By Thomas M Koulopoulos, President and Founder, Delphi Group
Editor's note: What are the best practices in moving data to the clouds?
Learn more here!
Business in the Face of Complexity
The greatest challenge to every knowledge worker is the dramatic increase in
complexity. That complexity shows up on computer desktops littered with applications
that don't work with each other, a deluge of information sources, rampant growth
in policies & procedures, increased regulations and compliance, and an unceasing
degree of change. In fact, in a recent Delphi study of 1030 knowledge workers
more than a third of respondents told us that they need from 11 to over 20 windows
on their desktop when they are dealing with their most complex situations. At
the same time, knowledge workers are being tasked with being faster, more accurate
and more efficient. In this pressure-cooker environment dealing with complexity
is not an option but a core competency that we all need to master.
When you are involved in the most complex situations how many windows do
you have open on your desktop?
One often quoted study from the Standish Group, a research outfit that tracks
corporate IT purchases, has found that 66 percent of all IT projects either
fail outright or take much longer to install than expected because of their
complexity. Among very big IT projects -- those costing over $10m apiece --
98 percent fall short.
That's an amazing statistic given that most organizations have relied on technology
to solve the problem, but that's like relying on gasoline to douse a fire. Investing
in layer upon layer of technology to reduce complexity results in just the opposite,
costing organizations millions.
The problem, according to Mark P. McDonald, group vice president at Gartner,
is that "For many enterprises the question [of complexity] is just strange,
as they do not think about complexity, its impact on customers or costs. They
treat the business symptoms of complexity with ad hoc solutions that create
benefit but accrue complexity."
To address the issue of desktop complexity a new category of solutions is being
developed and is catching on with dozens of organizations that want to leverage
and navigate through their existing investment in technology. We believe this
approach, called Business Process Guidance (BPG), is a bellwether for organizations
that will succeed in the future based on their ability to handle the increasing
demands of complexity, change and compliance.
BPG is built around an entirely new approach to complexity that is not simply
another layer technology but rather an entirely new way to look at how we approach
the problem of complexity by navigating through it faster and more accurately
without disrupting underlying business and technology systems.
BPG is an on-demand tool for delivering information to users about a task when
it was needed. This "moment-of-need" is critical for many knowledge
workers who are dealing with situations that require the coordination of multiple
disconnected information sources. For these employees there really is no such
thing as a standard process. Everything they do, every customer call they take,
every questions they have to answer can take them down a circuitous route that
can rarely be predicted.
Trying to address this sort of challenge with traditional approaches that use
a variety of other approaches such as ERP or CRM Systems, or business process
and knowledge management will never adequately keep up with and support the
process -- because there really is no process!
You Can't Kill Complexity but You Can Conquer it!
The idea behind BPG is similar to the idea behind a GPS -- to navigate complexity
on the fly so that you can focus on the task at hand -- rather than fumbling
with instructions and maps. A GPS does not change the pathways to a destination,
it doesn't eliminate one-way streets and dead ends; it simply identifies the
fastest and most efficient path based on your goals.
Now imagine the same principle applied to knowledge work. Here's an example;
A customer support rep has to deal with an irate customer with concerns about
their account information, third party billing, warranty, policies and procedures,
and regulatory compliance. You can envision the poor CSR with several screens
open on their desktop, a "policies and procedures manual," and perhaps
a connection to an outside partner's application as well. How does the CSR know
which path is the fastest and most efficient path to use in order to respond
to the customer? Oh, by the way, did I mention that the rep is also tasked with
It's not difficult to put yourself in the shoes of our hypothetical CSR. In
some form we've all been in situations where the information available exceeded
the time allotted to make a decision. But for our CSR that time is measured
in seconds, perhaps in minutes, but certainly not hours or days.
Using training, FAQs, and help systems only adds to our CSR's problems by prolonging
the path to an answer. The proof is in the fact that fewer than 50% of all customer
support calls are resolved in one call. But it's not just customer support that
suffers. Delphi research shows that the typical knowledge worker spends 15%
of his or her time searching for answers to process questions during the course
of the day. This isn't research but basic info about how to do their work.
Instead, let's say that we left all of the underlying applications and information
sources as they are but built a real-time map to allow the CSR to navigate through
them based on certain rules about the situation they are in. Again, think of
a supercharged GPS which takes into consideration time of day, road conditions,
real time traffic, and even your style of driving in order to get you to your
destination in the fastest and safest way possible.
Our CSR has certain skills, the customer has specific requests, and each piece
of information and each application needed to address those requests has prescribed
ways it supports finding an answer. So there is always an ideal path to follow,
it's just not always obvious. BPG makes that path obvious, quickly and accurately.
How BPG Works - Desktop Awareness
In practice BPG actually observers what you are doing on your desktop, the
applications you have open, the fields you are using on forms, and combines
that with the knowledge of your role. It then provides customized guidance through
the options you have based on all of this context awareness. The complexity
is still there and, in fact, it can and will grow, but it will be invisible
to anyone who uses BPG to navigate through it.
What makes the BPG approach unique is that it can be applied to any combination
of applications and information sources to define the way in which they interact
together. Virtually every application on your desktop has metadata that describes
what it is and how it works. By extracting this and adding a bit of intelligence
BPG can quickly infer what's going on and build a navigation guide on the fly.
This comprehensive navigation guide can also change in real-time as required
by the actual experiences of users. Think of this as away to capture Incremental
Social Improvement in a process. This prevents the roll-back that frequently
occurs with other business process solutions which map out the way a process
should work but are unable to continuously guide someone through incremental
changes in the process that occur in real-time.
Given the fact that BPG does not interfere with the current technology or information
systems in place the payback is impressive, in most cases measured in months.
In addition there are substantial benefits for employees and customers as measured
in terms of decreased frustration and increased satisfaction.
Knowledge work has become a critical part of our economy. Yet the rate at which
the raw materials of knowledge work, namely applications and information, have
increased relative to the tools we have to manage them is creating an absolutely
untenable situation. To ignore the tremendous lack of innovation in how knowledge
work is actually performed would be like Orville Wright at the helm of an Airbus.
BPG is a necessary part of a long term movement towards greater support for
knowledge workers under the gun to produce more with less. It is also a foundation
for change that will enable organizations to grow with limited resources and
budget, rather than just another expensive layer of technical complexity.
In short, it's critical for the future of knowledge work and organizations that
need to support an ever malleable business structure, which can take the shape
most appropriate to the challenges of the moment.
Enterprise Desktop Navigation Systems (eDNS) represents a broad set of tools
intended to guide knowledge workers through increasingly complex enterprise
A variety of solutions have evolved to deal with this from passive HELP systems
to proactive Business Process Guidance solutions, which are aware of the activity
on a user's desktop and guide the user through the process at hand by providing
a listing of the most likely options and alternative available to the user.
We believe that the levels of complexity and the need for navigation tools
to help knowledge users will both increase dramatically over the course of the
coming years. While BPG is still a nascent category populated by only a handful
of vendors, we expect it to grow rapidly, and also expect existing vendors to
begin to pay closer attention to the challenge of eDNS.
About the Author
Thomas M. Koulopoulos is president and founder of Delphi Group, a Boston-based management and advisory firm, and was also Founding Executive Director of the Babson College Research Center for Business Innovation where he was responsible for some of the world’s leading research and thought leadership on the topic of Business Innovation.
He has authored eight books and his articles and insights appear frequently in national and international print and broadcast media.