READINGS FOR ASSIGNMENT
Optimizing Business Processes
Companies are continually required to evaluate and revise their business processes to address customer demands for better products and services. Since customers often have many alternative sources, businesses are forced to remain competitive. As they strive to improve their business processes, many organizations begin with continuous process improvement. Using the continuous process improvement model, organizations document and measure their current processes, make incremental changes, and measure the results of the changed processes. The result is a continuous loop of making improvements and measuring the results. This method is used effectively for gradual and incremental change.
There are factors that sometimes force an organization to make a more dramatic change. When new technologies become available or are implemented by the competition, they drive the need for accelerated implementation of changes in business processes—either to create or maintain a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Businesses have an ever-increasing number and variety of competitors requiring them to be constantly aware of outdated processes and change accordingly—just to stay in business. The rate of change is driving the need to make improvements more quickly than ever. Slow process change does not meet the needs in today’s marketplace. Therefore, many companies have implemented business process reengineering (BPR) initiatives to achieve rapid change and dramatic improvements.
BPR approaches the problem from a different perspective than is used with continuous process improvement. It starts with a clean slate and asks questions such as: What do the customers want/expect? How do best-in-class companies perform the process? How can new technology enhance the process? What should the process look like? Then, a new process can be defined, rather than just making incremental changes to the original process. When considering what technologies and what systems would benefit an organization, the leaders of the organization must ensure that the processes to be implemented or supplemented by the system are performed in an efficient and effective manner—or systems will be implemented that just automate inefficient or ineffective processes. Sometimes this is referred to as “paving the cowpaths.” While BPR must be carried out by the process owners within the organization, it is frequently the IT department that develops the expertise in the BPR process, and it is the chief information officer who must advocate for process optimization prior to implementation of automation.
Business Process Modeling
Before identifying requirements for an information technology solution to support a process, it is critical to understand how a process is conducted currently—this is often referred to as the “as-is” process. Frequently, people within a process only understand their part of the process and even within the same group of users, the process may not be consistently (or correctly) followed. An important first step is to gather representatives of the process stakeholders to define collectively the current process. This information can be gathered through stakeholder interviews and/or a face-to-face session where individuals are together and map out the process on paper throughout the room. In addition to understanding what is performed in each step, it is important to understand why. For example, does the information need to be provided to another area in the organization to enable a related process to be performed?
Once the current process is documented and understood, it’s time to focus on the best way to perform the series of steps needed to perform a task—this is referred to as the “to-be” process. Otherwise, it’s possible to implement a technology solution that only succeeds in performing a bad process faster rather than actually gaining the improvements desired to help achieve the organization’s strategy. The section Business Processes provides a simple example of a before (as-is) process and then an improved (to-be) process for purchasing textbooks at a college bookstore.
Understanding how a process can best be accomplished lays the foundation for defining requirements for a technology solution. Failure to clearly define all requirements can result in a solution that is incomplete. This results in a waste of resources and won’t result in the expected benefits.
In the Week 3 Content, we cover Business Processes, including Process Improvement through streamlining and re-engineering, and process modeling of both the As-Is and the To-Be processes. Read that content before responding to this discussion.
Group 3: Drawing from your own experience, select a process (a set of specified steps to accomplish a task) used at your place of work or in your interaction with a business that you would like to see improved and briefly describe the process. Be sure you have identified a specific process rather than a general business problem or area.
1) Explain why you picked that process.
2) Explain the steps you might take to analyze how to improve the process.
3) Who should be involved with you?
4) What are some of the questions you should ask about the current process?
5) How will you know if the process was actually improved?
First, we need to be sure you can identify a process; many students have difficulty with that, so refer to your class readings. Be sure to pick a fairly narrow scope for your process – for example, processing an invoice for payment vs. Accounts Payable. I am also interested in the method to be used to improve the process, not a solution. (For example, I am not looking for something like: “The Café where I work is not selling enough coffee. We should use social media to advertise more.” The discussion here is about identifying a specific process and how a business would go about deciding how to improve that process, who should be involved, what should be considered, and what steps should be taken to be able to analyze the current process and plan for improvement.) You should employ the techniques discussed in class or those that you find in your research. Keep in mind that outside resources strengthen your responses.
Remember – the Group 3 initial posting is due by Friday midnight; it should be about two short paragraphs in length, supported by external research, and it should be posted by clicking on “Start a New Thread”. These postings need to thoroughly respond to the questions and incorporate relevant research correctly. Please look at what has been posted by your classmates before choosing your examples, and then select something that has not yet been discussed, if possible. Let’s try to spread the discussion across as many examples as possible.
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