Business improvement in the Cloud Era

Workflow / BPM product as a "Business improvement tool", its historical background.

== 0. [Business Improvement] is not so special ==

A desire for ‘Business improvement’ started a hundred years ago, even a thousand, or ten thousand years ago…

– How can daily [overtime work] be reduced?
– How can [fraud] in tax statements can be eliminated?
– How can I make people eat the freshest fish?

“An organization with no improvement” will be sorted out. You don’t have to refer to Charles Darwin (which I never read by the way). With that being said, topics of today are like these…

  1.  Isn’t the ‘Information Society’ amazing?
  2.  Let’s make ‘Business’ smarter!
  3. Improve constantly with ‘Flow diagram’
  4. In order not to be frustrated with Business improvement



== 1. Isn’t the ‘Information Society’ amazing? ==

=== 1-1. Communications Infrastructure is definitely evolving! ===

“Postal service” has been provided since 1900’s.
“Telephone” spread in the 1950’s.
“Facsimile” in the 70’s.
“Email” was spread at a stretch in the 1990s.

The Information communication technology continues to evolve more powerfully and dramatically, even in the 21st century.

We can’t go back to ‘those days’, where there were no cell phones nor Email, anymore. We can interact with information ‘instantly at anytime, anywhere’. Sadly, no one can experience, for example, the “Love story” of waiting for hours under the rain, anymore.

=== 1-2. “The amount of work that can be processed” has been increasing significantly along with the evolution of the Internet ===

You can easily send business matters through [Email].
Reports, contacts, requests, or applications… It is the era where you can do your job at anytime, even on the move or at home. Come to think of it, I no longer care about data size. We used to say “File attachments of more than 5MB were crazy” a decade ago, didn’t we?

Moreover, SNS tools such as [Enterprise Social] are super-convenient.
They allow you to have real-time communications to ask for information, or calling for advice from team members. It can be said that it is a very effective tool for inter-branch communication, and also for communication with teleworkers.

Now, it is no exaggeration to say “it is able to process jobs many times compared to the times when there was no Internet’.


# By the way, the transition from the “penetration rate of 5% to 50%” happened only in 3-5 years of the information communication era. The information environment changes in a really intense cycle, and Information flow increases. Also, from now on, the “information to be processed” will continue to increase even more along with the business use of Smartphones / tablets / wearable computers, together with the change of additional features of communication tools.

=== 1-3. On the other hand, “Stagnation of the work” as well… ===

However, it is not all good. Intensive use of Email and Enterprise Social also has harmful effects.

The first problem is the “Job lose”.
Amount of Emails increases day by day, chatting time becomes longer, therefore, keeping track of who you asked what, or who asked what, is hard.
For example, fellows in their 60s and 50s would proudly say “I have processed 200 of the emails, today!”. But probably, they didn’t actually read them. They should think about giving up on reading about half, if that many emails are coming in.

“A large amount of information” causes a “dilution of important information”. A certain percentage of work will be overlooked in the transaction process. (Goodbye)

The second problem is the ‘Organizational Silo’.

In the times when there were meetings, and report papers that people were holding in their hands and walking around, we could somehow know what was going on. Also, I was able to somehow be aware of what was going on in other departments.
Nevertheless, when online tools become convenient and the information flow increased more, the communication between other teams grew poor. If you try to promote information sharing with other teams, too much information will end up being just noise. As a result, each team will be like isolated silos. In other words, the compartmentalisation of the team, will lead to a decrease of the operational efficiency of the entire company.

“A large amount of information” causes a “range reduction of information sharing”. No longer be interested in what other sections are doing.




== 2. Let’s do the ‘Business’ smarter! ==

=== 2-1. What is ‘Workflow’? ===

The word “Workflow” is not only found in the “Exam for Registered Management Consultant”, a national examination of consultants, but also, in the “Information Technology Passport Exam”, popular among students in high school and college, as well. In plain words, it is “the way to progress Business”.

In IT industry, it mostly means ‘Workflow system’.

