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Optimize Resources for Better Results

This article is part of the Best Practices White Paper Business Process Management [January 2009]
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Markets are becoming more competitive across the board; cost cutting, productivity, risk management, innovation and agility are no longer nice-to-haves and are becoming necessities. Executives realize this, and often that translates into a revelation that an optimization of resources is needed organization-wide.

Rather than attempting to achieve wholesale transformation, a more pragmatic approach is to look specifically at optimizing the use of business resources across the organization. Optimization is defined as using what you have to be as effective as possible—something that every organization should strive for on a daily basis.

The key to successful business optimization is to apply an incremental approach that considers all of the resources you have (people, processes, systems, finances, products, suppliers, etc.), identifies where the big issues are, and then focuses on specific resource optimization projects that deliver immediate value (tangible ROI) while at the same time contributing to overall business optimization.

The steps to implement this approach effectively are to understand the big picture of what you have, define the right optimization measurements, identify the enablers, and empower the right functions to collaborate, share resources and foster change at a pace and with milestones that make sense both for them and for the overall organization.

The Big Picture
The pace and measurements for business resource optimization are largely determined by the starting point, but one thing is consistent for all organizations—successful optimization requires a solid understanding of how your business operates and the ability to analyze and improve critical business processes.

To do this successfully requires leadership from three distinct disciplines within your organization—the enterprise architecture team, the business process improvement team (if one exists) and the people who actually control how business processes are executed, usually a combination of IT and business department heads in conjunction with the process participants themselves.

So how do you foster this leadership and motivate people to move toward change? Identify the right set of individuals across each function—those who are motivated by change and excited by the idea of doing things better—and put the structure in place to support them.

The structure to support them means providing both the people and the technology they need, as well as providing the right incentives through executive support and compensation. Overall business optimization will not happen overnight, but having the right structure and empowering the right people ensure that measurable, sustainable success will be achieved—providing immediate value in the form of lower costs, greater efficiency, and increased productivity, while also providing you with greater long-term agility to capitalize on market opportunities.

Three Critical Disciplines
Some organizations have the belief that a business process management function will take care of everything, but that is not the case if true business resource optimization is the end objective. In order to fully understand your business and then have the ability to improve and change the business processes that impact your success, it is essential that three critical disciplines be staffed and supported: enterprise architecture (EA); business process analysis (BPA); and business process management (BPM). These disciplines are supported by both people and technology:

Enterprise architecture. The enterprise architecture discipline is responsible for understanding the current state of the organization and defining a better future state. To do this effectively, EA tools are needed to enable architects and business analysts to model all aspects of an organization, including strategy, organization, processes, people, financials, systems, information, etc. They must also model all of the assets in an organization and their interdependencies and determine how to improve or optimize the use of these assets across the organization. This includes considering things like systems, data, employees, products, services, customers, suppliers, etc. EA tools help organizations see and document via visual models the big picture of how the organization is structured and all of the inter-dependencies across these assets. This helps them to create an enterprise business architecture that maps to business processes, strategize on how to best utilize resources across business processes and plan for business resource optimization.

Business process analysis. The business process analysis discipline is responsible for modeling, analyzing and optimizing specific business processes. BPA software supports their efforts by providing graphical process modeling capabilities, built-in optimization algorithms and packaged industry reference models and frameworks (such as SCOR, ITIL, Six Sigma and Lean). This makes it easy for business people to model business processes for optimal performance. Ideally the enterprise and business architecture team would know from their modeling efforts which processes have the greatest impact—and which are in most need of improvement—and are collaborating with the process analysts. This ensures process analysts focus on the right things.

Business process management. The business process management discipline focuses on actual process design, automation, integration and monitoring to identify and make process improvements at the execution level. BPM or BPMS software allows organizations to take the processes they have modeled and optimized and actually automate and deploy them in practice. This includes integrating all dependent systems, deploying user dashboards, online forms and portals for business users, customers and suppliers to participate in the process, and capturing and analyzing data on the process and all related information and activities. BPM practitioners use this data to capture an audit trail, review process "performance versus plan" and identify areas for process improvement. The BPA function is often tied closely to business process management efforts. This close coupling is necessary for success, but be careful that you don’t lose sight of the big picture as a result of doing this, and do not sacrifice functionality by assuming a BPM tool provides the level of analysis capabilities you need. BPA tools are much more comprehensive than the analysis functions inherent in most BPM suites, so evaluate carefully in your tool selection.

The more closely you can align and synchronize the efforts of these three disciplines, the faster your time to value—value on both an incremental level as well as performance against your overall resource optimization strategy.

Do not underestimate the value of EA, BPA and BPM tools in supporting your business optimnization efforts. They can make the synchronization of these disciplines possible by providing a much greater level of visibility and collaboration than could be achieved through manual methods.

Transforming Disciplines
Most organizations have EA, BPA and BPM functions in place at some level, even if it is on an informal basis. However, most organizations lack the proper tools to support them. As a result, these functions are not living up to their full potential. Put the right tools in place and then use these tools to enable transformation at a functional level.

Each organization is at a different level of maturity within these three disciplines, and that level of maturity has a direct impact on the organization’s ability to achieve across-the-board business optimization at the enterprise level. Therefore, it is necessary to understand where you are and then define the right level and pace of transformation within each discipline. This will allow each function to improve its performance at a pace that is realistic and therefore more likely to be successful.

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