Process will remain front and center through digital transformation
At a conference not too long ago, there was a speaker who proclaimed, “Process is dead. In the digital age, there will be no longer a need for process.”
After much reflection on the statements and even in the face of all the digital advancements, there are two things that will still remain – people and the natural flow of events and decisions that are made to complete an activity. Some might call that a process…. actually, most people do. Granted there will be technologies that automate and redefine how people work and the work they do, but the natural flow of work in a system or by a human still remains.
Take Robotic Process Automation (RPA) as an example. One of the first steps in a successful launch of RPA program is to understand and document the process that will be automated through RPA. Now, a process mining technology document your processes, but these processes still need to be understood first and foremost. Secondly, even after implementing RPA, people still are required to know the expected inputs and outputs of the automaton, key tenants of a process.
Maybe RPA is too easy as an example, given process is in the name. Let’s use AI as another example. When AI is deployed, it is typically used to enhance, accelerate, or simplify a process. For instance, Bid Ops is Sourcing Enablement for the Modern Business. Bid Ops Sourcing AI identifies the “should be” price for the good or service being purchased. According to their own website, “Bid Ops AI helps you negotiate with your suppliers for better outcomes using fast, repeatable processes.” There still is a bidding process, but it is much faster than before. They are the TrueCar for procurement. Another great example is App Orchid’s ContractAI product that automates the contract creation and negotiation process for contracts, “reduc(ing) contracting time by up to 80% by leveraging AI to automatically generate win-win templates and clause options”. These AI tools don’t kill process, in fact, it is the process flaws that they are solving for.
Love Your Processes
Even the slow, complicated, and gross ones. Why? Because when processes are known, they can be improved, without technology investments to begin with and then enhanced by technology. For instance, think of processes like roadways. They get you to A to B, but like in Texas, some roadways follow old cow paths, meandering through the countryside, and others are high-speed expressways. Of course, we want to be on the highspeed expressway, but the farm to market roads will also get us there. But, without a map or without a clear, written understanding of those roadways, we do not know the options and the best routes to take. We are drivers without a map way too often in our corporate lives. We allow processes to happen, without knowing if those processes are actually cattle paths.
There is a need to love your processes by documenting them, understanding where there are potholes, and where there are the dreaded decision-makers at the end of the process causing massive detours throughout the way. Through a series of deliberate steps, opportunities can be quickly identified and resolved or needs for technologies can be identified.
Business Case Success
A growing trend in Procurement is leadership wanting to deploy technology but are unable to get the funding to invest. While there is a mirid of possible reasons why, but often there is an overlooked opportunity with processes. If a leader within the business case can show the process, where they already optimized the process without technology, and where technology might be needed to enhance, accelerate, and simply further, it changes the game. Taking this approach helps with showing that there is an understanding of the details and the problems that are being solved for, that investment was already made to correct deficient processes, and provides a roadmap of exactly what technologies are needed. It helps tell the story and a great, well-planned story everyone enjoys.
There are some cautions along the way to be very aware of when documenting processes. First, don’t record what people think is happening vs what is actually happening. This is a common trap, especially when people who are not doing the work are documenting the process. The people who are the best people to engage are the people who see the process in action daily, the ones who do the work. Otherwise, you have a map that is faulty and misleading. Second, please do not document a process and then put it in a binder or in a drawer. The purpose of a documented process is to analyze it, refine it, use it daily. It should be printed, understood, and referenced and updated to reflect what is actually occurring. Third, there are all kinds of processes mapping techniques. Do not be intimidated. All of them work, and all of them will result in insights and improvements to be made.
Process is not dead. Process, on the other hand, is being placed front and center in digital transformations, setting the understanding, focus areas, and roadmaps for success. Let’s give our processes some love.