A Workflow system / software is a mechanism in which computers deliver [Business data] along ‘a procedure which has defined beforehand’. It was put into practice in the late 1980s, and in the 1990s, many were sold. It might be easier to understand if you see it as a [luggage] sorter device in a logistics distribution center. When someone finishes his/her processing, a job will be delivered to the next person sequentially along an operational path.

Indeed, it is labor intensive to decide operational paths beforehand. However, it is much more reasonable compared to the way in which each individual passes [business data] to the next worker. You can expect a Flow rate increase and the required Operation time decrease. The quality of output will also definitely improve.

It’s similar to say, you work hard laying the “tracks”, but afterwards, “many trains” can run on them.

bpms streamlines workflow

=== 2-2. Does that mean paperless Document circulation? ===

In Japan, there is a system (or a culture? Or a custom?) called “RINGI” (proposal paper), as a measure for controlling the “Flow of the Business”. That is, instead of holding a meeting, we write down organizational matters for decision-making on paper, and are then circulated, by hand, to the people in charge of approval. That paper will become a record of approval. Well, isn’t it convenient? I guess 99% of the organizations here that have more than 100 workers are employing this system.

Therefore, many people misunderstand and think that a “Workflow system is a tool for RINGI”.

Indeed, you can perform this RINGI online in a paperless manner if you employ a “Workflow system”. However, a Workflow system can be also utilized for processes other than RINGI, as for example: Expense reimbursement or Leave requests. Moreover, some companies would also use it for Claim handling or for Drafting articles, if they were innovative enough. Or else, even “Revising the existing Workflow” could be done on a Workflow. (Complicated…)

A Workflow system is a mechanism in which various Business Flows can be defined. And the Individual Issue data flows along those definitions.


=== 2-3. Now, being spread to small and medium-sized enterprises with Cloud technology ===

Software products installed on in-house servers were a standard of “Workflow systems” until around 2010. Also, they were managed by people in the IT department or IT specialists.

However, it is in this Cloud era (Cloud computing era), in which services are available on the Internet (SaaS: Software as a Service) has increased impressively. This means, you can introduce a workflow system without an IT specialist. Which in turn has made it possible to introduce the system immediately by even a small size enterprises or a section of a large enterprise.

* There are three forms of Cloud computing: SaaS, PaaS IaaS (I will tell about the details another time..)



== 3. More and more Improvements in the “Flow Diagram”! ==

=== 3-1. Want to change the flow itself! ===

Just the “Introduction of a Workflow system” itself will be a great business improvement, if you have been doing your job with paper and emails.

Whereas, you will be hesitant, if you are already using it, and are asking yourself “Should I keep on using this Business flow?”

The To-Be of things (a state of how a thing should be) changes, and so does “how the flow should be”. In fact, there should always be changes in an organization or in the business contents. Also, there should be “Preventive measures” that must be applied to prevent misdeeds, or cases in which you want to change the flow of business actively to meet the changes in the market.

“Continual business improvement” is the keyword.

Naturally, you want to manage these revisions of the flows graphically in a “Flow Diagram” format. No matter how good the changes were, nobody wants to read a manual that is full of word similar to a law text. This is hard for the designer, as well. Meanwhile, a notation method referred as BPMN has become an international standard in 2009.

*BPMN: Business Process Model and Notation (previously Business Process Modeling Notation)


=== 3-2. PDCA Cycle in Workflow Setting ===

Determining a Workflow in a “Flow Diagram”

That idea is the fundamental concept for a new category of software, the so-called ‘BPM system’ (BPM software). This idea is particularly referred to as a “Model-driven Composition”. BPM systems have a feature “capable of various settings by operating a graphical Model diagram”.

Comparing with the conventional mechanisms (which is referred to “Parameter-driven apps”, but who cares…), the difference is obvious. The biggest advantage is that people who belong to the business sector with their business knowledge and work experience are able to participate in the system settings directly”. Therefore, the updating of the Workflow system will become more flexible if you were able to modify the Workflow settings freely with Drag & Drop operation. “Expertishly” speaking, “BPM cycle turns around efficiently”.

