Business process improvement, or BPI, is an important undertaking in any business – whether as a formal and rigorous process, or as a guiding principle to enhance profitability in a broader sense.
BPI is defined by TechTarget as the following:
“Business process improvement (BPI) is a strategic planning methodology aimed at identifying the operations or employee skills that could be improved to encourage smoother procedures, more efficient workflow and overall business growth. This process can also be referred to as functional process improvement.
The purpose of business process improvement is to meet customer demands and business goals more effectively. Rather than drawing out change management in incremental steps, BPI seeks to bring drastic transformation in an organization’s performance. In IT, business process improvement addresses the root causes of process or system deficiencies to harmonize IT and business goals. Process mapping, which assesses business operations to pinpoint problem areas and adjust workflow, is often the first step in a larger business process improvement effort.”
Warning signs – the need for Business Process Improvement
Identifying the need for Business process improvement is crucial to maintaining an effective and healthy business. Whilst BPI could arguably be applied as a continual improvement cycle, there are specific warning signs that show your business needs BPI.
Email is central to many business functions, providing a valuable service. However, overuse of internal email indicates problems with existing processes. Consider the ideal characteristics of business processes; running smoothly without questions from operators or exceptions to handle. This would generate very little email – perhaps only the end result of the process; directed towards customers or business partners.
When processes are inefficient, where there are gaps to bridge, poorly handled complexities or lack of support for anomalies, staff resort to email to clarify and handle exceptions. Improving processes will reduce exceptions, and reduce the reliance on internal emails to seek solutions. Keep a handle on internal email volumes and address processes that are leading to the generation of these.
Extensive training times and/or documentation for processes
Another clear indicator of poor business processes is the abundance of documentation to define them. This can also be measured by the time taken to train a new employee in the operation of the process.
The less efficient a process, the more explanation is required to run the process effectively. Keep an eye out for bulging ‘documentation’ files, extensive allocations of time for holiday handover, or long induction cycles.
The less efficient a process, the more explanation is required to run the process effectively.
Working from spreadsheets
Spreadsheets are another important business tool. However, over-reliance on spreadsheets points to inefficient business processes and the need for BPI. From an employee’s perspective, spreadsheets bring order to chaos, so the abundance of spreadsheets is an indicator that staff are struggling to bring chaotic (inefficient) processes under their control.
Solid management and review procedures should identify where staff have an over-reliance on spreadsheets to handle processes. In these instances, you know there’s a wild process to be tamed through BPI.
It may seem a nice problem to have, but challenges around scalability, due to process inefficiency, come at exactly the wrong time. Businesses should be agile enough to embrace opportunities to scale, or they risk being locked into a flat level of business, or worse, a decline.
Where a business process is challenging to scale, it implies too much variability and exception handling. Rigorously defined processes are typically easier to scale than those requiring judgement and experience to select an appropriate solution at any stage.
Check your business can scale if and when needed, where would the bottlenecks lie and how can these be refined and improved before they present a scalability problem?
Business Process Improvement – the first steps
Business process mapping is typically the first step to take once processes have been identified in need of business process improvement. This forms part of good workflow management practice, which also takes into account business process modelling (a more detailed representation of the process in question).
Business processes cannot be improved upon if they are not clearly understood and mapped.
Mapping a business process should start with defining the start and end points of the process, what triggers the process and how does the end point map onto connected processes. Each task in the process should then be clearly documented with yes/no decision points identified and subsequent loops or branches defined. Where a process requires a more complex decision, this presents an opportunity to simplify as part of process improvement.
Business processes cannot be improved upon if they are not clearly understood and mapped. The next step, after mapping, should be modelling – taking into account the full range of variables the process may need to handle. Feeding example, or live, data into the process model will highlight bottlenecks and uncertainties. This all sheds important light on the process before moving on to remodelling or reengineering to improve performance.
Business Process Improvement through Digital Transformation
Once processes are clearly mapped and modelled, many businesses find opportunities to digitise repetitive and mundane tasks – freeing up human resources to handle more valuable and dynamic workloads.
Various different opportunities exist for digitising processes, from end-to-end outsourcing of the process to a business process outsourcing (BPO) partner, to configuring a robot (program) to replicate the steps taken by a human – robotic process automation (RPA), to integration with an as-a-service solution (SaaS, PaaS or IaaS) to offload some of the process handling to externally hosted solutions.
At Netsend, we offer a fully-integrated solution which replaces many of the mundane and repetitive steps in document creation and distribution, often deployed as an automated e-billing/e-invoicing solution. This programmatic approach to process automation ensures 100% reliability and removes human error from the equation – something that costs businesses precious time and money when occurring in cashflow sensitive process such as billing.