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Why business process improvements subdue business

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A business spends hundreds of thousands of rand optimising their business processes and introducing management aids that promised to improve operational visibility, boost risk mitigation efforts, increase data accuracy and deliver a plethora of up-to-the-minute reports.

There’s just one thing that doesn’t make sense: instead of driving efficiency and effectiveness, the company seems to have lost a great deal of its flexibility and it’s taking twice as long to get things done in critical areas of the business.
They are not the only confused CEOs, writes Tim Stanley of Global 360. In fact, many bewildered business leaders are coming to the conclusion that business process management (BPM) that is not applied correctly can be more hinder than help.
Fortunately, this is not entirely true. Certainly, BPM’s efficacy and relevance across business sectors and throughout companies has often been promoted to the point of misguided glorification; however, it can and will bring benefits to a business once its use is guided by its applicability.
BPM effective for linear processes
BPM is extraordinarily effective at improving the efficiency, accuracy and security of repeatable processes, as long as this is linear, passing through people or departments in a particular order, from start to conclusion.
For instance: a sales person receives an order and hands this to the accounts department for invoicing; the invoice is then sent to the warehouse to gather the items together and prepare for delivery; dispatch adds the details to delivery schedule; and the items are loaded and ultimately delivered.
However, applying BPM to a process which is not linear and features an ever lengthening list of potential actions is likely to result in disaster. Management of a customer’s account, for example, is an essential business process which is in no way linear, predictable or begging for standardisation.
In this scenario a variety of people or departments – such as sales, CRM, technical, accounts, marketing – could quite feasibly require simultaneous access to the account in order to fulfil one of the countless actions required when handling such an account.
Restricting access to one person or department at a time and severely limiting the number of available actions in the name of standardisation will do more to drive the customer to competitor than the competitor could ever do.
Paper-based court files and outdated processes cause chaos in South Africa
Sadly, the judicial system in South Africa is supplying evidence of how catastrophic such a system can be.
With only one party able to access the court’s case files – which are still largely paper based – at a time, people are seeing increasing reports of files disappearing, backlogs building, justice unconstitutionally and expensively delayed, evidence lost or misappropriated and an environment which has been unable to redeem itself of its reputation of chaos.
There is growing recognition that these more complex types of business processes – such as employee management, customer management, and claims management to name a few – require an altogether different form of management practice.
Indeed, Forrester Research says that today’s approach to business processes must support shifts in regulations, customer expectations, and worker demands that require a more ad hoc and collaborative management approach.
Adaptive case management is critical for addressing unstructured processes
Research houses and business analysts have settled on naming this practice "adaptive case management", which Gartner describes as capturing the backwards-and-forwards nature of human interaction to reach a specific outcome.
At first glance, the unpredictability and unstructured nature of these business processes appear to be unreceptive to boardroom imperatives which require increased transparency, mitigated risks, improved productivity, enhanced flexibility and greater insight and intelligence. Certainly, applying the traditional approach to BPM in these areas has for most organisations been disastrous.
Nevertheless there are considerable returns to be had from addressing an unpredictable business processes with case management. Going back to the example of managing a customer account, few companies would be able to access a complete view of a customer account at any given time.
This is because portions of the case have been distributed throughout the company – such as sales, accounts and service – and remain isolated from each other. However, if the company draws all these portions into a central view, management will immediately see significant improvements in operational transparency, case insight and business intelligence.
In turn, the ability to immediately view the case – whether it be a general overview or  a detailed statement – means management can monitor activities effectively and step in to address any risks far more rapidly.
What’s more, the central repository enables the various departments working on the case to collaborate simultaneously and effortlessly. Driving human interaction has an enormous ability to positively affect business outcomes, particularly when this collaboration is multi-disciplinary or encompassing of the various departments that previously operated in isolation.
In fact a collaborative environment could effectively deal with the two most common disputes between the sales and financial departments that often require the intervention of a third senior manager.
In the first dispute, a sales person has spent weeks negotiating the conclusion of a large deal only to find the customer’s account has been placed on hold due to non-payment.
In the second, the financial department blames sales for not passing on the information that the customer had hit a rough patch, sales in response says it is the accounts department’s responsibility to monitor the health of the account.
In addition to the departmental tension that commonly follows such disputes, the company invariably has lost employee time that could have more effectively been used elsewhere and the company has or will be exposed to unnecessary risk.
In a case management setting the collaborative environment nullifies these disputes before they have a chance to build. The sales person picks another customer to target based on the account status and the finance department is able to capitalise on the insights gained into the customer’s health by the sales department in its regular engagements with that client.
And even traditionally possessive employees soon come to realise that the collaborating team is greater than the sum of all its parts.