Each organization invests hours of work and numerous processes to deal with documents, data and information every single day and across multiple departments. Managing all the information in the enterprise is a core activity of business: both internally and in the interactions with the broader ecosystem including customers, partners, government institutions and other parties.
Every piece of information and every document that gets received, captured, created, shared or treated fits into a broader context of processes, business goals, value chains and tasks which are needed to make the organization run and do what it needs to. If a customer sends a letter (a document) he does so for a reason and in the context of an issue, a question and a history of interactions which are connected to numerous processes and departments dealing with the customer.
The past: ad hoc and fragmented solutions
Over the years systems and models have been created to capture, classify, organize and get specific forms of content for a broad variety of reasons. And each one of them led to the arrival of solutions to put those pieces of information in context and make use of them.
Traditionally all of these solutions, systems and models have focused on pieces of the overall information management puzzle.
- Some looked at one or a few business functions, processes or departments. An example: CRM applications stored customer (interaction) information in the scope of sales, marketing and customer service.
- Others looked at the various types of information/content and/or specific use cases. An example: document management looks at the lifecycle of documents with a sometimes limited scope of document capture and archiving and at other times a broader scope of collaboration.
The result of these efforts is that organizations could get better in each of the practices and solutions. We got smarter about CRM. We became that bit better at unlocking the value of information by truly understanding information management and developing a degree of information management maturity. We started to serve our customers better. Or to improve collaboration.
The challenge: silos to holistic
As every business function and department is responsible for specific tasks in the overall organizational reality (and budgets are mostly allocated to departments and managers with specific KPIs and objectives) it didn’t take long before the rather siloed ways of dealing with specific types of content and documents or with information in the context of one aspect of the business (customer relationships, logistics, legal, HR, etc.) led to equally siloed and disconnected information repositories and processes.
As this was happening and there was more focus on the content and different tasks of the business, organizations often failed to see the bigger picture and role of information in a more holistic and cross-functional and cross-divisional way. And that bigger picture always revolves around the essential business goals and how they are achieved.
A business doesn’t deal with content, information and documents because it has nothing better to do. Yet, all too often, the REASON and VALUE of dealing with this content was looked upon from a rather ad hoc and – again, isolated – perspective of the immediate purpose and task at hand. By doing so, the immediate purpose was often confused with the end goal and wasn’t seen as how it really should be seen: an intermediate goal that serves a broader one or offers the opportunity to serve a broader one by being smarter about it.
The opportunity of the bigger information and optimization picture in practice
Let’s take customer onboarding as an example. Optimizing the capture and handling of the various documents, data and processes in a customer onboarding process is not just about improving the work and lives of employees who need to do that. It’s not just about onboarding the customer better and faster. It’s not just about reducing the paperwork in the onboarding process.
While these are all important goals, the end goal is much more encompassing: business process optimization for the optimization of customer experience and of efforts to acquire customers and thus to increase revenues, decrease costs (or simply more profit) and enhance customer loyalty as customer onboarding is one crucial part of a much bigger end goal revolving around ALL stages in the customer lifecycle and the improvement of end-to-end customer experience across ALL activities and touchpoints or processes.
Similar scenarios, requiring us to move from looking at direct priorities, often caused by specific challenges, and at intermediary goals towards the bigger value picture exist EVERYWHERE in the organization. Furthermore there is virtually always an OPPORTUNITY to find additional optimization, innovation and value creation through (intermediary) goals that further enhance the return of an investment and contribute to those bigger end goals such as increasing revenue and profit, for instance by lowering costs.
Let’s take another example. When an organization digitizes a big archive of paper documents because it needs to for legal reasons and reasons of physical storage space, it disposes of a huge opportunity to capitalize upon specific information it obtains through the digitization of these documents, for instance by gaining intelligence to make better decisions or turning information into any other outcome or even economic good as such.
Connecting your roadmaps and detecting overlaps and opportunities
Obviously such exercises, using roadmaps and looking at the broader questions such as ‘what do we want to achieve today and tomorrow for what reasons and how?’ or ‘how can we solve this business challenge while at the same time identifying stakeholders and opportunities to generate additional gains with an end goal in mind?’, happen in many organizations.
