Why improve the business process?

Over 40 years of work in the business community with an emphasis on business process improvement has given me two important insights:

a. No type of automation or business improvement will occur without the active participation of motivated, creative, imaginative  individuals.

b. These same people  abhor change because change is disorienting.  Change takes us out of our instinctive frame of mind  and requires us to think about what we are doing and why we are doing it.  It also requires us to imagine how our proposed changes will impact others.

Let’s identify the top 11 reasons that continual business process improvement makes sense and is, in fact, a vital part of a dynamic and successful business enterprise. In the spirit of a famous television comedian, we start with reason number 11 and work our way up to reason 1.

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11. You can design your work flow for maximum efficiency.  For example, say a standardized, packaged software solution requires you to go to 5 screens and make 8 clicks to accomplish a particular objective.  If this is something you do often, you can design the system to streamline the activity.  How about one or two clicks to get the job done.

10.  Many of us use two or more software solutions in our daily work.  Often, these solutions require duplication of effort.  They require you to enter information two or more times.    If this is true, it is worthwhile to think about an interface between the two existing solutions.

9.  You and your staff have entered a vast amount of data, often as a by-product of your routine activities.  What is the best way to make use of this data?  How about data mining.  Determine what information can help you make better decisions.  Then go about extracting and working with this data.

8. Sometimes you see all the information you need, but it is not presented in the right sequence.  You cannot, in effect, see the forest for the trees.  Think about whether a different presentation of this information can help you see trends and patterns more clearly.

7. Systems can perform calculations that it would be impossible to do manually.  Some kinds of calculations are not just voluminous, they are hard to do.  Let’s instruct the computer to perform the calculations for us.  Great examples of this are  rate of return calculations, regressions, valuations, or any other types of performance measurement or trend analysis.

6. Another reason to automate the business process is to prevent operational error.  Some procedures in your office involve many steps, either manual or automated.  Let’s automate these steps to save time and to minimize the likelihood of operational error.  Chances are, if your staff needs to perform several steps to accomplish a task, on occasion some those steps will be omitted.

5. A sound business process will provide audit trails for any information that you enter or change.  At all times, you should be able to drill down on a specific number and see all the activity or transactions that have contributed to that number.

4. The key to productivity improvement is delegation.  You need to delegate tasks to your staff so that they will learn and you will be freed up to envision new and better ways to accomplish tasks or use information.  If, for example, you use spreadsheets as the basis of your business process, your staff can help you out, but there is a very high likelihood that they will make mistakes.  And it may take you longer to review their work and find their mistakes than it would take for you to do the work yourself.

3.  We should continually review our business process as it impacts employees, customers, and third parties.  How can we deliver information through the internet to improve the timeliness and reduce the cost of communication.

2.  Of course, use of the internet as a communication tool is a two-way street.  We can also use the internet as a data capture tool.  We can have our customers and clients do our data entry work for us.  As Chase Bank, Lands End, and American Airlines have discovered, our customers are also our data entry clerks.

1. What do all of these business process improvement ideas have in common?  They enable us to elevate ourselves from the operational morass and help to keep our mind clear of minutia.  Let the computer and the process handle that.  We are now free to focus on the creative aspects of our job.  The ultimate business process is one in which we arrive at work each day, turn on our computer, and it tells us what tasks need to be performed today.

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About Howard Zien
Howard P. Zien is the president of Business Logic Incorporated. He has been in the consulting and software development field since the early 1970s. A graduate of Princeton University, Howard earned an MBA in accounting and finance from New York University's Stern School of Business.

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