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Tools and Technology: They Sure Help Make the World Go Around

Think of the gamut of process management capabilities required to get real work done. Now imagine if you only had paper and pen, filing cabinets, the postal service (for normal communications) or a very expensive overnight delivery service for items needing rapid attention. More time would be spent filing, collating, spindling, or otherwise shuffling documents as they travel physically around your organization and potentially around the world. Imagine how long it would take to effect change! We don’t have to imagine too much, since some of us can remember when multinational organizations actually did work this way. Perhaps some still do.

Our highly automated and rapidly evolving work environments have changed all this. No longer do process review cycles require shuffling of paper and outmoded version control. Today’s organizations benefit from the Internet and modern software to review process changes globally in less time than it will take you to read this blog post. And process owners can be certain that once the process has made it thru the review period, the original version hasn’t had any out-of-turn changes applied to it.

As process tools and technologies have developed, APQC has studied their adoption and use in organizations around the world. One thing stands out and continues to drive decision makers to this day: tools and technologies do not define process management. Tools and technologies are enablers of strong process capabilities. Today’s rapid pace could not be accomplished without the use of tools and technologies we have grown accustomed to.

But at the same time there is a risk – we cannot automate what we don’t understand. We cannot expect our tools to magically make things happen how we want. We must invest our brainpower into making the technology work for us rather than the other way around. It is essential that we think through and make value based decisions about what to automate, how it should be automated, and what parts of the business to include in the automation.  And then we must support the application of those tools and automation through solid change management techniques so that they are incorporated in a manner that supports the goals and performance objectives of the business.

The decisions made in this tenet are powerful since they tend to simplify the tasks of designing, performing, measuring and controlling our processes. This results in significant cost and cycle time savings for organizations. The decisions have wide-ranging implications – for example around process modeling and governance, two of the most frequently automated aspects of business process management. Today’s crop of tools is very good at modeling and governance. The tools put significant power in the hands of lay-users to model complex processes using simple drag-and-drop mouse clicks. No more Post-It notes and butcher paper precariously hanging from the walls. Not only can users model processes, but the tools can help them resolve ownership and governance issues through automated change control and “check-in/check-out” type activities. This doesn’t even include tools that actually handle the execution of business processes.

Because this tenet addresses so much activity and also enables the core of process management, it may be the most important tenet of all to understand and actively manage. What are your thoughts?