Process Re-Engineering: Where Tech and Culture Collide


Process Re-Engineering: Where Tech and Culture Collide

One of the biggest challenges in business process optimization today is identifying and/or assigning a process owner. And then having that person, or persons, take full responsibility for ensuring that the process is running as well as it can. This also requires they keep an eye on the future so that a finely tuned process remains so.

For a host of reasons, this is harder than it sounds. When processes need "fixing" where do you start? There are few choices: buy a product suite and do a rip-and-replace overhaul, change the way people work to better adapt to the existing process, or, (perhaps reluctantly) call IT in to help you formulate a work-around.

Most business people generally look to the first option to fix things but this is a heavy lift when, many times, processes can be tweaked in less Draconian ways. The first step is measuring where you are today. And the second is figuring if the process can even be improved. Once you agree it can be improved, you’ve got to figure out how.

This is where corporate culture and technology can clash. From a cultural perspective, process improvement that incorporates more than an immediate fix can be hampered by things like P&L owners whose compensation is tied to quarterly performance reports. These folks have a "fix-it-now" mindset that, for obvious reasons, is narrowly focused on their own set of problems. They forego a broader or simpler solution in order to maximize their numbers instead of thinking more holistically about what is best for the organization.

This is why many organizations have established the role of a Chief Process Officer (or its equivalent) because it's a role that brings a level of process oversight and governance for the whole organization, rather than just letting business leaders go rogue. But just as important as the portfolio view this governance creates is the demand that any changes be delivered at scale and speed if the effects are going to be lasting and/or felt in the near-term.

What's needed from a cultural point of view is to embrace the idea of iterative change that not only solves an immediate need but keeps existing process integrations largely intact so there are no major upheavals in how things currently get done. This is how innovation works: you take good ideas, combine them, and the sum ends up being greater than the parts.

If this is the approach that ends up working for your organization, it may be that IT can handle it all, but many businesses have lost faith that their IT department can deliver. It's not necessarily IT's fault. Technology is highly complex and IT is being pulled in many directions at once. "Fix one thing, break another" is a common refrain. Interdependencies are everywhere and they are easily broken.

Fortunately, hybrid solutions exist where IT can work with best-of-breed software from outside the organization and combine that with people and process tweaks that can solve many problems. Really, it's just a matter of looking at the problem from different angles and then brainstorming solutions instead of ruminating on problems.

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