Thursday, November 4, 2010

An automated mess, is a very fast mess. However, it still remains a mess!


As a Business Solutions Architect, I spend a good amount of time with the the business management and stakeholders in helping everyone understand exactly what, and how they do business.  Subsequent to getting everyone on the same process page, we can then look for opportunities for automation. Unfortunately, I come in on the tail end where the order of that interchange has already occurred, but in the backwards order.  The client has automated first, then tried to figure out exactly how it is that they should really be doing business. Reminds of the old Dilbert cartoon where the pointy haired boss tells the team to get started coding while he goes upstairs to figure out what the requirements are.  To re-phrase for our conversation:  “You guys automate all our business processes now.  We’ll tell you what they are later.”

I was recently involved in an internal discussion here at CIBER around a general discussion of the automation of business processes.  In the course of that conversation, one of our thought leaders (Mark Kurt) summarized the conversation quite well:

“I may be partial, but I believe workflow (human process automation) applications definitely have a place in enabling business results - but like everything it can be over used or applied to the wrong processes.

I think business process management and business process re-engineering are often confused with business process automation - but they are distinctly different. Business process management is about aligning business processes with strategic and operational goals. In analyzing business processes, opportunities for automation may be uncovered, but those opportunities must be viewed in light of the overall goals.

While we often look at strategic goals mentioning efficiency or results (however they may manifest themselves: cycle time, inventory turn, etc.) and then look to the supporting processes as ripe for automation - the root cause of the inefficiency may not be ameliorated through automation (e.g., legal review of a contract, credit review by finance, etc.). But that is not to say that efficiency is always the goal in workflow automation - sometimes the drivers are things like compliance, visibility, and fear of losing institutional or tacit knowledge.

So in a long answer to a short question, I would say that workflow applications are an obstacle to getting results under the following conditions:

  1. The processes chosen to automate do not support strategic or operational goals, and therefore do not add business value (i.e., creating additional "busy" work).
  2. The root cause of inefficiency was not identified correctly, and therefore workflow has increased the efficiency of everything EXCEPT the bottleneck.
  3. The purpose of automation was not communicated (e.g., employees looking for efficiency while management is looking for compliance - this can also be evidence of misalignment between goals and incentives)”

Well said Mark!

Everyone say thanks to Mark for his contribution!

Another good friend of mine (Steve Jacobowitz) states it this way:

“A poorly planned process automated will only get you poor results faster!”

Thanks Steve!  I like it.

- One is pleased to be of service


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