Business Process and Workflow Automation entails a deep understanding of the structures and flows of an organization, as well as the end-to-end steps required to create customer value. Before any process can be automated, it must first be optimized. Before any process can be optimized, it must first be understood.
Business process automation focuses on the concept of “global optimization,” as processes can traverse multiple business units, domains, or functions from beginning to end. Workflow automation focuses on the “local optimization” of the tasks and outputs generated at an individual, team, or functional level.
Global optimization requires a holistic approach that takes into account the full scope of all components of a system or process, paying particular attention to the interconnectedness and collective behavior that emerges from the interactions between components. The goals of optimizing globally include reducing friction at handoffs, creating leverage points, introducing enabling constraints, and amplifying feedback loops as value and knowledge flow through a business process.
Local optimization focuses more on the details closest to a problem space, handoff, or interface. Individuals, teams, departments, and business units utilize tools and applications that are more specialized and self-contained, focusing on the flow of specific types of task or knowledge work that result in structured outputs that meet the requirements of a step or stage in a higher level workflow, process, or cycle.
Business process improvement is iterative and cyclical, not a one-time heavy-lift with clear start and finish lines. Continuous process improvement in lockstep with underlying systems change is the key to ongoing operational and innovational excellence. In no case will any technology by itself improve or automate processes.
The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency. Bill Gates
Most modern enterprises, if not considered technology companies in themselves, are at least heavily dependent on technology. Sometimes a little too dependent. When a new risk, problem, or opportunity arises that would require system changes, the first question to ask is:
Is this a business problem or a technology problem?
I’ll give you a hint: The answer is rarely a technical problem no matter how dependent on technology we might believe we are, and automation for the sake of automation is a losing strategy.
Avoid the knee-jerk reaction to “automate all the things” until you have had the opportunity to fully analyze a process or workflow to identify the root causes of the inefficiencies and problems that you think you want to address with automation.
Sometimes you don’t have to make the investment in technology to make a flow or process less wasteful or more effective. Sometimes it is simply a matter of identifying bottlenecks and changing the sequences and gates through which tasks and knowledge flow to improve a business process or workflow and achieve significant gains in performance.
Adding technology for technology’s sake introduces its own risks, from increased complexity, to rigidity that naturally impedes adaptiveness and agility, to introducing “black boxes” that produce outputs that cannot be easily understood our audited.
You have to understand not only the interdepedencies between the underlying technical components, but within upstream and downstream systems and structures that may not be immediately visible to you such as power and political structures, communication structures, and high level streams that deliver customer value.
As we learned from the short-sightedness of executives in the 1990’s and early 2000’s trying to squeeze a few more dollars out of every process by implementing Process Engineering and other theoretical automation fads, there is a significant human cost to automation that must also be taken into consideration. Automating systems for the sole purpose of offshoring or eliminating human jobs through mass layoffs can never be the goal.
In today’s world where everything seems to move fast all the time, the goal is not just to make flows and processes faster, but better. Observability and measurability lead to predictability and resilience. Taking the opportunity to inject feedback loops into critical points in a flow or process opens paths to continuous improvement and sustainable growth.
As an Enterprise Architect, I have been practicing business process and workflow design and optimization for over 20 years. Inspired by process thinkers like Michael Hammer, Eliyahu Goldratt, and Tom Davenport, my deep business knowledge coupled with my systems architecture expertise enables me to show you the bigger picture so you can see it for yourself and cut through the typical barriers and obstacles that stand in the way of effective process design and implementation.
Does this sound like the approach to business process and workflow optimization that you’ve been looking for? Let’s connect and discuss opportunities to improve innovation and operational processes and workflows that align with and support the goals and strategy of the enterprise.