Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Document Management: The Backbone of Corporations


Within any corporation, organization is essential for maximum productivity and efficiency standards to be achieved. It is surprising the number of corporations that I walk into who have no organizational management or content management systems in place. Those corporations that do have these management systems in place often use them in less than optimal ways. As the backbone of every organization, information should be handled in a way that ensures easy access for those who are authorized, while providing a clear context for a document’s purpose and objective. Roles and resources need to be clearly defined and tasks must be distributed in a plausible manner – certainly not via sticky note.

Employees are a company’s most important investment and in order to ensure that they perform to their full potential, managers must be able to clearly assign roles for them. In addition, employees must be able to clearly visualize what tasks are their responsibility, while having clear access to all the information needed in order to do their job properly. Business Process Management software ensures that tasks and duties are properly assigned, by assigning specific roles to human resources. Employees are given ownership of their tasks, ensuring that there are no redundancies in task execution and that no task is left unfulfilled. Through the use of personalized employee web-portals, employees can clearly see what tasks they have to do each day, and what is expected from them. This ensures not only that tasks do not get ‘lost’, but also that managers can easily keep track of the workload of their employees. In the end, ensuring that organizational management is upheld leads to greater efficiency and cooperation within your company.

Ensuring that a corporation has an efficient and effective content management system is a daunting task. Often companies store all of their documents and data on separate information silos, making it difficult for employees to find what they are looking for. Poor content management poses serious problems for any business, regardless of size. Without organization, security is sacrificed as secure documents can be lost or mishandled.

BPM software allows for content management to be optimized. Company knowledge is immediately available to process users, employees, and managers. Much more than only a repository, BPM software houses a fully integrated content management system which allows users to store valuable documentation in a secure, central location for easy access by all employees. Documents are given a clear purpose by linking them to specific processes ensuring maximum efficiency and productivity.

Taking the necessary steps to ensure that your company is properly organized can yield results immediately. Business Process Management software provides a relatively easy solution to organizational problems within any company, a task that should be at the top of your to do list. Where is that list anyways?

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

BI & BPM: Today's Business Necessities


In today’s business world there exists a dire need for corporations to optimize their business processes in order to cut costs and improve productivity. Although this has been an age old goal for companies, today the need for these cost saving measures is extreme. 70 years ago, the Fordist mentality saw this process as creating economies of scale, and economies of scope. Today, the process of cutting costs differs greatly – vertical integration, outsourcing, streamlining business activities, strategic forecasting and most importantly, improving business processes.

More and more businesses are looking to Business Intelligence software to optimize their operations. Business Intelligence refers to the applications, technologies, and practices that analyze, collect, interpret and integrate data in order to make it applicable to your business. A vital resource, business intelligence collects the raw data of your company so that you can analyze and react to your business’ needs with the highest degree of accuracy.

What is BI without Business Process Management software ? This is a highly contested debate in current industry literature, as analysts are trying to establish whether BI and BPM software are converging or heading in different directions. To me, the answer is quite simple. BI is extremely useful and an absolute necessity for every company. This software, however, is somewhat useless without BPM software . Without BPM, BI has no automated influence on actual process; it is just the raw analysis of numbers. BPM allows you to relate those numbers in real time to your business processes .

As Forrester analyst Connie Moore states, "I think the BI vendors are missing the boat on process," Moore told internetnews.com. "They don't really understand process because they focus on analysis of data. Operational data, tactical data, strategic data; the data needs to be put into action. The BI vendors don't understand the whole process world."

Walking into corporations across North America, I often immediately see a need for Business Intelligence solutions. Corporations spend millions of dollars each year hiring the best staff. On top of this, corporations put countless resources into the collection and analysis of data. But just like a hockey team, you can spend millions of dollars to ensure that you have the best players and reports, but without mapping and documenting your team’s plays, there is no way to use the data effectively.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

GRC And The Financial Crisis: The BPM Solution?


