In a ground-breaking UK radio series in 2010 called A History of the World in 100 Objects, the oldest item to be featured was an oddly shaped stone, about the size of a grapefruit. It was – and is – from the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, and it’s around two million years old.
Visually, it’s unremarkable. As listeners were told, if you saw it on the ground, you’d walk past it. But if you picked it up, you would instantly understand its significance.
Why? Because it fits in the hand so well. Its shape obliges you to hold it in a certain way, and you immediately see it for what it is – a chopping tool.
The stone is defined not by its form, but by its function, by what it makes possible – and that’s what makes it a good analogy for much of what we do in business. It reminds us that the service is more important than the product, and that the outcome is more important than the delivery mechanism.
From technologies and services…
This principle works on a number of levels. For instance, an intelligent document processing technology can handle the bulk of invoice processing workload. That’s its function, but its outcome is to give accounts teams more bandwidth to handle exceptions and focus on optimizing the accounts payable operation.
For the next level, let’s zoom out a little. Here at Capgemini, we offer a service for developing and maintaining applications. That’s its function – but its outcome is to relieve our customers of a bigger operational burden, so they can focus on things that are of more immediate importance. It’s the difference between driving to an inner-city meeting, and taking a cab: with the cab, you decide where you want to go, but the driver picks the best route, delivers you to your destination, removes any need for you to find a parking place – and lets you focus on preparing for the meeting.
It’s often the case these days that business process outsourcing takes place simultaneously at both these levels. An enterprise may contract out a finance and accounting operation, and independently a technology-led service such as applications development and maintenance (ADM). In fact, it may outsource many operations and services.
… to entire business operations
But you’ll remember I said there were several levels. So, zoom out a little more, and you’re looking at an entire operational area of the enterprise. Take the supply chain, for instance. Its function is clear – but if it’s delivered as a service, its outcome is to raise the role of the organization’s management more fully into the strategic space. Meanwhile, all the tactical necessities, such as market demand assessments, and manufacturing resource planning, and logistics, can be handled by the service provider, who makes best use of the technology to deliver the organization’s business objectives.
There are several advantages to running an as-a-service model at this macro level. First, it’s simple and cost-effective: instead of juggling several service provider relationships, the organization has to manage only one.
Second, it’s consistent: the entire business process will now be driven by a single guiding principle.
Third, it adds value. When the entire business process, with all its individual technologies and functional areas, is brought under the roof of one global service provider, there are greater opportunities to increase cohesion between them all, and to create what we at Capgemini call the frictionless enterprise – connecting people and processes seamlessly, intelligently, and as and when needed, and dynamically adapting to each organization’s circumstances and requirements. By breaking down siloes, removing obstacles, introducing digital intelligence, and increasing visibility from end to end, the service provider can give the client organization a greater degree of insight, and agility, and control than it has ever seen before.
Fourth, it creates enterprise-level opportunities. When the service provider creates a model that’s seamless across the entire business process, it’s giving its client an engine with the power to take it anywhere it wants to go. It can optimize current strategies – and with the help of the service provider, it can scope out future ones, too. For example, it can build risk-free digital twins to explore ideas that could redefine the business.
Identity is defined by strategy, not function
Some people, I suppose, may be uncertain about taking the as-a-service principle to a level as high as this. They may think that when an external provider is executing an entire macro business process, the client organization for whom it’s acting will somehow lose its character. But it’s important to remember that the identity of the business is defined by what it does, and what it offers, and that even something as big as a macro process is only a delivery mechanism that fulfils that strategy.
A business-process-as-a-service is a tool – a much smarter and more versatile tool than a chopping stone, admittedly, but a tool, nonetheless. It’s the hand in which it’s held that makes things happen.
Lee Beardmore has spent over two decades advising clients on the best strategies for technology adoption. More recently, he has been leading AI-driven business transformation for Capgemini’s Business Services. Lee is a computer scientist by education, a technologist at heart, and has a wealth of cross-industry experience.