Silver Bullet or Service Failure

The business rules often developed by finance, legal or other corporate areas are programmed into the black box of technology. Although staff may know the result of activities and the rule; they often do not know the logic or reason for the rule. For example, if orders of a certain size require additional steps, they know that additional steps are required and what conditions trigger the additional steps. Without understanding the Why, business users have difficulty identifying how the process could be performed differently, more efficiently or made more customer friendly. The result is that often current activities are automated when there may have been an opportunity to eliminate the activity if the owner(s) of the rules had been involved in the process redesign.

How We Work Today

Business experts providing the requirements for systems changes are grounded in how they do work today. Few business experts have a vision of how they want to work in the future. When they provide requirements for the new system, they can only base it on the knowledge they currently have and the problems they are currently experiencing. Systems changes and the resulting process improvements are often simply automation of existing tasks to make work easier or more efficient rather than more effective.

Business process reengineering in the 90's attempted to provide companies with a method for radical process redesign but most companies found massive change impractical and too disruptive to be successful. The good news from Business Process Reengineering is that many of the techniques used to encourage people to think outside of the box continue to be used within organizations. What is lacking within organizations is a disciplined approach to encouraging this type of thinking when developing systems requirements. The result is hit and miss success for projects.

Customer Knowledge

The final source of this disconnect is the ever growing lack of direct contact with customers and an increasing lack of knowledge about customers needs and how easy it is for the customer to do business with the organization. In the past when a shoemaker made shoes he measured the customer's feet and was there when the customer tried them on. He knew immediately whether there was a successful customer outcome. Today more and more customers do business with organizations through the web, IVR systems or self check out stations without ever speaking to an employee. Organizations have no idea whether the customer found what they were looking for or was satisfied with services received. Organizations are forced to try to glean this information from sales volumes and dropped activities. The business experts providing systems requirements may have never talked to a customer so it is difficult to think like a customer. It takes very skilled Business Analysts with appropriate training to lead the business experts to thinking of systems from the customer point of view. Too often this skill is missing and the new systems and functionality are designed from an internal perspective rather than the external, customer perspective.

The situation isn't as dismal as it sounds. Many of the BPM software vendors recognize the need for a more disciplined, customer focus and are attempting to position their products and services in that manner. In addition, there are well recognized business process management methods available to aid organizations in redesigning their processes and implementing BPM software should they choose to do so. Through training, organizations can build their BPM knowledge before choosing to select a technology solution. BPM training through organizations such as BPM3 Inc. and the BPT Group can help you identify and apply the BPM best practices from the beginning. There are also various books such as "The Outside-In Corporation" by Barbara E. Bund and FedEx Delivers by Madan Birla that share with you some of the leadership and strategies you will need for success. These real life case studies can help you create your own vision of your organization and how you want to do business in the future.

Changing your organization so that it is focused on successful customer outcomes rather than internal challenges and needs isn't easy but it can be done. It will take time, planning and a resolve to not fall back into a technology quick fix trap. The good news is that you are not alone. A number of companies are currently reaping the rewards with successful business process management programs. We at BPM3 Inc. would love to share our knowledge with you and hear your stories whether successful or not. Learning comes from both the failures and the successes.

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If Technology is a Silver Bullet, why is it also the source of so many service failures?

Since the early 70's, from a business and IT perspective I have covered the range of selling computers and software, analyzing, designing, and implementing systems, conducting JAD sessions, and teaching others how to gather requirements. I have observed the profound impact technology has had on how businesses perform work.

Technology has often been viewed as the Silver Bullet that will fix all of the processing woes within an organization. Unfortunately, for every Silver Bullet success story there are a hundred stories of failure. Business Process Management Software has gained the attention of many organizations and time will tell whether it is successful in transforming the way businesses operate. For BPM Software to be successful, organizations need to be aware of and plan to resolve the following issues that are the source of many past silver bullet failures.

The Technology Black Box

Companies looking to technology solutions to solve all of their problems often overlook the inherent "Black Box" nature of technology. What do I mean by this?

How often have you heard someone say "I have to do this because the system..." or "the system won't let me do that"

Business users know the tasks they need to perform on the system but often lack an understanding of why it works, what happens with the information or how the activity supports the end to end process. The rules, the logic and requirements are hidden inside the code invisible to the business experts supporting the process. The system becomes a black box from which only skilled systems experts can often decipher what has transpired and why.

When a new system is to be implemented or a change made, those same business users are asked to provide business requirements. The business users can only base requirements on the knowledge they have so often there are gaps. Many of the technology shortcomings and implementation failures are due to faulty business requirements. This has been recognized for years resulting in the development of training programs and consultancies specializing in business requirements analysis yet the stories of failure continue. Careful attention to gathering requirements is only one part of the solution.

Distributed End to End Processes

Today end to end processes (i.e. order to cash) are distributed across the organization's structure, suppliers, and subsidiaries. As a result, few business experts have insight into the entire end to end process. Their knowledge is primarily of their own functional area and the piece of the process they work on. Too often systems requirements are gathered separately from groups representing functional areas or from only the primary stakeholders within an area affected. Identifying the entire end to end process and involving all of the stakeholders for the process will help resolve many gaps and missed requirements. It will also help all of the various stakeholders understand why certain activities may or may not be necessary to support the end to end process.

Maintaining Business Rules

Although recent legislation requires many companies to have process documentation the documentation is focused on process controls and is not very useful in gaining the end to end view for requirements or process redesign.

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