Over the past 6 months, US markets have posted their highest losses since the Great Depression. With the closing of America’s oldest banks and mortgage lenders such as Lehman Brothers, Fannie and Freddie, US markets have been plunging - with world markets now following suit. Analysts all over the globe are predicting a global recession, oil prices are dropping in reaction and millions of people will surely lose their jobs.

Although many people, including British PM Gordon Brown, have made light of the Financial Crisis with humour, it is no laughing matter.

So we come to the question – how did this ever happen? The US housing market has been the prime culprit for months now, over extending themselves with countless risky (and stupid) loans. And POP! the bubble bursts. It is the age old story of Bankers following a herd mentality and continuing their spending and lending sprees with few red flags being raised. Even Barack Obama wrote the Treasury Secretary warning him of the state of the housing market, but no one was listening.

As a BPM consultant I can’t help but point to BPM software as being the solution to the troubled US economy. Today, BPM software should be used to highlight and mitigate the risks associated with the tight fiscal budgets of banks. In order for banks, and virtually every business, to maintain their budgets BPM’s risk management, governance and compliance functions can be used. Setting controls and rules on company actions – in an automated workflow setting – will continuously and automatically monitor business behavior.

Although it may be a utopist view, I believe that this whole financial crisis could have been avoided if banks and corporations throughout the US had used BPM and Business Intelligence Software. If the major lenders in the US had used BPM and BI Software to assess risk, red flags would have been thrown up long before the problem surfaced. Seamlessly accessing credit information, income documentation and the like would have shown banks that these mortgages were high risk – and that so many high risk loans had been extended that it spells trouble. Running ‘what-if’ scenarios using BI and risk management software could have also predicted the number of defaulted or delinquent loans needed to bankrupt the banks. I guess that’s the future of web 2.0 – connectivity, a fully cooperative social network of businesses.

As Warren Buffet says “Bankers who act like lemmings are likely to experience a lemming-like fate”. BPM software that uses Governance Risk and Compliance (GRC) tools would lead lenders to think for themselves – not follow the herd. They would use raw data in order to make decisions instead of looking to their neighbours.

The financial crisis also points directly to the need for transparency and accountability, something which I have pointed to in the past.

A recent issue of the Economist contained a fitting quote by Teo Swee Lian, deputy managing director at the Monetary Authority of Singapore – their central bank. He said, “There are many lesson to be taken away from the crisis. These include the over-reliance of financial institutions on external ratings, [the need for] better oversight of banks’ off-balance-sheet exposures, the regulatory treatment of these exposures and the need to strengthen stress testing on financial institutions.”

Sounds like a recipe for BPM software to me…

Monday, August 4, 2008

Stan talks deals with the Silo Effect.


It is all too often that in my day-to-day consulting of multinationals that I see managers who have not the slightest clue of what their employees are up to, and vice versa. In today’s business world of SOX, BASEL II, and ISO, it is imperative that all companies be fully accountable and transparent. This transparency, although a simple concept, is often difficult for companies worldwide to adopt. Transparency and accountability require a company to constantly track changes, follow guidelines, and always know the role that their employees play.

If transparency and accountability is not achieved then it is only a matter of time before the walls start caving in around you. Audits never come at a time favorable to companies, if that is even possible. The first thing I tell companies when I start a new contract is – relax. Audits don’t always have to be a bad thing. If transparency and accountability is properly upheld, then audits should prove to be just another way to show how organized and successful your company really is.

BPM software solutions are by far the best way to go about doing this. Processes are mapped effectively – a cost saving task – and all business processes henceforth have the ability to be tracked. Managers can ensure that their entire corporation is accountable and transparent.

BPM software also gives managers the ability to ensure that employees are on task – so you always know what they are doing. The suites allow for roles and resources to be assigned to individual employees eliminating any redundancies in your business processes. Web-based portals allow employees to access a personal homepage with any news or information that pertains to their life, their job, their role. The Webportals allow for roles to be assigned to employees, with no way for them to dodge work, or accidentally ‘miss’ an assignment.

In a perfect world employees’ actions can be fully tracked, their day to day activities can be monitored, and their roles can be assigned and monitored in real time. Oh wait, that’s the BPM world.

