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Process Excellence Essential as Businesses Face Unrelenting Technological Change

Appian Contributor
December 13, 2017

We are entering an era of seemingly unprecedented technological change that is disrupting how organizations operate. In the past, companies gained efficiency and competitive advantage through deep analysis of their business processes and efforts to refine and optimize those tasks to maximize value creation. In today's climate, it often feels like organizations worry less about processes and more about how people are getting the job done.

Excitement about the ability to grab a smartphone and get to work is old hat at this point, and discussions around augmented reality, omni-channel experiences and artificial intelligence are commonplace. Suddenly, businesses are spending more time on the digital systems that help them work than they are on the processes that actually define that work.

Organizations must identify where processes and technology intersect and identify opportunities to use the two tactics in tandem in order to get ahead of the shifting marketplace.

Looking At an Era of Technological Disruption

CEMS, a global educational ecosystem focused on training young professionals in management recently asked graduates from its CEMS Masters in International Management program what they see as the greatest challenge facing contemporary organizations. These millennial respondents ranked technological and digital advancement as the most prominent challenge for business leaders. These graduates looked at the world around them and saw past politics, economics, and environmental upheaval. What they saw were technological changes that are so disruptive that they are a greater threat than any other force in the world.

"Digital demands are pushing businesses to move quickly in their respective markets."

While the CEMS study was focusing on recent graduates, these were masters students with plenty of real-world experience. Approximately 78 percent of the respondents were employed by multinational organizations as of January 2017. Frederic Fernandez, senior manager of the consumer goods and retail practice at A.T. Kearney, told CEMS that digital demands are pushing businesses to move quickly in their respective markets.

"These days digital enhancement is at the core of any business model," said Fernandez. "If everybody agrees that the digital revolution is changing the way we are doing business, very few leaders today understand fully the scale of this change. Leaders need to react quickly and constantly reinvent themselves as they often work far too slowly, with a piecemeal approach, losing ground to competitors and doing far too little too late."

There is clear awareness of how challenging the current technological climate is for businesses, but how ready are companies?

Responding to Rapid Change

Digital innovators are already beginning to gain a major market advantage over their competitors. Research from the MIT Sloan Management Review and Deloitte found that companies with a more mature digital ecosystem are outpacing their peers in a few key areas. Some examples include:

    • Seventy percent of digitally maturing businesses are building their organizations around cross-functional teams. Just 28 percent of digital adopters in early stages of maturation are in a similar situation

    • Digitally mature businesses are twice -as capable of managing small, iterative digital projects alongside large-scale efforts when compared to less developed companies

    • Relative to advanced digital organizations, employees at a vice president level are 15 times more likely to leave their companies within a year if their employers don't offer robust digital opportunities

    • Approximately 30 percent of digitally mature businesses are making plans five years or further into the future. Just 13 percent of companies that are not as sophisticated in their digital efforts are able to look so far ahead

It is clear that businesses that have embraced digital technologies have positioned themselves for success in ways that their peers can't quite match. However, adopting new IT ecosystems isn't enough on its own. Companies must also be able to make adequate use of their new technologies. This is where process advances remain incredibly important for today's businesses.

Using Process Advances to Get More From Technology

If you're like most people, you probably have at least one or two processes in your work that drive you absolutely crazy. Maybe the task isn't well organized so you have to send extra messages to stakeholders to keep everybody on task. Perhaps information is siloed in different parts of the business so you're stuck shuffling between a bunch of emails and constantly having to dig for basic details you need. These types of process inefficiencies quickly derail efficiency in any process.

Imagine one such bad process. Simply porting that process to a mobile app isn't going to help, you'll still have process gaps. The difference is that now you're sending extra emails on your phone instead of your computer, potentially making it even more annoying to type in messages, view files and otherwise interact with data. Maybe your business's big innovation has been in integrated collaboration. The problem is, the company hasn't made it easier for people to access data, so newfound communication capabilities just mean more interruptions as people find it easier to contact you asking for key project updates and files.

"Gaps between processes and technologies derail productivity and undermine innovation."

These types of gaps between processes and technologies derail productivity and undermine the innovation happening in the modern enterprise. If a process is already broken, you need to fix the process. Technology won't solve it for you. Business process management tools will help you identify flawed processes, establish new workflows and automate process communication between user groups. These technologies were popular in years past in helping companies deal with complex manual processes. More recently, BPM is gaining ground as the furious pace of digital businesses makes bad procedures stand out.

Process innovation must go hand in hand with digital transformation. Cloud app platforms are emerging as the solution to this requirement. An app platform serves as an integrated cloud ecosystem where data and process management tools co-exist, allowing users to leverage low-code interfaces to create applications based on their specific needs. Is that annoying process still bothering you? You can roll out a new feature in a matter of days.

This combination of technical flexibility and process management functionality comes together to change how organizations solve problems. Instead of wanting to achieve something and settling for what technology can accomplish, organizations can identify pain points and easily alter apps and workflows to resolve them.

At a time when businesses are being pressured to sustain almost continual innovation, app platforms allow organizations to align processes and technology to sustain forward momentum and keep pace with the marketplace.

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