Related Article:BPMS and Workflow
BPMN samples for Questetra

The phrase of “Continual improvement” reminds many people of the “PDCA Cycle”. You may be familiar with it for concepts such as QC (Quality Control: ISO 9000), PMS (Personal information protection Management Systems: ISO 15000), ISMS (Information Security Management System: ISO 27000), and CMMI (Capability Maturity Model Integration) in software development. The term of “BPM cycle” is often used in the field of business improvement. Incidentally, sporadic improvement activities are referred to “BPR” (Business Process Re-engineering), in contrast with continual improvement activities referred to as “BPM” (Business Process Management).

=== 3-3. Understanding the Progress on the Flow Diagram also! ===

There is a secondary effect when designing a “Flow Diagram”.

That is monitoring of the status quo. It will be easy to understand it if you use a flow Diagram. You will be able to observe “How much is being processed currently”, and “Where and what remains”. Although it is difficult to explain, but it could be something like a CTC (Centralized Traffic Control).

Related Article:How to Improve the Process?


=== 3-4. Market Category of “BPM Product” ===

IT research firms, such as Gartner and Forrester, have defined important elements of “BPM suite products”. If I tried to rewrite in simple words without fear of misunderstanding, the function group that accelerates “Business Process Improvement (BPM Cycle)” will be as follows.

– Function that allows setting of Business flow in graphical tool
– Function for storing the history of Business flows
– Function that continuously monitoring what kind of situation
– Function for assigning jobs to the next operator when the status of Issues changes
– Function for managing business data associated with Issues
– Function for managing organizational information and role information of operators
– Function for communicating data with external system
– Function for analyzing average processing time in each Step
– Function for simulating on the assumption such as when the Issue amount is increased
– Function for managing the common rules across multiple business

By the way, processing of each step doesn’t have to be done by people. In some cases it is to be processed by the computer.

Reference:Human-Centric and System-Centric

It is not important, but an individual Issue is simply referred to as a “Process”. That is, a Process is an object to flow.
It is not important either, but a Business flow definition is referred to as a “Process Model”. That means, a Process flows through a Process Model. (It really doesn’t matter…)


== 4. Not to get Frustrated with Business Improvement ==

=== 4-1. Get Intelligence ===

They say it requires “1 minute to read, 1 month to draw”.

To read a drawn Business Process Definition, 1 minute will be enough. Even without knowledge of the Notation, anyone can read it somehow. It is also possible to point out a Business Process Diagram written by others. However, it is very difficult to actually draw one.

If you want to draw the business of your team into a Business Process Diagram, you should learn a little about it. Also, it is important to watch various examples.

Related Articles:Golden Rules of Business Process Modeling
Related Articles:Workflow Sample

=== 4-2. Get Mental Toughness ===

I shouldn’t say this, but improvement activity is tough. It is mentally exhausting.

Business improvement is a football of overall optimization and local optimization. Or, maybe of Departments and sections. You must coordinate many people involved. To persuade ‘how a Business Process Diagram should be’ is as difficult as it is to draw it.
However, you will never get a good result if you left all of the modelling and analysis to an external consultant. A business process diagram that matches the business strategy and business plan must be led by no one else but internal employees. By the way, a person who is responsible for improvement is referred to as a “Process owner”.

Reference:I Wonder Why My Boss won’t Draw Workflow Chart

=== 4-3. Lower the Difficulty ===

The complexity of a Business Process Definition depends on 1) Organizational structure and 2) Data structure of the Business.

It is obvious, but an organization that is fast in its improvement cycle is simple in its ‘Organizational structure’ and ‘Data structure of the business’.
Either analyzing the status quo (Ai-Is) or discussing about the state things should be (To-Be), the simpler it is, the more efficient.



== 5. Conclusion, “Enjoy your Routine!” ==

We draw Business Process Diagrams not only to submit them to the Authorities for audit.
We draw Business Process Diagrams to improve our business of tomorrow.

– We must clean up the Business Flows around the world in our BPM system!
– We must keep on reducing rework and oversight, with our BPM system!!

Yes! The BPM system is indispensable in order to perpetuate society!!! (Am I going too far?)

Reference:TAKEO’s Adventure in BPM (Comic)


(Original post in Japanese was posted on July, 2013)

About IMAMURA Genichi

CEO & Founder - Questetra, Inc. ||
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