The future of business

The future isn't about data or digital. It's about processes.

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Johannesburg, 14 Sep 2017
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If the spirit of a company is its vision, and the brain of a company its strategy, then processes make up the sparks of electricity that travel across the business' nervous system. Everything is theory up to the heels of the process, then it becomes real and tangible.

The utility of almost everything in a business is determined through exposure to processes. From efficiency to employees, the value of business aspects are revealed through processes. If a business is a collection of cogs, processes are what make them move.

Data is often raised as one of these cogs, a thing of enormous value to every business. This is very true, yet most data conversations use entirely the wrong approach. Most are really just technology conversations and rarely from a business view.

To understand the value of data, let the processes do the talking.

Processes and data are actually very closely aligned. If processes make the business machine run, data is how the machine's performance is tweaked and instructions executed. Financial statements are an easy example of such data: if the numbers don't line up with what the strategy expected, you know that changes are needed.

Making data proactive

Yet data suffers from being inaccessible. The information residing in a spreadsheet or report sits at arm's length. It does not feed directly back into the business. But modern data systems change that dynamic completely. Consider this case study:

Running a dairy farm involves creating a reliable stock of cows that are healthy. Part of the system includes regular additions of cows through new births. Here it becomes tricky, as cows have a surprisingly small impregnation window - only several hours - and it's not easy to detect.

A German farm equipped its herds with collars that record their movement and general vitality. Using this data, it partnered with a software company to create a system that could detect a cow on heat. The system is so effective that it not only predicts when a cow is approaching this moment, but even narrows it down to the best opportunity for artificial insemination during the window.

If we analyse the study, the aim was to improve a process in the business - the successful expansion of stock - by using data that was already on hand. This is data made personal and accessible. Instead of staff spending time analysing data - be it a spreadsheet of readings or a visual inspection of the cows - the new system gives them the results, drastically improving their choices and timeframes.

Every company, no matter how big or small, can do this by tying business processes with resource planning systems. Modern ERP applications, particularly those running on cloud platforms, are very good at gathering data. By integrating those with a robust business process workflow system, it is now possible to take data results and automate processes to respond.

Data + processes = results

This type of thinking is already evident in homegrown South African process management platforms. One example is a system that can monitor the state of safety equipment across a sprawling warehouse complex. For example, if a fire extinguisher requires inspection, the system detects this through sensors, then informs appropriate staff on their mobile devices. If an inspection isn't logged by a certain time, the system escalates the instruction to superiors. The same system also keeps an eye on refrigerators, stock and other tangibles. By using data through the prism of modern software, real world scenarios can be addressed with automated business processes.

Data isn't a new paradigm for business. That narrative is deeply flawed. Instead the fundamentals still apply: devise strategy, run processes, study the data and make adjustments. The difference today is that the data can originate from more sources, can be analysed by machines and can automate vastly more processes than before.

Pairing your core business suite with business process applications is not only powerful, but very possible and affordable. When people speak of companies transforming, this is the secret sauce. You likely have most of the ingredients already. To light that fire, put your processes into the mix.

Read time 3min 50sec
James Francis
ITWeb contributor

James Francis is ITWeb contributor.

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