Interview: In the vast majority of cases, process digitalisation should be kept simple and pragmatic

La digitalisation ou numérisation des processus

In organisations, processes are everything. While process optimisation is nothing new, many processes are still not computerised and managed efficiently. Proper process performance accordingly relies on the goodwill of all concerned to correctly enter data, meet deadlines and follow procedures.

To address this topic with a pragmatic eye, we welcome Edouard Cante, Deputy Director General at Blueway, to share his implementation experience and points of view.

Isn’t the subject of process digitalisation a little old hat?

Edouard Cante : Given the subject has been discussed for years, process digitalisation may indeed seem straightforward and not particularly new. However, just looking at the grassroots, in actual organisations, it remains a crucial issue.

Current trending topics are more along the lines of AI, Process Mining and RPA (Robotic Process Automation), and we do also talk about these subjects. However, we need to be practical, look at the real challenges that organisations face, and just respond in the most pragmatic way possible.

I am certain that, in many cases, digitalising processes as simply as possible while keeping an operational focus can still be of huge service to companies. And it can do so without always looking to include machine learning, or adding AI components…

I still talk every day with businesses where their main issue is saving time and effort by digitalising their processes

Edouard CANTE

Do you have any practical examples to illustrate the challenge of digitalising processes in organisations?

E.C : Let me share a recent example. It might seem a bit of a caricature, but this kind of process is still as common in the offices of some very large outfits as it is in small businesses.

An important customer asks Mike, a sales rep, for an estimate. Mike sets up a new Excel estimate file, which he emails to Cath in sales administration. She is going to produce the actual figures.

Cath receives the file, but there is a column missing. So she sends a new version of the file to Mike with his request. Mike calls Cath to make sure he has understood properly, makes the changes and sends the file back. Cath can now finally produce the estimate.

However, the total exceeds a certain threshold so Cath not only sends the estimate back to Mike but also sends it to Isabelle, the head of Sales. Although Mike immediately approves the figures, Isabelle doesn’t know it’s urgent and does not respond straight away. A few days later, she asks for some more details. Cath emails her the details and changes the file, but there is still an obstacle for Isabelle to overcome. In the event, they both realise a little later that the cause is a corrupt cell in the file which means the data is not in the expected format.

Mystery solved. Cath corrects the estimate which is finally ratified by Mike and Isabelle. The file is then sent to John, so he can add the quote into ERP. Mike can at last send the file to the customer… except he has unfortunately missed the deadline, otherwise the chances were the estimate would have been accepted.

Exemple de processus à digitaliser

While this kind of process might seem a bit hackneyed, it exists everywhere. It’s just a fact of life. Informal or otherwise, businesses still run many processes that are not digitalised, and new ones are being created every day.

The direct results are lost productivity and slow responses. The first occurs while those involved are wasting time on many tasks that could be automated but are not. The second is shown by the lack of agility if anyone is absent, or if a stage needs to be added, or if circumstances change.

To say nothing of the security risks. Without standardisation, data can be wrong, or sent to the wrong people, approval stages can be missed, and so on.

What is the root cause of process complexity?

E.C : A process is a sequence of activities designed to produce a given result from one or more inputs. Processes are found in all sectors of the economy and in all organisation departments. From deliveries, to creating new products or customer complaint handling, any sequence of actions forms a process.

The underlying cause of process complexity is their cross-functional nature. In the majority of cases, a number of parties from different departments need to work together. The organisation in place within a single department does not apply whenever there is a need to combine data or activities across various departments.

Standardisation and coordination throughout the business accordingly become the key issues.

This cross-functional aspect is also why process digitalisation cannot be restricted to individual business applications. Business processes must not find themselves constrained by application silos.

Edouard CANTE

How does digitalising processes resolve these issues?

E.C : Digitalising a process will prevent it being taken over by one person or department. Whenever new employees join, they can slot into their rightful place without wondering if they are doing the right thing, no information is ever lost, and the process platform means they know where to go, how to submit a particular request, and everything else.

Digitalisation will obviously make collaboration easier and automate tedious tasks. De-personalising requests, making it easier for process stakeholders to understand each other, smoothes relationships and reduces conflict. They will not only feel more comfortable in the workplace, they will be more productive

From management’s perspective, taking a step back is also a good way to boost analytical capacity and secure greater control. Where are the bottlenecks? Where is time being wasted? Can we anticipate the resources needed?

In terms of change management, it delivers real transparency. If a process is changed, there is no need to explain to everyone what parts of their daily routines will change. The digital process always reflects the latest approved version of the process shared with the members of staff. Whole sets of operational changes are automated, concealed from view. Obviously, this is no substitute for effective communication!

The results are therefore greater agility and operational excellence, higher quality, and better control over costs.

Is process digitalisation complicated?

E.C : I firmly believe that digitalising a simple process should be a simple thing to do. And even for complex processes, it is often much less complicated than you might think. It is even an opportunity to step back and review processes in order to optimise them. In 95% of cases, there is no need to implement unduly complex processes.

Business Process Management is based on modelling and then computerising processes. Briefly put, it entails making a formal record and describing the sequences of tasks, in conjunction with those responsible for them, then building a computerised version through screens and a user interface, before lastly putting in place the data interchanges between application systems.

It is crucial not to install a fixed, rigid version of any process when digitalising it. Businesses see almost perpetual change, and business processes are therefore also constantly changing. Merely designing the process and letting it simply exist is obviously not enough. While the first step is reviewing and mapping processes, the BPM lifecycle needs to be followed: analyse, design, execute, monitor, optimise. A process needs to be monitored if it is to be optimised.

 The BPM approach is in fact intended to continuously improve process performance and quality. Simplicity relates therefore not only to implementation of processes, but also their lifecycle.

Le cycle BPM

If you could highlight one key point to organisations embarking on digitalising their processes, what would it be?

E.C : Without a second thought: ensure it is embedded in the IS! True processes are always hybrid, if they are intended to respond to both business and functional issues.

The people carrying out the process have to be included through appropriate and user-friendly user interfaces, combined with automated technical tasks to improve productivity and communication between applications. There is little value in a process that is not digitalised from end to end. If it is not fully part of the information system, the process turns into another application silo.And that is to be avoided at all costs!

« Whenever embarking on process digitalisation, the key success factor is a software solution that is truly part of the existing information system” »

Edouard CANTE

It must therefore form an integral part of the IS, i.e. be in a position to form connections to populate screens with data, enhance services, include information from other applications, etc. The BPM software must consequently be able to consume and organise data interchanges between a process and the IS as a whole.

I firmly believe that providing simplicity to process modelling and screen building must not be achieved at the cost of IS exclusion. If specific development is required whenever integration with an application is needed, be on your way! The flexibility gained by process digitalisation would be immediately lost whenever enhancements needed to be implemented.

Any closing remarks?

E.C : Firstly, I firmly believe that any proposed digital transformation of a business without digitalisation of processes is doomed to fail.

Secondly, a point close to our hearts at Blueway is that digitalisation must not be disconnected from the people factor. Apart from quality and productivity, process digitalisation must be of benefit to an organisation’s people.The customer experience in delivering high quality services and smoothing employees’ experience with an easier daily routine are targets to bear in mind, but they are not the only objectives. Digitalising processes must also help to put people back at the heart of information systems, by freeing our responses to the challenges facing businesses from technical constraints.