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Executive Insight

4 Big Process Questions for 2015

As the New Year arrives and we look forward into 2015, what major process uncertainties might we see? Here are five nominees

1. How will the marriage of Process and New Technologies play out?

No one has ever seen so many incredible technologies tumble down the price/performance curve all at once. What an opportunity! For example, today there are about eight billion Internet-connected devices world-wide and by 2020 there will be 50 billion according to Salim Ismail, author of Exponential Organizations. Given this, the process opportunities are staggering. With everything connected we can truly have digital processes. However, as organizations strive to achieve faster/cheaper/better process performance, the big question is: how well will they take advantage of today’s array of amazing new technologies?

  • Intelligence Everywhere
    • Inexpensive sensors and the internet of everything can dramatically shorten product develop cycle times and provide real-time supply chain insights. Process redesigners will be able to create designs that were never possible before. What was once impossible will soon become routine.
  • Instant Software
    • Cloud services such as AWS, and breakthroughs in continuous software development can facilitate software delivery at unbelievable and unprecedented speeds that can enable process changes far faster than ever before. This will continue to shorten useful process design lifecycles.
  • Instantaneous Sensing and Responding
    • A dramatic combination of social media and pervasive connectivity will open up new ways to operate in real time. Just as Amazon changed prices on some items over 100 times on this last Black Friday, other organizations will operate at new speeds in real time. In particular, B2C businesses will get as close to the market as they can by shrinking their listening/understanding/acting cycle.
  • Data Driven Decision Making
    • Big data and analytics that can provide the platform for turbo-charged decision making at new levels of speed and granularity and with increased confidence.

But, many process professionals have limited experience with these exciting opportunities. Which organizations will find the path to combining process and technology insights for revolutionary value creation?

2. How will the redesign of Knowledge Work evolve?

Given current advances in artificial intelligence, It’s very possible that we’ll see a major tension between (A) the opportunities to fully automate knowledge-intensive process and (B) process performers’ desires for autonomy and decision-making authority.. At a large health care insurer, a version of Watson (IBM’s Jeopardy-defeating AI engine) is being used in a pilot to correlate claims against policies prior to payment. Currently, this process is overseen by employees for QA purposes. But once the pilot data clearly indicates success, will human involvement be needed or regarded as expensive duplication?

Most organizations have years of experience redesigning transactional processes. These high-volume, repetitive processes have been the focal point for two decades of continual improvement. But far less is know about redesigning non-transactional processes. If you’re not sure what a knowledge-intensive processes is, here’s a simple way to identify them. When your flow chart contains little but a few diamonds that say “think” or “decide”, that’s a knowledge intensive process.

So, organizations can automate or authorize, but perhaps not both. This tension will be even more acute for the millennial generation now entering the workforce and whose career interests clash directly with the loss of direct autonomy. Can AI and engaged knowledge workers happily co-exist?

3. Will this really be the year of the customer?

The real Golden Rule is “those with the gold, make the rules.” This should mean that customer focus deserves to be at the top of every organization’s agenda. Clearly, it’s heretical to ignore the Voice of the Customer, and customer journey-mapping is the new rage. But does all this noise really result in processes that actually delight customers instead of driving them crazy? It’s not clear yet. In the last three months I’ve visited five organizations that are deeply involved in process mapping and documentation. Not one of them had modeled their customers’ processes or decomposed the interfaces between them. They were exclusively self-focused. None of them had paped their processes against their customer’s to identify key interconnections. Too many organizations talk customer but act cost management. We’ll really be making progress when we actively obliterate our organizational boundaries. Just as leading organizations involve customers in the co-development of new products and services, when will we see the same level of collaboration for inter-organizational co-process design? That would indicate a real beginning of taking our customers seriously.

4. Can large Industrial-era companies survive in an environment of constant change and perpetual disruption?

This is a very scary question. Put another way, can traditional asset-based, hierarchical organizations successfully compete against information-based disruptors. It often seems that entities like Google, Amazon, and Netflix have fundamentally different DNA than traditional companies. Can organizations that have been “built to last” also be “built for change”? Can huge organizations with rigid hierarchies and suffocating procedures compete with innovative upstarts? Unless today’s accelerating change and disruption subside, and few think they will, more and more industrial-era companies will go the way of Kodak, Barnes and Noble, Blockbuster, and Garmin. As Andy Grove, former Chairman of Intel once famously said, “only the paranoid survive”. Are today’s large companies sufficiently paranoid that they’ll have the courage, wisdom, and skills to transform themselves to survive the turbulence that surrounds them?



Steven Stanton

Process Leader, Speaker, and Author