two different organizations working on the same fulfillment or following the approval channels in a timely manner," Flemming explains.

But Flemming and his team aren't done wringing value out of the initiative. Wachovia has instituted a "strike force" that goes out in search of those processes that will deliver the "best bang for the buck."

While his group, which supports specialized technology sets, also supports the bank's enterprise content management and enterprise application integration, Flemming says, the BPM initiative is the most exciting project in which he's been involved in recent years. "The adoption rate and the excitement around the corporation, and the trust and support we are getting from our executive branches of technology have just been wonderful," he comments.

But such IT and business alignment has not always been so evident throughout his career, adds Flemming, who has experienced the full range of the relationship dynamic between IT and the business. "Partnership is really the word I would like to use to describe" the current state of IT/business affairs at Wachovia, he says. "Having been in this field for a long time, it hasn't always been that way. There was a time when the business community was very forceful in what they needed to have done, and IT was kind of catching up."

Shared Responsibility

Fortunately, Flemming notes, times have changed. "The business side and the IT side have responsibilities to the common delivery of Wachovia services," he says. "On a shallower look, [the business and IT sides have] unrelated functionality -- one is doing systems and the other is building the business. But ... both of those organizations are imperative in [delivering high-quality] Wachovia services."

While the relationship between IT and the business has improved, trying to stay ahead of the curve and anticipate the future needs of the business is still a challenge, Flemming acknowledges. "Just trying to manage that futuristic look -- being ready, being prepared to provide good counsel to the business and good solutions to the business side when needed -- and at the same time, being able to meet the demand that is already there" is a difficult balance to strike, he admits.

Despite the challenges, though, Flemming points out that his position is not without its rewards. Really making a difference in the daily lives of Wachovia employees is a role that Flemming seems to relish. Helping those employees automate administrative processes provides them with a cleaner environment, lessens worry and allows them to focus on the real work at hand, he explains. "The types of technology we support end up touching end users in a very positive way," Flemming says.

When asked to describe his management style, Flemming says he considers himself a visionary, providing a vision for his team and the bank. "I like to get very strong people working for me who can execute that vision but also help refine that vision into something real," he says. "I love to make sure that the folks that are given the responsibility to deliver on something not only understand the tasks that they have to get done, but they understand the total vision of it, which allows them to make their own strategic and tactical decisions."

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