If you're new to the BPM world, I at least recommend that you download Free modeling software to map your business processes.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Stan talks about Risk Management


IT? Who needs it?

I bet you have asked yourself “Why do I need that IT guy”.

I know at first glance they seem to just sit around, order parts and pull shredded paper out of your jammed printer, but they are actually one of the most important people in your office. Why? Two dirty words: Risk Management.

In all my years sorting out the problems of multinational companies I have heard every excuse imaginable for skimping on the IT department. What they don’t seem to understand is that a vital aspect of risk management is ensuring the continuing functionality of their supporting IT systems. Often the worst offenders are technically-oriented workplaces who engage in software development themselves and should, more than anyone else, understand the value of having an IT specialist to take care of their computers, servers, and data security. But management didn’t want to spend the extra money. Why? Because they figured that among their 50 employees, there would be enough aggregate knowledge to serve as a kind of ad-hoc IT guy. What you end up with is an IT Frankenstein. Every problem was solved by a different person, using a different approach, often using shortcuts and workarounds that don’t actually solve the issue (which one would expect, since these guys were not hired to manage their office computer assets). So over time, the stitched-together network, the obsolete and malfunctioning components, and the willful negligence of management came together to create a monster that was a threat to the whole company. Luckily I showed up in time and set them straight. Creating effective processes to solve the problems that cropped up around the office allowed for proper solutions to be implemented, resulting in greater stability and much less frustration when that blue screen pops up.

Now I’m going to get controversial: DON’T RELY ON TECHNOLOGY.

That may seem like a bit ironic, since we are talking about Information Technology – but the key thing that I want to drive home is that it is not the hardware you have in place that will ensure the stability of your IT , it’s the people (specialized people, please) and more importantly – the processes that guide them. A computer will not maintain itself - quite the opposite; over time it will just become more and more chaotic if left uncontrolled. You need effective controls ensuring that the computer doesn’t end up erasing its own hard drive.

I was engaged as a process consultant at a company who made this mistake. They actually had an IT guy, but he was more interested in purchasing gadgets than setting up controls to mitigate the potential risk of relying on these gadgets in the first place. I remember when I first met him, he was one of those guys who never takes off their Bluetooth headset and ended up looking like a wannabe Star Trek regular. I can tell this guy loved Technology, and like any good circuit worshiper, he loved to spend money. And he spent big. He purchased a hyper-expensive fileserver to maintain all the data within his office, and when I asked him what his plan was for data loss – he acted like if the idea was preposterous. I pressed him harder and he came up with a strategy: Upgrade the brand-new server to something more expensive.

I could tell he didn’t take me seriously with my talk about Risk Management and Process Controls, but in the end I can never really force people to follow my advice… advice that they pay for. Months later, there was an electrical storm and a power surge killed his fancy server. His company ended up loosing 2 weeks of software development because his backup processes were not properly managed. As a result the company had to delay its product release by 3 months, lost its market advantage to inferior products and set in motion some destructive ripples that the company will feel for years. In the end they recovered, but at the expense of growth, profit, and customer satisfaction.

But you know what – I can’t find myself blaming this IT guy. Sure, he displayed a tragic hubris that would make the gods weep, but the real problem was not that he messed up – it was management that neglected to enforce effective risk management via business processes.

In the end, a computer is a dumb box, and lots of computers linked together in a network is just a disaster waiting to happen. Unless, of course, you understand the risks by documenting your processes, and eliminate those risks by implementing effective controls. They say that a computer is only as smart as the person using it – the same thing goes for your IT systems, they are only as smart as the people managing them. And the best way to manage them is via processes with a good understanding of the risks that can be encountered.

Monday, July 21, 2008

My name is Stan!

My name is Stan! I am a consultant in business process management. I visit a lot of companies across N/A and I see a lot of funny things. I created this blog to share all the interesting topics in the Business process management industry and entertaining situations I run into. I also have educational information for those who want some solid facts on the BPM industry. So feel free to share your thoughts and leave some comments. I would love to hear from you.