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Improving Efficiency Through Business Processes

Invoices, receipts, and business communication are one of the most voluminous bodies of writing going back all the way to the civilizations of Sumer and Egypt. And while there are also many different business methodologies tried out over the past 4000 years, it still surprises people that it has only been in the last 20 years or so that the technological business infrastructure necessary to directly improve results through BPM has been in place. In this post we look at improving efficiency through business processes…

The internet browser changed the business world

Of course even 20 years ago, projects and products were being created and completed by companies that were utilizing software as a tool to enhance their results and increase efficiencies. But due to technology limitations, it wasn’t either as easy or as apparent how to leverage technology to collaborate better.

Into that world stepped Netscape, a company that created an internet browser and had a secret goal of turning the world into a place where all business tasks were accomplished through the browser. Netscape was not completely successful during its lifespan as a company- yet today, their distributed computing model is what the majority of companies use, making geographical barriers obsolete.

Adding more intensity to your work day

With the technology barriers dropping, integrating BPM into the lives of all workers became a matter of porting philosophies and process methodologies into software that could utilize the internet or intranet and several companies sprung up that did this well. Not only did BPM models get integrated into project management software, business tools that were designed to manage everything from assets to software development began incorporating traditional business process management steps and procedures into their software packages so that greater efficiency at work could be part of their sales pitch.

For workers, greater organization and greater flexibility in communications meant that greater benchmarking could be done- making them more efficient over time because what they were capable of on a regular basis became much more of a known quantity. At the same time, benchmarking allowed management to add intensity to employee schedules for the same reason: what was being accomplished and what was possible were now much more transparent.

It’s a Matrix!

After the popular film series the Matrix was released, even Americans that didn’t go to business school began to appreciate what matrix management was all about. Still, the one person, many masters approach can be both complex to understand and murky to accurately get ROI from. The great debate, therefore, at the beginning of the 21st century was whether multi-tasking were to be cultivated as desirable or not. Experiments were run to determine what the limits of an acceptable work day was for many workers and the data that was collected found its way into new benchmarks that more accurately assessed what was possible.

While this was going on in parts of America, more true business process change started to take place when General Electric started to share their Six Sigma quality program with the rest of the business world. Six Sigma rapidly became one of the driving forces in the technology industry and gained a toehold in many other industries.

Am I therefore more efficient?

Even the scientific management people 100 years ago knew that by providing mechanisms that give attention to people doing their job, they could positively impact performance. So when it comes to understanding whether the plethora of systems like Six Sigma or Lean are actually helping to drive efficiency gains, company results that are not subject to bias due to the additional attention effect- are hard to come by.

Theoretically, workers are more efficient. More gets accomplished during the day than ever before. But are technology gains masking true worker efficiency gains? One study by Imaginot LLC found that workers at a very large company that had their ROI measured to determine the efficiency of a new system were very efficient at performing the tasks that were measured. The problem, if there was one was that when the workers, who were largely autonomous, were measured against a benchmarked utilization number, their efficiency dropped precipitously- making the the management challenge one of providing a system that not only measures and rewards workers for task efficiency, but also for utilization efficiency.

Overall, BPM theory and practices have advanced quite a bit over the past couple of decades. They certainly have become much more integrated into the toolset of managers, which has been a positive for the firms that they work for.

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