I recently linked to an article from Online Recruitment which detailed the findings of a survey held of IT directors.
This survey indicated that 52% of the directors interviewed admitted that more than half of their current strategic business processes could not be easily shared across the organisation. A further 27 per cent said that between 25 and 50 per cent of their critical business processes suffered in this way. In other words up to 75% of the respondants said that up to 75% of their processes had problems.
So I asked myself "Am I surprised?". The answer was "Yes. I'm surprised the number was so small!". I've mentioned before in posts how processes become 'manipulated' or altered in day-to-day processing through various reasons, the most common of which is lack of process ownership. This leads to barriers being created between processes, hand-off's being missed and data being corrupted or lost. Very few businesses have the required senior level sponsorship to make business process management live and breath on a day to day basis. This is the very reason, I believe, why so many companies now find themselves in this situation.
Or at least it's one of the reasons. The article goes on to mention how it believes that poor business rules and out-of-date systems are also contributing factors. I am always hesitant in blaming business process failures on poor systems as I believe that a process should be designed in such a way as to be tool independent (that way when you change your software you don't have to re-design all your processes, just the 'implementation' of those processes), however there is no escaping the fact that historically, business processes that are designed around a system are prone to become less efficient as the system gets older and older and the underlying business needs change.
So what should be done about this?
Well, the article states an opinion from Jim Close, Senior VP and Country Manager (UK) of Software AG -who ran the survey - which is that companies should be doing a business process MOT (this being a UK term referring to the Governments mandate that all road vehicles over 3 years old should be subject to a yearly inspection) , even going as far as to say:
...this is a major indicator of a company’s long-term viability, to the extent that it should be considered a significant indicator for investors. If a company can’t measure its business operations and adapt as the market changes, then will it survive? Investors should be asking their operational executives about the adaptability of their operations.There is no doubt in my mind that any company which is not focusing on understanding, managing, and improving it's business processes is missing a huge opportunity to improve itself. I actually quite like the idea of a regular check. although I suspect this is something of a pipedream at the moment - businesses just won't see the benefit of this when compared with the cost and time needed to perform the review. However, as Jim Sinur says in his blog - "Process is free" so maybe there is hope for us yet.
So what should you do if you are in the situation that 52% of the IT directors above found themselves in? Panic? Hand in your resignation? Soldier on painfully through the problems, the complaints and the low-points?
Well, those are all possible alternatives. But my immediate suggestion to you would be to do a mini-MOT yourself:
1) Identify the pain points in your process: If you could only change two things about the process what would they be? Is your process too slow? Too many people involved? Too bureaucratic? Identifying these would immediately give you the option of proposing a solution that would reduce the pain
2) Identify the 'white-space'. It is a widely held belief that many process problems are related to hand-offs between groups, departments or other processes, the so-called "white space". If you can identify the top two or three problems resulting from hand-offs in the processes you identified above you are starting on the right track
3) Put together a plan to alleviate the issue identified in the previous two points. This will release pressure on your process in the short term, build up good will with your customers (internal and external) and enable you to focus then on a longer term strategy for improving your business processes.
52% of IT directors not having faith in their processes is a damning indictment of the way our businesses are evolving, but with a little application and some careful thought, this needn't be the end of the world for businesses and their customers.