Improving Internal Processes and Your Company's Competitive Advantage

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Management theorist Peter Drucker believes that process improvements transform business and lead to innovation -- and that they represent "the change that creates a new dimension of performance" for organizations. Business process management (BPM) empowers companies to align their internal processes so that they provide more value to both their internal and external customers and better fulfill the customers' needs. Well-designed business processes, moreover, become increasingly valuable in a difficult economy.



At a recent Gartner BPM Summit, keynote speaker Janelle Hill reflected on BPM utilization during a recession. She predicted that BPM was more likely to increase during a tough economy as it helps organizations to operate more effectively and efficiently. While BPM both encourages and supports innovation, it's the dual benefit of efficiency and effectiveness that is considered the greatest "value add" that results from deploying BPM within an organization.

It came as no surprise to many business leaders and analysts who had already begun to feel the downturn, when the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) confirmed that the U.S. had been in a recession since December 2007. The 2009 New Year's ball had barely dropped in Times Square before analysts started predicting which business trends would help companies succeed during this protracted recession. And, while the picture certainly looks brighter in 2010, companies are still looking carefully to determine which business imperatives will provide the greatest leverage and results for them this year and beyond.

Streamlining operations

With so many external economic factors outside their control, what can companies do to ride out the recession and "even" thrive? One answer is that they can redirect, automate and improve their internal processes. But how do they do that?

Let's talk about one example. We'll call our hypothetical company Better Widgets; however, the rest of the example is based on real-life examples.

At Better Widgets, the IT department deals with change on a daily basis, while providing essential services that support the organization and maintain its competitive advantage. IT addresses functions such as:

  • Installing and implementing hardware, applications, and configuration changes
  • Overseeing employee access to applications and resources
  • Enforcing and maintaining internal security and auditing policies
  • Managing compliance documentation

IT, like many other departments, is measured on how well it improves productivity. When the information flow across the organization is manual, IT can (and does) face many additional challenges. At Better Widgets, the IT staff works diligently to:

  • Ensure new employees have access to applications
  • Ensure employees have appropriate levels of security
  • Provide a consistent approval process for processing requests (hiring, purchase orders, leave of absence requests, expense forms, etc.)
  • Coordinate requests regarding facilities, vendors, and suppliers.
IT strives to eliminate errors and miscommunication -- and to be as responsive as possible to internal requests.

Leveraging competencies

By automating its processes, IT can improve its own productivity, as well as impact the productivity of the departments it serves -- and the customers Better Widgets seeks to retain. Because automation provides a more consistent method for routing and tracking the flow of requests and information, when BPM tools are applied to IT processes, they provide immediate visibility into:

  • The status of requests
  • The location, storing, and accessing of information required for company audits
  • Inventory, outstanding orders, and new equipment requests

By improving the business processes of one core group-in this case, IT-Better Widgets can operate more effectively, efficiently, and competitively.

BPM has been defined as a "method of efficiently aligning an organization with the wants and needs of clients. It...promotes business effectiveness and efficiency while striving for innovation, flexibility, and integration with technology." The results of an AIIM MarketIQ report for the third quarter 2008 indicated that only 25 percent of survey recipients believed BPM was understood and embraced overall within their organizations. They considered this lack of knowledge as the biggest hurdle to BPM adoption.

Other factors inhibiting an overall BPM strategy include:

  • No clear BPM strategy in place
  • Difficulty implementing BPM across technological and intra-organizational boundaries
  • Internal politics and scope creep related to BPM initiatives
  • Lack of leadership for BPM strategy

Achieving operational excellence

In a recent posting on the Intelligent Enterprise blog, contributor and independent systems architect Sandy Kemsley, concluded that successful BPM implementations are dependent on "...leaders with a vision, a disciplined culture, BPM expertise and standards, as well as the tools."

Kemsley pointed to another key strategy requiring business leaders to make the same level of contribution, thus "bringing the 'B' back into BPM." Likewise, Clay Richardson, senior analyst with Forrester Research, observed that "in today's economic climate, BPM teams are being pushed to meet the growing demand for process improvements that impact the bottom line." Richardson recommends that companies match their process improvement requirements to the right BPM tools, and connect process improvement initiatives to key value drivers within the organization.

The impact that BPM can contribute to a company's operational effectiveness can be felt throughout the organization. Interestingly enough, as BPM initiatives mature, efficiency gains become the baseline and innovation the next target.

If you're being encouraged to implement BPM at your company, please remember to look for a department that provides tactical gains, and does so within the company's strategic vision.

About the Author

Buffy Schnurbusch, Project Management Professional (PMP), is a senior project manager at BP Logix in Vista, CA. She has more than 25 years of experience spanning project management, IT development and implementation and management, primarily in the newspaper publishing industry. Email buffy.s@bplogix.com or visit www.bplogix.com.

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