An organisation is built on the three pillars of people, technology and process. As with any other human activity, having the right people – individuals who are motivated and who are delivering – is a basic and key requirement to performance. On the other hand, providing people with the right tools to do their jobs well is also vitally important. Meanwhile, computer technology has revolutionised all manners of working environments, and with web technologies and mobile computing, we are all becoming much more efficient, for longer. What holds all this together for all businesses, however, is processes.
What is a business process?
A business process is a series of inter-related tasks, performed by a group of actors to achieve a predefined organisational goal. It is the fundamental building block for several related concepts, such as Business Process Management (BPM) and Process Automation. To be effective, each business process must have its defined inputs and outputs. These outputs must add value to a product or service – directly or indirectly.
Why are business processes so important?
The need and the advantages of a business process are quite apparent, particularly in larger organisations. A well-defined process forms the lifeline for any business and helps it streamline individual activities, and makes sure that resources are put to their optimum use. Having relevant and efficient processes in place will help identify what tasks are important to larger business goals, and streamline them to improve efficiency and effectiveness. It will also simplify and facilitate communication between people, functions, and departments, to accomplish specific tasks. From a management viewpoint, it will set a hierarchy of approvals wherever relevant, in order to ensure accountability and an optimum use of resources. Most importantly, in the longer term, it will keep chaos from creeping into day-to-day operations, while getting a clear picture of the inefficiencies that currently exist within the business.
Business processes can take the shape of management processes, systematic processes that govern organisational needs and are used to carry out an activity, such as implementing new projects or developing company strategy. But they are more commonly of an operational nature, where they create and contribute to the primary value stream, such as product manufacturing and distribution. At the tail end, one also finds supporting processes, which do not contribute to the primary value stream but are necessary for an organisation to function correctly. Supporting processes include corporate services such as accounting, sales, and human resource management.
Developing a framework for business processes to deliver
Business processes deliver when they operate within a framework which is designed to achieve organisational and operational excellence; one which has the in-built characteristics to take in the importance of customer focus, an effective process approach, the appropriate tools and techniques, people development, teamwork, an efficient management system, performance measurement, and self-assessment. Such a framework must be capable of enabling those involved to set direction, to identify core processes, to define, analyse, and manage these processes – while looking for opportunities to streamline and automate - and finally, to measure and improve performance. It should also improve their ability to ensure accountability, anticipate issues, respond and adapt to market shifts and customer demands, and boost resilience vis-à-vis potentially disruptive economic developments.
Business Process Management (BPM)
Once the relevant processes are in place, you need to maintain and support the system. Business Process Management (BPM) is a systematic approach to define processes, make an organisation's workflow more effective, more efficient and more capable of adapting to an ever-changing environment. One of the goals of BPM is to reduce human error and miscommunication and focus stakeholders on the requirements of their roles. BPM aims to visually represent business processes and then use the resulting graphic representations to find ways in which existing processes can be redesigned and organized. This, in turn, with the scope of improving organisational efficiencies.
If a business process takes on more work than it is designed to, it runs the risk of performing badly. BPM can establish a robust framework to minimise complexities and create a solid foundation for the process to withstand challenges. BPM is, in essence, a process improvement paradigm designed to help you remove redundancies and improve efficiencies – generally by cutting cost and time, while maximising on the best use of resources.
BPM is traditionally carried out by a team comprising of business analysts with modelling experience, as well as process specialists who understand the tasks involved in every stage. A successful BPM project results in reduced costs, increased value, speed and quality. Although technology is not the fundamental requirement to undertake BPM, it is often a necessity and key driver, due to the need to manage masses of varied data, the need for fast execution, as well as for maintaining vital process-specific documentation.
Whatever the goals or the means of implementation, however, BPM should not be considered or approached as a one-time exercise. It should rather become a continuous activity that drives the evolution of processes in anticipation of upcoming demands. BPM should be addressed by management as a mandatory continuous evolution cycle that includes the evaluation of processes, iteration, and improvement at an organisation-wide level.