Volatility of today’s business landscape is unprecedented: it is harder than ever to stay on top and win a lasting competitive advantage. Due to the Digital Disruption, it is now virtually impossible to develop a business model, cast it into the concrete of an ERP system and leverage highly optimized processes for years. Digital is about new business models that are emerging around “digital customers” that are always online thanks to the ubiquity of smartphones and mobile apps.
The always online digital “things” (cars, houses, machines etc.) equipped with sensors and “digital enterprises” externalized their customer-facing processes, democratized them and made them available to consumer’s apps and partner’s ecosystem via API. Besides, each of the new generation of millennials has a “digital reflection” in the social media that can be targeted as a potential customer.
What does this mean for business?
Digital Revolution: new Gold Rush
Business has always been a human endeavor: you need a human employee to reach a human consumer and to deal with a human partner. Now when they are digital, it can be done by a robot – a piece of software able to communicate with social media (hence Big Data analytics), mobile apps, partners’ processes, sensors and agents (hence the Internet of Things). This means orders of magnitude increase in productivity with simultaneous dramatic cost reduction. Although this potential isn’t fully investigated yet, and drives businesses and investors crazy, raising a “Digital Rush”.
It isn’t clear at the moment who will win and what the winning Digital Strategy will be. Most probably, there are more than one anyway. It’s time to recall the amazing fact from the Gold Rush times: those who were selling equipment (picks and shovels), clothes (jeans) or alcohol, sometimes made more money than gold miners. Similarly, there is a range of digital strategies – one may integrate into existing digital environment or try to establish its own; operate on the front (customer-oriented) or back (service provider) end; invent original recipe or replicate the one invented next door, in another industry or culture...
With all these diversities there is only one constant – change.
Readiness for change is Key Capability and important aspect of Corporate Culture
Digital revolution changes the business environment dramatically and at unprecedented speed. The entire industries are turned upside-down with the Digital business models: publishing, lodging, transportation... However, as Jack Welch notes, “if the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.”
Being ready for Digital means being able to design and implement a new business process in a few weeks. Not an issue for a small and nimble startup but how can an established enterprise go through the Digital Transformation successfully?
The part of the answer is making digital both customer-facing and back-end processes. Otherwise, the enterprise just won’t fit into the digital ecosystem – people don’t talk to robots. Business Process Management Suite (BPMS) is the right platform for the task.
But is it enough to automate the core business processes?
Automation isn’t equal to agility. It may foster the speed of change but process automation may also become a trap that freezes process improvement unless the proper BPM methodology is adopted.
Besides process improvements are always implemented via projects. Small incremental process changes may require minimal project management capabilities but transformation are large-scale changes by definition so they require solid project management techniques, tools and skills.
Another way to get things done is via Case Management. This approach lies somewhere between projects and processes: more structured than the former but less than the latter. Case tasks are defined on the fly by a human performer which is less efficient than automatic tasks assignment by a process engine but on the other hand - more flexible. And what’s probably most important, process management requires significant analysis, design, implementation and testing efforts before the first process instance can be launched. Case management doesn’t imply this burden – with proper tools at hand, one can do a job literally in a day.
Are processes, projects and cases really that different?
Processes, projects and cases overlap – as an illustration, PMBoK (Project Management Body of Knowledge) talks more about standard processes that constitute the project work than about projects per se. Yet historically they were treated as separate management disciplines with separate schools, certifications and supporting tools. Today, the border between project and process work blurs.
Example: a multinational pharmaceutical company historically used to treat the new drug development as a project. Each such project lasts nearly 3 years and there are about 600 projects run concurrently. A dozen of managers at the Project management office heavily used MS Project to control them. Then one day they come to the idea of a project template. Finally, they realized that the best template is a process template. Now, all routine job of controlling the task sequences, inputs and outputs is done by the “robot” – BPMS engine and project managers are focused on bottlenecks, delays and escalations and on the ways to further increase efficiency and effectiveness. It may look obvious when it’s done yet it was hardly possible for the company to utilize the process management from the beginning because they didn’t have the required internal capabilities and what’s probably more important, they didn’t have a clear understanding of how the work is done. Every company needs certain time to find its “business recipe” – who should do what, when and how to deliver maximum value to the consumer while utilizing the available resources most efficiently.
Another example is the architectural institution developing both single building blueprints and (re)development plans of city districts. This work is managed by a composition of project and process management methods. The governing body is historically called Project Office, yet they are both project and process professionals.
It’s commonly agreed today that research, development and other so-called “knowledge work” requires more than just a process approaches. And even if e.g. the core operations are strictly process job, changes of this process are projects/cases anyway.
To reach the level of business agility required by Digital Transformation, the full range of process, project and case management methodologies, techniques and tools must be engaged and the traditional borders between them must be eliminated.
Social networking drives unification
The new workforce is coming to enterprises: millennials that can’t live without mobile gadgets and apps even a single day. Losing a smartphone is like losing a part of the body or half of your memory. It’s a cultural shift no one can withstand because youth always wins, sooner or later. Better idea is not withstanding but leveraging – hence BYOD, social networking at work and gamification.
But you can’t really introduce a social piecemeal. Just imagine your traditional ERP applications, BPMS/process/workflow/docflow applications, project management software – now all equipped with a social functionality of its own. Will it work? Hardly so – people won’t be comfortable with such a fragmented social environment.
True social networking should cover all forms of work within enterprise: from legacy applications to cross-functional operational processes to knowledge-oriented cases. We aren’t there yet but forward-thinking vendors are already working on making it a reality.
About the Author: Anatoly Belaychuk has over 20 years of professional and managerial experience in software and consulting industry. He is acknowledged BPM (Business Process Management) expert, writer, key speaker at BPM conferences, blogger and trainer. His current position is as a BPM Evangelist at Comindware.
Edited by Peter Bernstein