As far as when it is time to automate a process, if the process is a core one to a company, that company should always be analyzing how to make the process better. This definition of "better" should be focused on customer outcomes. If the feedback loop for the process ends up indicating a portion of a process should be automated, and the cost can be justified, then it is time to automate that portion of the process.
- Fred Nickols
- 1 week ago
As long as an organization is satisfying the requirements of stakeholders, then investment dollars should be conserved.
The investment decision to automate a process will be driven (in a competitive for-profit environment) by a business case triggered by competitive necessity only. (Kodak probably had the best silver nitrate film production processes; further investment in process improvement was not going to be helpful.)
The statement above is (admittedly) attention-grabbing; it's also just a statement of normative business practice under conditions of perfect information.
We need to be careful however because decisions concerning investment in business processes are among the most important decisions that can be made concerning any business. We need to be careful because there are risks to getting thinking about business process investments wrong. Specifically, I am going to call out two specific risks, both risks associated with management ideology as applied to business process investment decisions: And then finally I am going to relax the unrealistic assumption of "perfect information".
TWO BAD APPROACHES TO PROCESS INVESTMENT
1) DANGER OF CYNICISM: ( a.k.a. "process is for suckers", or risk of process under-investment ) -- American car manufacturers are accused of having religiously adhered to the above business logic until they were out-competed by Japanese competitors. One could say that the "never-for-its-own-sake" approach is cynical, without any love for "just doing a good job, or the best job". But to ascribe investment-driven business decisions to cynicism alone would be a mistake. Failure to invest in process improvement might be cynical, but insofar as it results in failure, such failure to invest is also stupid and lazy. American auto executives missed the competitive signals that it was time to invest in better manufacturing processes.
2) DANGER OF PRODUCTIVISM: ( a.k.a. "process is the only thing", or risk of process over-investment) -- "Productivism" is an entertaining concept, the opposite of "consumerism". It is a focus on production-for-production's-sake (or in this case, "process-for-its-own-sake" ). The idea that we should improve our process just because we want to be better at it is "productivist". Productivism is a relatively modern idea; before modernity, people just did things they way they'd always been done. The Soviets were especially enamoured of production for its own sake, even if it was ostensibly for the greater purpose of strengthening "socialism in one country". The Eiffel Tower is an example perhaps of production-for-its-own-sake. The current rise of "craft businesses", often by unemployed MBAs, is another example of productivism. There's certainly a pleasure in work and craft which is satisfying in and of themselves, beyond any business viability. And yet in the end, the business viability of any production project is a necessary justification for those who want to stay in business.
Here's an interesting article that touches of productivism versus consumerism by French writer Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry:
This Is The Fundamental Thing That Most People, Including Paul Krugman, Don't Get About Economics
BETTER PROCESS INVESTMENT APPROACH
A process investment decision is no different than any investment decision. And good investment decisioning is not a theoretical abstraction, but reflects the specifics of the business domain. So for our business process investment decision, let's acknowledge imperfect information and uncertainty especially about domain-specific process competition. Specifically, we'd like to hedge the risk of being locked in to an uncompetitive process.
So what are the factors to consider which should guide our business process investment decision?
1) UNCERTAINTY -- It's sometimes difficult to correctly read market signals until its too late; this uncertainty can be reduced by competitive intelligence and by being better informed about market trends. (This increase in knowledge is not free; information has a cost.)
2) CAPABILITY -- One cannot just turn process improvement on or off at will; process improvement capability itself is a corporate asset. (Maintenance of process design capability is not free; it requires a sponsor.)
3) DECISIONING -- Business process project lead times and payoffs can be lengthy; the cost of time-to-value can be high. (Just the ability to make process investment decisions is a capability; process governance has a cost and needs a sponsor.)
For these reasons, we arrive at an interesting conclusion, one that we had previously rejected! Specifically we should act as a productivist, and improve processes for their own sake, and for the love of the work! This approach is a hedge or, under the assumption of a competitive marketplace, a long bet (an option) that competitors are doing the same thing. With such an approach we can limit the existential risk of competitive surprise
The first type of automation must be done ASAP for all critical processes (consider impact x frequency metric). The second type of automation requires a slightly different approach – when the users found a good way to do their work then automate it, even a very simple file transfer or an update. Of course, your BPM must be very agile.
Re #1 (automate the coordination of human activities) the more decentralized an organization, the more important. I suspect the cost of this type of automation varies widely i.e. a few thousand dollars versus a few hundred thousand dollars or more. Accordingly, it pays organizations to carry out due diligence when shopping for tools/when making decisions re mapping and operating environments. Some of the "solutions" promoted to corporations border on scandalous. Any initiative by IT where the starting position is "what is BPM and should we adopt this?" has a predictable negative outcome. An experienced consultant with a good track record is the obvious path to take.
I really don't see how a BPM implementation that is not agile can become agile. It is somewhat like trying to convert a submarine into an airplane. The foundation has to be right to achieve "agile".
The only advice corporations need is "Caveat Emptor" - if a corporation is going to spend a lot of money and fail in their implementation, the corporation ends up in a delicate strategic position relative to its competitors.
As for #2 (reducing the amount of human activity) - if a corporation does not put a focus on this, the completion wins. The notion that staff whose jobs have been eliminated can be 'easily' retrained/re-deployed, to me, is nonsense. The problems are resistance to change and inability to change to take on different work.
- Karl Walter Keirstead
- 1 week ago
- Dr Alexander Samarin
- 1 week ago
Having said that, not everything in BPM has to lead to automation, automatically . In fact, there are several goals BPM stakeholders can pursue, on different levels. Process documentation, flow charting, mining, analysis or just as-is compliance control in order to establish a starting point, may be things of interest. BPTrends, in their semi yearly "State of BPM", publish a nice list of top goals for IT stakeholders in correlation with BPM, and automation itself is actually not the leader of that list. If I recall correctly, the top things to achieve with BPM are usually around gaining better insights and process controls.
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