I know what you are thinking. Despite relentless terawatts of brainpower expended by the aggregated minds of the biggest and brightest enterprise software companies on the planet, who have been working on automating processes since before I was born, I have the temerity to suggest that we are not even half way there in terms of addressing the process automation opportunity. Am I mad?
Core processes automated long ago like billing, statements, payment decisions, customer letters etc have pretty much given the enterprise IT industry its meat and gravy for the last 50 years. More recently, because many of the solutions implemented were centred on accounts, or customers, or staff, or products, there was a realisation that the one dimension that had been forgotten was process. And so was born workflow and subsequently BPMS. Process-centric platforms that finally acknowledged that the efficiency of your back office could be used to differentiate yourself from your competitors, despite the common use of industry standard back end systems such as ERP (and the ubiquity of SAP for example).
But even BPMS has limits. The speed of business these days is driven by the Twitter generation. Customers demand instantaneous responses; competitors launch new products on a sixpence; even regulators expect customer refunds to be done urgently. Consider three common scenarios where processes typically do NOT get automated:
1. Temporary or one-off processes. Correcting processing errors, billing recalcs, customer compensation etc. These are often processes where an automated solution is needed in days, not months.
2. Business as usual (BAU) processes where there is no economic case to automate because there is only a small handful of people doing the process now.
3. Processes where there is a core IT solution coming but it is, say, 18 months away. Business Ops may need a “pontoon bridge” to get some portion of the benefits right now to manage the business until the core solution is delivered.
The truth is that in every large organisation there is a “long tail” of automation represented by a 500 item (or more) change list. BPMS and traditional core IT automation never has the resources, the priority, or the budget to address all these requirements so they simply remain unfulfilled. This results in Business Ops having to resort to inefficient ways of getting stuff done – outsourcing, off-shoring and “Rogue IT” to name but three.
Forrester has recently started talking about Empowered Business Technology as a “mega-trend”. Other commentators are observing that IT needs to become a trusted advisor rather than a provider of hardware and software which is ever more available to buy (and be managed from) outside the organisation. Google around by all means but for a concise and insightful piece read Todd Biske in a post I have referenced previously (thereby warranting its quality). This trend is happening and it is not just Cloud, SaaS and Social Media that is driving it. There are tools around that can deliver real business value to your Operations teams, without being held within the usual cost and time constraints of a core IT program.
So how do we adapt to the faster business environment, and address the long tail? In short, the answer is self-service. From petrol pumps, through supermarkets and ATMs, to online shopping and banking, today’s consumer expects to be able to do it for themselves. And they can….except, to their frustration, when they come to work.
The rise of Business Ops is unstoppable. Smart IT functions are already empowering their business users with innovative ideas and products. It is the only economic way of addressing the long tail of automation.