Perfect harmony between processes, data and IT – business Utopia?
What makes a perfect business?
Of course, your answer depends on whether you’re looking at it from a customer, shareholder, finance or sales, HR or IT perspective. Regardless of that, though, I suggest perfect harmony between business processes, IT and data is a feature.
No gaps or overlaps between process, data and IT, no duplication or waste, changes orchestrated and implemented seamlessly, return on investment delivered instantaneously - we are talking perfection, after all.
Enterprises have aspired to this state, pretty much from the advent of the first real time IT systems. Some have gone a long way towards it, while others are prepared to accept the workarounds, the multiple data copies and other symptoms of imperfect alignment as the necessary trade-offs of running a complex business.
Cost and regulatory pressures are upping the stakes for process, data and IT alignment, and automation and artificial intelligence (AI) will make it more vital.
Enterprises are understandably excited about the potential of robotics and AI but founding them on poorly aligned business processes and IT and weak data management is a recipe for wasted investment.
This blog explores the challenges to aligning business processes with IT and lays out a practical approach and roadmap to overcome them. Other blogs in this series cover the key role of data management and freeing IT from the constraints of a capital-led expenditure model. A complementary eBook covers the critical role of data management in an AI enabled world.
The challenge of aligning processes with IT
The practical challenges of aligning business processes, data and IT mean businesses have had varying levels of success. These challenges can combine to create a culture which is resistant to documenting processes.
Process mapping can be a time-consuming and costly process, and the benefits aren’t always immediately apparent.
All the stakeholders in the process need to be involved, and this can be a long list, particularly in today’s world of flexible sourcing and business partnerships.
It can require relatively scarce and expensive skills to do it properly.
Mapping has traditionally taken a long time, and the business doesn’t stand still while you’re doing it, so the process map can be out of date by the time you’ve finished.
Complexities and human factors in the process can mean you end up with process mapping that doesn’t fit every case, undermining its credibility.
It’s often driven by the IT function rather than line of business departments, because process mapping is an essential part of what IT does. This can create issues with ownership and commitment.
These challenges make it tempting to take a leap of faith into the alluring world of automation and AI without first investing time on mapping, understanding and optimising your processes. That’s a high-risk strategy, one which is avoidable with a pragmatic approach to process mapping that makes best use of technologies available now.
A practical approach to process and IT alignment
This approach still requires significant commitment of business time and effort. It rewards that commitment by delivering quick wins, building strong process/IT alignment and positioning the business for its journey through automation to AI.
It starts with establishing the right business process owner, engaging all process stakeholders and finding those quick wins through rapid process mapping. Tools like IBM’s Blueworks enable this process mapping to be carried out at the speed of conversation.
Once mapped, ‘swivel chair’ steps in the process can be identified. These are low-value tasks someone in a swivel chair does now, which can be automated, freeing that person’s time for higher value tasks.
Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can automate these tasks. Low-code/no-code applications can be created directly by the business to further enhance the process, and opportunities to leverage existing technologies can be identified and implemented as part of mapping.
This approach to process mapping helped Health and Emergency Services professionals in one region enhance their response to people breaking their hips at home using the capabilities of domestic virtual assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa.
Another organisation embedded their mapped processes into Sharepoint to create a continuous feedback loop for enhancing their processes.
The approach still requires investment in areas like RPA capabilities, and a significant commitment of time from stakeholders.
Its value is that it creates a fully mapped, consistent process and IT landscape that provides a solid foundation for automation, while delivering rapid, tangible benefits along the way. With effective data structures and strong information lifecycle management, it enables businesses to embark on the journey to AI with confidence.
Logicalis UK has helped many clients deliver success in their process and data management journeys.