When Should Business Process Management Occur During Digital Transformation?

Written By: Eric Kimberling
Date: November 3, 2018

Digital transformations have the ability to revolutionize the way we do business. However, new technology is worthless without a corresponding improvement to your business processes. It raises the question: when should business process management occur during digital transformation?

This is and always has been a controversial topic with much debate. Software vendors and ERP systems integrators will most likely tell you that you don’t need to worry much about business process management. They would say that implementing the software will dictate how your business processes should look in the future. I disagree.

Digital transformations are driven by business processes – not technology

I’ve seen too many companies fall into the trap of not having business processes well defined prior to their digital transformation. This is akin to beginning to build a house without a blueprint. It is not possibly to effectively plan or navigate a transformation without a clear vision for how your operations are going to look.

Today’s ERP systems and digital transformation technologies are too robust and flexible to assume that there is some sort of silver bullet to accelerate business process management. There are simply too many variations. Making key business process decisions during your implementation will result in exponentially higher time, cost, and risk – with the meter running on the army of expensive implementation consultants as you work through these key decisions.

Most importantly, failing to define future-state business processes early on will undermine your chances of reaching quantum-leap improvements to your business model and operations. Rushing such important decisions when you are under the constraints of an implementation timeline and budget is a recipe for disaster. It is a key reason why digital transformation failures are increasing.

Business process management should start before – not during or after – your digital transformation

With this backdrop in mind, it is important to start your business process management activities prior to your digital transformation. This is not to say that you will define excruciating granularity down to the workflow level, but it does mean that you should define your future state independent of technology. In other words, the business processes as they should occur – whether you’re using the latest and greatest technology or a pen and paper.

Our clients vary in terms of whether they begin business process management during their overarching digital strategy, software evaluation process, or implementation planning stages. It depends on how much opportunity there is for improvement, how difficult the changes will be, and how aligned your organization is internally. Regardless, the most successful organizations address business process management well before beginning technology implementation.

The advantages to starting business process management sooner than later

There are a number of advantages to addressing business process management sooner rather than later. As described above, it will provide clear direction for your digital transformation while saving time and money. In addition:

  • Technology evaluation and software selection is much more effective with clearly defined business processes (and business requirements).
  • It makes it less likely that you will “pave the cow paths,” or simply automate your already inefficient business processes.
  • It makes it more likely that you will be able to deploy significant improvements to your business model and operations.
  • There will inevitably be business process improvements that can begin now – without having to necessarily wait for new technology. (In our experience, roughly 30-50% of business process improvements can be deployed prior to technology, which eases change for employees and provides more immediate ROI).
  • A clear business process roadmap will also provide a strong foundation for your organizational change management plan.
  • It will be easier to accurately estimate the time and cost required to complete your transformation.

There are a number of others, but these are just a few of the most salient advantages of this approach.

What next?

There is no harm to beginning your business process management work stream now rather than later. If you aren’t sure that you are even going to get approval for an entire digital transformation, you will at the very least have identified business processes that you can implement with a relatively low investment and risk. If you do move forward with the transformation, then you have a clear vision and path forward.

In other words, you can’t lose. Contact me if you would like to discuss this topic in more detail. I am happy to help!

Eric Kimberling
Eric is known globally as a thought leader in the ERP consulting space. He has helped hundreds of high-profile enterprises worldwide with their technology initiatives, including Nucor Steel, Fisher and Paykel Healthcare, Kodak, Coors, Boeing, and Duke Energy. He has helped manage ERP implementations and reengineer global supply chains across the world.
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