Changing - A Core Business Competency

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With the operational problems caused by the current economy and the uncertainty that possible new legislation is causing, the need to change quickly and effectively is greater than ever. Few companies are prepared or capable of rapid, efficient change – especially broad based change.

 

“ 86% say that poor support for cross-functional processes is a significant or very significant problem,” Business Process Pros Hold The Key To 21st Century Business Transformation by Connie Moore and Alexander Peters, Ph.D., Forrester Research, March 2010. The paper goes on to discuss the maturity of companies in their ability and readiness to transform the operation.

 

While neither the need nor the inability to support rapid change is new, time is running out – procrastination is becoming a luxury that could lead to disaster. The fact is that legislative changes are increasing and responses will need to be fast. Competition from around the world is also changing the game and the flexibility to deal with both threats and opportunities requires an ability to change the business and its IT applications support quickly.

 

Forrester Research states that “Current economic, political, regulatory, and ecological pressures force many companies to engage in business process transformation initiatives.” Business Process Pros Hold The Key To 21st Century Business Transformation by Connie Moore and Alexander Peters, Ph.D., Forrester Research, March 2010.

 

BPM applications in use have shown that the technology and the techniques needed to support this rapid change are available. But, the use of these technologies and techniques needs to expand from the point specific problem resolution use of the past to a strategic, broad use in the future.

Surviving Competition

Many today believe that the ability to change quickly and effectively will make the difference in corporate survival as companies struggle to deal with hyper competition. Some call this agility and some flexibility. But, regardless of the name, it is a need to change quickly and effectively. Change efficiency is evolving into a bonus as the need to react effectively takes precedence over many other considerations. This is, in some ways, a result of inexpensive offshore labor where companies transfer efficiency concerns to the outsourcer who many simply throw extra staff at delays and inaccurate programs in an attempt to improve on time delivery.

Given that this need to change quickly in order to remain competitive is true, creating an ability to change quickly will become table stakes in the game of international business. But, today many companies are struggling with old operational methods, antiquated IT applications, and a limited IT infrastructure. For this reason, creating an ability to change fast will not be free, nor will it be easy. But, given BPM technology, it is possible, and the investment is generally not considered to be a game stopper.

However, even though the technology is available, attitudes, approaches and priorities within many companies will need to be adjusted. The fact is that change is managed at many levels in every company, but this change is seldom coordinated between business units or even projects, let alone at the different levels that it occurs. Implementing this level of change management requires an operational culture modification as managers and staff need to adjust to different ways of looking at business and IT change. In addition, for many companies, the lack of an integrated and coherent IT BPM strategy is proving to be a limiting factor.

Controlling Change

Many of the more progressive companies have been experimenting with BPM technologies and techniques for some time and many are adopting BPM technologies at the corporate level. But, experience in these operations has shown that this move needs to be supported with a clear vision of how a BPM based operating environment will function and what it will need to deliver. This vision will allow the company to create the strategy needed to deliver rapid change and define the initiatives and projects that will build the environment. This will need to be led by a formal roadmap or plan with specific targets, deliverables, benefits, and staffing needs.

In addition to these control elements of change, management will now be faced with a couple of serious problems - corporate history and attitude. History deals with the reluctance of managers to admit that the operation is not the best it can be and attitude deals with the “not invented here” issue. BPM is still fairly new and process innovation and redesign are still more art than science. Experience in both of these areas makes a big difference and can save a lot of time, money, and frustration. But, beyond the experience and skills, the company will be changing its culture and the way it functions. As always, this is the area of highest risk and it must be clearly planned for and managed.

Unlike past efforts that were largely either business or IT centric, the level of change I am proposing requires a combination of business function, process, workflow and activity level work and IT support. This means that the business redesign must consider change at all these levels to be effective and it must tie the IT legacy and BPM generated applications support to the new design. This is something that few companies have done because their focus has been on solving specific tactical problems. By broadening the scope, new design and change challenges must also be considered.

Moving BPM Beyond Problem Resolution Support

To move beyond problem resolution use, BPM must next be used to manage change at a higher level - to control the redesign or modernization of a business activity or a whole enterprise level process. In this broader and more integrated view of change management, BPM technologies and techniques form a type of operational infrastructure. When applied broadly in a company, this infrastructure becomes so integrated into business activity that it defines and supports a new type of business operating environment.

If the company’s culture can be adjusted to accept continuous improvement and rapid operational and IT redesign in response to competition or opportunity, the company will have succeeded in creating an operation that is geared to rapid change. When this has become internalized in the way managers look at their operation’s performance evolution, the company will have institutionalized change as a core competency.

Building this environment will require time and an approach that is based on both company benefit and personal benefit for the managers and staff. But, personal benefit should not be considered as only direct compensation increase. This benefit comes in the form of reduced and more focused workload, reduced pressure, increased job satisfaction, and a more positive work environment. When these benefits are realized, the change can become institutionalized and the new operating environment.

The key however, in moving beyond a very tactical problem resolution oriented use of BPM, is the recognition by the senior management that they must have an ability to change the company’s operation and all the activity that supports any process very fast. Since the only way to delivery this rapid change is BPM, once this need is backed by senior management the vehicle to delivery it (BPM) will then be supported. Once in place, the BPM environment that I am referring to will allow managers to quickly model changes against the current operation models, look for impact, look at how rules will change and then simulate the change through multiple models, taking the best of each model to form a composite best practice or optimized model. This will then be used to generate new management applications and to define the specifications for changes to legacy applications. Of course, SOA based access to legacy applications and to data will be used to reduce time and provide standard access to systems, data, and the internet/cloud.

But, as a company moves to a corporate level focus on a BPM based business change environment, it is critical that control be considered and modified to deal with the breadth and speed of change. In many cases the issue will change from the question of “can you do something?” to “should you do it?” This will also require corporate level change approach standardization and a standardization on BPM tools and techniques so that work done by different groups will fit together to eventually form an enterprise view of the operation with broad simulation and estimation capabilities. This may require the creation of centralized expertise in a Center of Excellence staffed by process transformation specialists.

However this may be supported, the clear fact is that to survive competitive and legislative changes companies will need to develop a new level of responsiveness to the customer and the market. Equally clear is the simple fact that the only way to deliver the speed of change that is needed while managing risk is by leveraging what many have learned through their use of BPM to solve problems to expand its use through a BPM based business operating environment.

Summary

A sustained ability to change quickly, effectively, and efficiently can be built. That is the good news. But, as noted it is not free, it is not simple, and it takes commitment. Equally true is that change itself is not something everyone is good at. It takes much more than project management certification, technical knowledge or business knowledge. It takes all that plus an intangible – creativity. It also takes a different type of competency. This competency is born out of experience and political awareness. It is an ability to adequately deal with all the forces and personalities that must be controlled for success. But, while all these characteristics are needed, creating an effective and efficient change capability also requires an environment that allows you to move fast and to control information, rules, data, and legacy applications concurrently. This is a BPM technology based business operating environment.

 

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