Take control of processes to master digital
A few weeks ago, a family member travelled to complete an exam in Johannesburg at one of the country's top learning institutions. Only, he wasn't able to attend the exam. The person in charge of this aspect had left several weeks earlier, leaving behind a disarray of tasks that nobody else at the company was clued-up on.
Not only did this mean that students weren't registered for crucial exams, but they weren't even notified about the issue. Consequently, many spent time and money to reach exams that they couldn't take.
This was a clear breakdown of processes, the nervous system of a company. Processes develop over time as a company grows and expands and they describe procedures that over time have been engineered and adjusted to fit the needs of the company. But this is often where many problems start creeping in, explains FlowCentric Technologies' CIO, Denis Bensch:
"Way back there was a supervisor with a whip... with primitive businesses there was only one person who needed to know the rules and that was the manager. The industrial revolution saw a change in this thinking: employees were given more context to their tasks and allowed more autonomy in how they performed their tasks. Towards the end of the twentieth century, legislation and compliance became more complex. It was difficult for people to remember all the rules, so they recorded them in policy documents. But this approach is only useful if the policy documents are read and adhered to."
Rules began being evaluated on a detection basis: the business would only react if something went wrong. Of course, once something did, such as not notifying students of exam registration problems, the brand damage is done. Detection is an incredibly poor way to maintain processes.
"This isn't an ideal approach when the consequences include closing the business, for example a mine can have its operations halted because of violations, leading to millions of dollars being lost during the downtime."
The advantages of business process management
Understanding and evaluating processes is the key to ending this impasse. Yet processes are often locked away in paper files or spread across disparate digital platforms. This is a tremendous amount of fracturing for systems that reach across the breadth and height of an enterprise.
There is also a second aspect to this: processes are often in contact with and impacted by that great business asset, data. It is naive to believe that a business is making proper use of its data if it can't manage its processes. Modern, agile companies respond proactively, a habit that sits well with both data and processes. Not only is the business on top of matters, but that kind of culture appeals massively to information workers.
Managing processes is not a new challenge and companies have invested countless resources over decades to try and solve it. Many tried business platforms such as ERPs, which can offer some help yet are not designed for this level of process management.
Then business process management (BPM) applications entered the scene:
"BPM software works on the premise that prevention is better than a cure. It enforces preventative measures rather than detective," says Bensch, adding that it is clear when processes have been made to work for the business and not the other way around:
"The insurance industry is a good example. You remember when you phoned in for a quote and it took two or three days? Today the expectation of most users is to have the quote in 20 minutes, even from multiple suppliers. It's an edge: get the response done in a minute. To do that, you need to be proactive."
An edge for every business
Unfortunately companies often only realise the value of a BPM engine once they have run into serious problems or found their current systems aren't up to the task. BPM systems often surface in a post-ERP environment, creating the impression that such platforms are only suited to large enterprises. Yet BPM as a discipline is an advantage for nearly all sizes of companies and, as such, BPM software can play a crucial role for any growing business.
"ERP is not a prerequisite," Bensch explains. "Most who come to this stage do have an ERP, because they matured to that level. But the faster a company defines its processes, the better. Let's say you have five employees. Your primary job is to find more business, not to run processes. Now you hire a new employee. How much time do you want to spend training them on all the processes? You can use that time to build your business."
Modern BPM systems integrate with existing company services, allowing changes to workflows that make them intuitive to workers. It can cut down on training, improve response times and, above all, whoever runs the business knows what is going on. With a BPM engine, you don't change the organisation to change the process. You change the process to change the organisation. You avoid irate customers and brand damage.