For instance in the scope of a digital transformation strategy (where information integration and activation are key), business process optimization, (digital) business transformation or enterprise information management. But they still are far from omnipresent. Furthermore, even projects with a broader scope and clear roadmap for the future are often still isolated.
An organization might have a roadmap to move towards a more collaborative, agile and unified way of working that spans several stages and years with a clear end goal of, for instance, employee satisfaction and productivity in mind (directly related to customer experience and profit). However, this roadmap might be at the same time accompanied by other projects and roadmaps with their own goals that might not immediately strike you as complementary. If you enhance collaboration and productivity of workers through a UC&C roadmap you can at the same time look at how you transform the way you use information (an essential part of collaboration) for connected business goals.
Yet, that is your reality today: all information, processes, intermediary goals, end goals, stakeholders, information and so on are connected and related. They all impact others. Not seeing that is ignoring the Butterfly Effect of this highly connected age.
The connected complexity of solving business challenges
It’s true that, driven by short-term priorities and the isolated ways organizations are used to work in (remember how we budget), it’s not easy to see all the possibilities in a really holistic and highly connected way. And you have to start somewhere.
But you need a really good picture of how all the challenges and end goals you have relate with each other with an eye on the future and the numerous contextual elements in your broadest possible business ecosystem, from changing customers and employees to technological evolutions, economic changes and disruptive new business models . Seeing that bigger picture is simply a must.
Let’s face it: solving a specific business challenge is already hard when cross-functional and enterprise-wide involvement is required. It seems relatively easy to gain a single view on the customer. But when you start thinking about connecting your CRM, business intelligence, customer-related records, sales data, marketing data, third party data, Voice of the Customer information, contact center systems, customer-facing teams/processes and so on in order to know, serve and engage your customers better, it rapidly becomes clear how hard it is.
And connecting is just one part of the puzzle. You also need to be able to act upon the information and interactions, make teams work together, constantly measure and optimize, follow up, onboard new customers, keep existing ones, forecast/predict evolutions, serve across a myriad of channels and touchpoints, the list goes on.
Even seemingly smaller parts of all these customer-centric changes across divisions and with a focus on customer experience, using multiple system and information sources, are hard. Just think about customer onboarding again. If you start mapping out all of the aspects, from the perspective of processes AND of customer/business value, you quickly notice that optimizing the onboarding process isn’t exactly a walk in the park either.
So, if you need to do all that and go the extra mile by looking at what each of these projects could deliver in additional value outside of the scope of the direct goal, imagine how far it all stretches. And we haven’t even talked about the need to innovate and transform yet in the scope of business growth taking key assets into account.
Seeing how everything connects and turning it into a competitive benefit
This is the real challenge of management, digital business transformation and information management in this day and age, leaving aside many evolutions and aspects we haven’t mentioned: creating that lean and holistic organization with information management excellence, innovation capacity, a focus on value creation and end goals and, last but not least, all the elements you need (people, processes, information, technologies,…) to make it run in a human and effective way, while understanding it all connects (the Butterfly Effect in action).
A simple example of that last aspect: if you optimize everything in your organization but you forget the people, users, workers that ARE your business (human assets) and overlook managing the change it simply won’t work.
The way to really work holistically is by clearly (re)defining your core business assets, including the less tangible but crucial ones, and by being able to work your way through challenges, ad hoc needs and future goals and evolutions by mapping the core business goals and intermediary goals, regardless of the individual task at hand.
And by connecting those dots, business functions, goals, stakeholders, many disciplines and information sources that now still sit in silos. It’s what we call hyper-connected or ubiquitous optimization and it’s far more fundamental than digital transformation.
By being better than your competitor at seeing how everything connects, where everything you need, have and miss sits, and building the bridges needed for the bigger picture you build a competitive advantage. This is not just the age of specialists in many fields, it’s also the age of smart generalists who know far more than just their area of expertise and can – collaboratively – see the big picture – and act upon it. Valuing customers, information, workers, innovation capacity, culture and experiences as core business assets is a key part of it with an extra focus on the value of information in context of people, purpose and process.
Top image purchased under license from Shutterstock