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Executive Forum: Streamline. Integrate. Innovate. Repeat.

New technologies make business-process transformation possible

To succeed in the increasingly competitive global market, companies must define and implement world-class business processes using information technology as a key enabler. IT by itself is never the end-all solution; if you automate ineffective business processes, you will only make the same mistakes faster.

But if you streamline and transform your business processes using leading-edge technology, the results can be outstanding. At Chamberlain Group Inc., we've increased productivity 100% to 500% for key processes, while reducing cycle times by more than 80%.

IT can play an extremely important role in business-process transformation. New, innovative processes can be designed around Web-based communications, rapid application development, enterprise application integration, and wireless technology. Business functions can be performed far differently than in the past, and the level of integration with key business partners using real-time data interchange is unlimited.

With planning techniques I call "infoneering," in which innovative business processes are designed to span the extended enterprise, companies can improve their competitive position. Here's how:

  1. Identify the processes most critical to your business. Michael Hammer, in his "Evolution of the Process Enterprise" seminar, recommends that companies institutionalize process redesign. At Chamberlain, we've done just that. We've redesigned major business processes two, and sometimes three, times since embracing reengineering nearly a decade ago.
  2. Think outside the enterprise. Integrating operations with key business partners may well be your avenue to major business-process improvement. Key data can be exchanged in real time using the Internet as the communications backbone.
  3. Keep abreast of leading-edge technology through publications, conferences, and visits to leading-edge practitioners. Knowing what enablers are available will help infoneers facilitate process transformation.
  4. Focus on business-value added. Infoneering priorities should be based on return on investment. Business-process and system improvements support increased productivity and enhanced customer satisfaction and can lead to increased sales and profitability.
  5. Establish key performance metrics. Track key metrics before and after infoneering initiatives. This will let your team demonstrate business-value added and benchmark your company's performance.
  6. Avoid the temptation to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Once new processes are defined, the most cost-effective implementation approach may be deployment of new applications. But if companies have continuously focused on business-process improvement, it may be more cost-effective to implement add-on apps and tools.
  7. Use consultants when appropriate. Experts can help reduce development time and implementation risks. Still, internal employees should lead the business-transformation process with strong executive-management backing.
  8. Develop your internal staff. Chamberlain used consultants for its initial reengineering and Web-development activities. On subsequent initiatives, we found it more productive and cost-effective to staff internally. A key side benefit is the development of IT staff members and process owners who then become business, process, and technology experts.
  9. Walk the talk. IT processes likely aren't your company's most critical business processes. But the same infoneering principles should be applied to systems development and IT-support services. This will ensure the highest-quality, most cost-effective services possible.
  10. Repeat steps 1 through 9. To infoneers, this is the pursuit of business-process excellence with a passion.

David Gillhouse is VP and chief infoneering officer at Chamberlain Group Inc.

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