In business we all of us often confuse the ends and the means. It’s natural. For instance, we tend to regard training, efficiency and innovation as desirable outcomes for their own sakes when in fact they’re all stepping-stones to better customer service or greater profitability or both.
There are few, if any, areas where this confusion is more apparent than in the application of technology. The introduction of new systems is presented either as a benefit in its own right or as a means of enabling greater innovation and efficiency. Either way the technology is still the medium rather than the message.
Or is it? Lately I’ve been thinking about this – and in particular with regard to the relationship between technology and processes.
In this case the process can be taken as the objective and the technology is typically the means by which it can be achieved. It’s the process that matters, and technology’s role is to facilitate it.
The old order is changing
I am a strong believer that process should govern technology. Lately, though, it seems to me the ground has started to shift and I wonder if the classic paradigm still holds true. With the rise of cloud-based systems, of artificial intelligence, of robotic process automation (RPA) and more we find that technology is introducing new outcomes that are merging with those of the process they serve.
For example, it’s hard to argue with the fact that automating an inefficient process is sub-optimal. So we start with a best in class process and then apply RPA to help drive perfect standardization across the operation while delivering time and cost savings.
In addition, the classic approach to drawing the process flow is still relevant, but given the possibility of modern dynamic modelling technology we can use a proof of concept to test different scenarios.
The Internet of Things is also allowing us to streamline the entire traditional process flow to deliver faster, better outcomes.
In the past a process was clearly defined and entirely manual; but now, when technology can make processes independent from individual locations so they become virtual, it’s the workflow the technology enables that assumes the dominant role.
The implementation of SAP S/4 HANA environments is a case in point. To take full advantage of the ERP benefits this platform can bring,
enterprises need to prepare a business argument for it. This in turn requires the development of an implementation roadmap – and to develop the roadmap organizations need to take stock of the processes to which the technology is to be applied and see how they might be transformed.
In this way business processes become embedded in the IT. The medium and the message become one thing. It’s a model that blurs past distinctions and which we at Capgemini are pursuing. For instance, in our As-a-Stack approach to SAP S/4 HANA the stack becomes a holistic solution optimised to specific processes embedded in the ERP for any given enterprise. There can be positive cost considerations in thinking of things in this merged way. The technology can simplify the transaction of a process even if that process is itself less than perfectly efficient, and generate savings that can sometimes be greater than improving the process.
What really matters
A new world has emerged that blurs past distinctions. In this new model the process and technology are increasingly interdependent and need to be considered jointly.
But this is not a problem – it is a brilliant opportunity!
In the world where speed, agility and the (digital) customer experience matter, technology becomes a strong symbiotic partner to process. What matters is the business outcome. The ultimate business arbiter is or should be the end result: everything else, and in particular the processes and technology used, is a means to that end.