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Developing an enterprise vision for business process Automation

19 Feb, 2010 By: Jim Thumma imageSource

Developing an enterprise vision for business process Automation

Enterprise-wide projects require clear vision and effective leadership.  This
is especially true if your company engages in business process management (BPM)
with the goal of maximizing efficiency gains enterprise wide. Since your
everyday processes are built around your mission-critical content, a thorough
understanding of your data, routine processes, and the interrelationship of one
business area to the next is crucial.

Establishing a grand vision isn’t necessary for a successful enterprise
content management (ECM) and BPM implementation.  Developing and communicating a
clear vision based on an understanding of your company’s long-range goals,
prioritization of needs, and knowledge of constraints, however, is. 

Assemble the right team

Establishing a vision for BPM requires a strong team comprised of
executive-level and IT leadership, line-of-business managers, and a dedicated
project leader.  Since a detailed understanding of your company’s content (data)
and how it is used daily is vital, ground-level knowledge workers must also be
represented on the team.  Their involvement in day-to-day information gathering
and processing brings critical knowledge and valuable insights into how your
business operates, as well as potential improvements.

As your team defines long- and short-term goals, understanding your current
processes is as important as defining long-term business needs, technology
capabilities, and budget constraints.

BPM requires that you view your business as a series of intertwined processes
driven by people, data, and events.  The data that feeds and drives your
processes may be found in legacy systems, line-of-business software
applications, paper, voice mails, and other media.  Wherever it resides, it must
be accessed, controlled, and manipulated intelligently so you can leverage it
wherever it’s needed to drive efficiency.  Understanding the sources and
function of data within your organization is vital.

Understand the big picture

Before you dig into the details, make sure the big picture is clear.  Ask

• What is your company’s long-term vision?  Will you be in the same line of
business in 3-5 years? 

• Which processes will be obsolete in 3-5 years?  What procedures will be added
based  on business model changes?

• What routine processes exist today?  How can they be improved?

• What should these processes look like in the future?

Documenting what you do today and how you want to conduct business tomorrow
is tougher than implementing your chosen software solution.  Many companies fail
because they can’t agree on how their business processes are currently executed
and what should be done differently. This discovery and agreement phase is
critical and requires full managerial support.  Consultants and vendors can help
to provide an objective evaluation of well-worn routines, leading to a more
effective overhaul.

Identify and articulate clear goals

Streamlining for efficiency is always a wise move, but automation of every
business process isn’t always possible or practical. Understand why each process
is being considered for potential automation.  Is your goal to:

• Reduce costs?

• Improve cash flow?

• Shorten turnaround times?

• Improve service?

• Mitigate non-compliance penalties or other risks?

• Grow faster, efficiently?

The answers will help you establish appropriate expectations and clear,
obtainable goals, resulting in meaningful changes that can be delivered on time
and within budget.

Tear down the walls

One of the leading reasons for project failure is underestimating the time
and effort required for thorough process analysis.  Too often, processes are
analyzed in isolation without consulting everyone involved.

This results in costly errors in process automation design.  To obtain the
understanding you need, you must tear down the walls that separate workers and
make your processes transparent. 

If the depth of processes is underestimated, or critical exceptions to
process rules aren’t considered, automating them will deliver poor results. 
Automation only makes sense when processes are carefully analyzed and
intelligently streamlined. Mechanizing poorly understood or incomplete processes
wastes time, effort and resources.

Examine your business holistically.  Every organization’s size, focus,
customers, preferred methods of operation, and adaptability differs; yet each
consists of processes driven by people, using structured and unstructured data
in multiple applications and formats. Discovering, analyzing, and understanding
the flow of work and the interrelationship of data and processes is the most
challenging—and most critical—component of BPM success.

Make project goals transparent

Internal politics are another common reason for project failure.  Since your
company’s corporate culture influences how your project will be perceived and
adapted, you must ensure frequent and transparent communications of goals,
timelines, expectations, and benefits from the start. 

Most people believe their familiar routines are fine as long as they still
function, and this can make it challenging to initiate change.  However, you can
adjust people’s mindsets and prepare them to embrace change if your vision is
transparent, users understand the benefits, and the plan is supported by clear
project goals.   Involve staff appropriately from the beginning.  You’ll need
input from every level of staff, with appropriate communication about
implementation strategies and adequate training to guarantee success. 

Words to the wise

As stated earlier, not every process can or should be automated.  Guard
against having a grand, complicated vision that might not ever be accomplished. 
Analyze where the majority of your revenue, risk, and costs are.  Work on
processes related to those areas first, and expand outward gradually. 

Analyze the relative severity of your company’s collective business
challenges, the potential payback for improvement and automation, and the risks
if improvement is ignored.  Look where data can be re-used across the
enterprise.  Remain focused on core processes related to revenue, risk, and
cost.  Rank everything in terms of its relative importance.

Successful automation results from making tough decisions.  Enterprise-wide
process improvement and automation projects are not designed for weak leaders or
teams with half-hearted commitment.

Remember: business process automation projects are never perfect, and never
completely finished.  Change is the only constant. As your business changes,
your processes need to be continually adapted and improved.  Technology and data
can be used to distribute information and work across your enterprise
efficiently so your people can work better, faster, and smarter. By tapping into
the knowledge of your people, from the top down and from the bottom up, you can
establish a clear vision with smart strategies that will lead to success.

Jim Thumma is Vice President of Sales & Marketing at Optical Image
Technology. This is the first article of a five-part series called Enterprise
ECM:  Strategies for Success.  For more information on document imaging,
document management, and workflow products visit


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