Business process optimization/management and digital transformation

There are many ways to look at an organization and thus how to transform and optimize its various ‘components’. One potential view is to see organizations as a group of people, working together to achieve one or more common goals.

A second potential view is to look at organizations as ecosystems of people whereby the organization’s borders and goals stretch beyond the causal dimension of people working to achieve a goal. And a third way of looking at organizations is by seeing them as systems of information networks as AIIM’s John Mancini does in his Mancini’s law (read the interview).

These views already show quite some optimization opportunities: business process optimization (business processes are about the steps and tasks to serve people and achieve a goal), workflow optimization, organizational optimization, collaboration optimization, information management in the optimization sense, the list goes on.

Business process optimization

Business process optimization: a holistic approach to a holistic challenge

Another way to look at an organization is by seeing it as a set of highly interconnected business processes, people and information whereby business processes focus on an outcome, primarily a customer-focused one (with the customer in the broadest sense) but also potentially with the outcome being the next connected business process (ultimately also with ‘the customer in mind’).

Examples of business processes range from a customer onboarding process to an insurance claims management process. It resembles the other views but it brings us very close to Business Process Management (BPM) as a discipline, organizational vision, practice and way to improve and manage processes, initially from an operations perspective and increasingly from other perspectives too (BPM of course isn’t new and has evolved), close to the customer and his reality of engaging with an organization – and thus customer experience.

Business process management nowadays is often reduced to one part of it: business process optimization. Business process optimization is then used as synonym of business process management (which it is not really), which involves many pieces that need to be mapped and improved.

This goes for all forms of optimization, whether they are functional, on a business process level and even tactical. In business process transformation we need to look at several components as well. When we add business transformation and digital transformation into the equation, there are even far more pieces to be mapped, enhanced and connected and more ‘holistic’ bridges to be built, including on the business process level.

Digital transformation doesn’t happen just like that. You need a digital transformation strategy. Such a strategy de facto requires building several bridges. Between people, processes, purpose, information, technologies, functions, departments, the list goes on.

When looking at transformation in practice, Business Process Management and business process optimization are often (and in some areas increasingly) seen as a way to get it done.

After all, as a discipline, business process management takes a holistic view on the organization as a series of connected business processes that need to be aligned, enhanced, etc. And holistic is the way to go in digital transformation as well.

Business process optimization, digital transformation and information excellence meet in customer-centricity

Moreover, business processes are about aligned outcomes, business goals and very often the customers (and other people in the enterprise ecosystem).

That’s a second good argument to ‘use’ business process management in a context of transformation (and optimization), on top of the holistic one. Business process optimization is the optimization of the individual business processes within that holistic perspective.

And this is what corresponds with our customer-centric optimization needs. Customers and other stakeholders don’t see our silos or divisions, they engage with our organizations in the context of a business process and the outcome of that process is what they (want) to see.

So, with business process management we combine the views of organizations as ecosystems of people, as systems of information networks and as goal-oriented business processes – with (internal and external) customers in mind, on a macro level and on the level of specific business processes.

The only thing we need to factor in is the uncertainty and unpredictability, one of the reasons you see an increasing focus on case management, agile, lean and scrum as we’ll tackle in a next article.

Business process optimization and management in an environment of unpredictability

The challenge is that you only can organize, structure and plan to a specific degree, depending on the scope and project.

Let’s take the previously mentioned Mancini’s law. It starts like this: “Organizations are systems of information networks. They only operate effectively when there are clear and predictable information flows within and between these networks.”

Herein lies a first challenge in the context of cases where information flows are less predictable than ever. Just think about an insurance claims handling process and all the exceptions and different forms of information that can enter in the context of one single insurance claim. This is where BPM and advanced case management come in the picture.

So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that BPM is not just gaining a (renewed) interest in the context of digital transformation but also in the scope of information management. More than ever, business processes are interconnected and content/information are key in an increasing number of processes.

Before diving deeper into topics such as business process optimization, business process management and dynamic or advanced case management in the scope of digital transformation and of information management, a word on systems and solutions.

Business process optimization and management: a discipline and focus on outcomes instead of on systems

Business process management is all too often seen as a tool, a platform, a solution: a business process management system.

This systems approach is a classic phenomenon: each time a ‘new’ way of looking at organizations or at specific challenges arises, the systems follow soon. The need to be more customer-centric and manage customer relationships led to Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems. The need to manage enterprise content led to Enterprise Content Management (ECM) systems. The idea of using technology to automatically optimize customer interactions led to marketing automation systems.

And of course looking at organizations from the business process dimensions led to Business Process Management (BPM) systems. It needs to be said that systems, however, never suffice to manage the complexity of (any aspect of) an organization. They traditionally tend to lead to a rather isolated view whereby the focus goes to much to the system and not enough to the holistic perspective, views and end goals in which they fit. In their attempts to manage complexity, systems simplify complexity, ultimately leading to new challenges and new complexities as systems are not designed to handle human and organizational realities, they are designed to achieve an outcome within a set of features that has been defined as being crucial for these realities.

So, while business process management is confused with business process management systems, we need to look at it beyond systems.

Each way of looking at an organization comes with its benefits and its limits. In an age of digital transformation with phenomena such as disruption, unpredictability and the development of hyper-aware capabilities for the – by definition uncertain – future, these limits show even more, as do the limits of the systems we have always used. While these systems in practice prove important as we’ll see in next blog posts, they are never the essence.

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