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Perspectives

How Adaptable Process Is the Lifeblood of Digital Business

2018-04-11


As companies increasingly rely on digital, they must also embrace highly flexible processes that adhere and react to rapid and continuous change.

For enterprises both large and small — in every line of business — staying current with digital change requires highly automated, adaptable and agile processes. Only then can organizations quickly pivot to accommodate the latest technology innovation, as well as industry and customer demands.

Historically, companies focused primarily on standardizing and stabilizing processes. In today’s digital era, agility and adaptability are fundamental tenets of corporate stewardship. These expectations oblige businesses to proactively anticipate and address escalating consumer expectations with greater speed and breadth of channels.

Simultaneously, companies must also deal with the proliferation of smart and connected devices (or “things”) that generate immense amounts of data. When it comes to reimagining their processes, here’s how companies can do just that. 

Designing Adaptable Processes

In our experience, designing processes for digital business involves four stages: defining the purpose of a process, identifying process inputs, determining process activities and understanding process outputs. We define each stage as follows:

  • Define the purpose. Every process performs a task or produces a specific outcome for customers, market-facing processes or internal users such as finance, HR, etc.

  • Identify inputs. Inputs are materials or information that enable a process to begin and progress. When designing adaptable processes, inputs must be interoperable (format- and channel-agnostic) to allow for changes in platforms and applications. In digital business, inputs are automated and dynamic and routed through multiple pathways.

  • Determine key activities. Activities are a series of core tasks that achieve the purpose or expected outcome of a process. When defining activities for an adaptive process, it is important to allow for exponential change.

  • Understand outputs. Outputs are the results of a process. They can be physical products, services or information. Outputs for adaptable processes are compatible across formats and channels, since their structure and delivery options may change.

As processes change, activities change accordingly. Digital processes, therefore, eliminate many manual tasks and may require modifying or adding processes. They also require extensive collaboration among departments and teams, as fewer and fewer processes remain in disconnected department siloes. Hence, activities that are normally assigned to a designated individual or team may be reassigned or become the responsibility of multiple teams.

Furthermore, technology advances — including smart connected products embedded with sensors and robotics that eliminate the need for human intervention — may require additional process modifications and interoperability. Whatever the case, flexibility is a key attribute when designing adaptable processes.

Adopting an Adaptable Framework

In our view, organizations must first create a framework for success. This usually, although not always, includes many of the below behaviors:

Figure 1

Accelerate automation.

Enterprises should structure an organizational model that allows cross-functional teams to come together for a specified period of time to design a new process or reengineer an existing one — supported by a system that automates prototyping, testing, approvals and the allocation of funds.

Empower employees.

Adaptive processes enable companies to customize products/services to fit customer requirements and situations, and incorporate that input into smart devices as algorithms for smart homes and smart video games, for example. However, a fair percentage of these services require human intervention since they are based on real-time interactions and a good understanding of a customer’s current needs.

Enhance collaboration.

Digital processes require frequent modification and close coordination of teams designing/redesigning processes or handing over lower-level activities.

Strengthen ties between business and technology teams.

Traditional operating models place business and technology teams in distinct silos, with minimal interaction. Adaptable processes allow business and IT teams to collaborate at multiple points. This level of teamwork reduces turnaround time, improves efficiency and accuracy and is critical to the success of digital initiatives.

Develop a culture that supports and rewards innovation.

Providing the infrastructure, bandwidth and budgets to support innovation and drive profitable growth requires companies to simplify approval mechanisms, and design employee rewards around risk-taking and innovative thinking.

Promote customer involvement.

Precision customer focus is central to digital business success. Adaptable processes dramatically improve an organization’s ability to read a customer’s “pulse.” Unlike traditional process models that keep customers at a distance and limit their interactions with internal teams, adaptive processes involve customers at every stage — from product and service design to post-sale interactions. (For more on this, read  “Making Digital Real & Rewarding.”)

Develop dedicated teams to manage data.

Digital systems, including smart homes, buildings, mobile devices and the Internet of Things generate huge quantities of data to gauge customer patterns, predict industry trends and keep pace with competitive landscape. Organizations need to establish dedicated processes and teams to mine and analyze this data to deepen insights, improve processes and strengthen strategies.

Human beings know best how  business processes should be designed to rapidly adapt to customers’ hyper-personalized expectations. Therefore, employees should be trained in design-thinking skills that allow them to reconsider how digital business can and should run. Additionally, they will need encouragement to collaborate, innovate and experiment across departmental lines, and take calculated risks. (Read  “People—Not Just Machines—Will Power Digital Innovation” for more on this topic.)

Looking Forward

As businesses everywhere prepare to ride the digital wave, they should not shy away from thinking big, taking risks and embracing change. As customer expectations, technologies and market dynamics evolve at unprecedented rates, the ability to respond and adjust quickly and in tandem will be crucial.

To cash in, companies must design adaptable processes with adaptable frameworks. They must reach for modular, reusable, template-based and algorithmic processes that are continuously checked against key performance indicators and governed by the mobile, cloud, machine learning, mixed reality, and IoT technologies. 

Enterprises embarking on digital transformation should approach this holistically, of course, considering the technology infrastructure, changes in the operating model, and the role that customers, employees, partners and processes play (e.g., “Getting Digital Right”). Organizations should also strive to create a culture of experimentation that motivates employees to collaborate, innovate, affect positive change and drive profitable growth.

To learn more, please read “Adaptable, Agile & Fast: Process Principles for Digital Business,” visit our Digital Transformation Practice, or contact us.

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