For more than a century productivity in industries such as manufacturing,
farming and construction has been increasing 3 or 4% year on year. In
contrast, service sector productivity has been stagnant for decades, despite
the continuing high level of investment in IT. Yet offshore, people are
both our key asset and, as a scare resource, a key constraint. Unless
we find better ways to use our working time the economy will stagnate.
Business Process Redesign
In response to this service productivity challenge, some businesses have
achieved order of magnitude gains from projects employing business process
redesign (BPR) principles popularised by Hammer and Davenport
at the beginning of the 1990s. Often, but not exclusively, these relied
on technology, but not by using IT to do the same things only better -
theres nothing so inefficient as rendering efficient that which
should not be done at all. Major gains depend on ground-breaking change.
Although efficiency can be improved a myopic focus on cost can miss bigger
opportunities related to effectiveness, doing the things that create the
greatest value for customers.
Take the case of a Jersey business that needed quicker management information.
Processes had been meticulously designed some years ago. Originally based
on manual documents, management information was produced several weeks
after month end. In recent years the process had been made more efficient
by using spreadsheets to reduce manual drudgery. But when management asked,
what information do we really need? and (with staff) how
would we produce this if we were designing the process today? They
found that through better use of tried and tested technologies and focus
on key requirements they could dispense with most of the steps and 80%
of the paperwork. The bottom line was that critical information could
be delivered in days not weeks and time was freed up for important, but
currently neglected, business development tasks.
Process redesign has sometimes been seen as a ruse to persuade unwary
managers to buy into another round of IT. But, whilst information technology
can sometimes be important it is only an enabler. The opportunities arise
from discovering what can be done through IT freed from the artificial
constraints of existing ways of working. But, to be successful, a project
has to be driven by business imperatives. This means senior business managers
should remain firmly in the driving seat and will have to furnish the
creativity and imagination to visualise new ways of doing business. Identifying
the opportunities can begin simply by looking at how other organisations
have gained competitive advantage with IT and what the technology you
already have can achieve. Smaller businesses need not go to the "bleeding
edge" to achieve strategic benefits
In financial services and public sector organisations, employees are
often the keys to effectiveness gains. Consider for example the competitive
advantage which can be won (or lost) at those moments of truth
when customers meet employees and impressions of service quality are fixed.
Investments in developing a skilled and capable workforce are not enough
when poor processes and systems stonewall good people. Delivering the
potential benefits depends on introducing better business processes, smart
use of technology and redesign of jobs and management systems to provide
the right environment for employees to create more value. Too many projects
miss the mark for neglect of these factors.
Information Technology and human resources are enablers for dramatic
improvements but surveys indicate that up to 70% of projects fail to deliver.
If you are contemplating an ambitious change you need both to be completely
clear why this is worth pursuing and be able to recognise, mobilise and
sustain the support you need to carry it through. Use a systematic, proven
approach. Above all keep in view employee ability to assimilate change
and pace accordingly. Generating commitment and support will be essential
first steps, change places great demands on people which can be reduced
by raising awareness and understanding. Reinforce the change with early
results, consistent cues in management systems, behaviour and organisational
culture. Anticipate and manage both the forces that will support your
change and those that create resistance. Be bold, potential rewards are
high and others have already started to reap the benefits.