little by little

Occasional thoughts on business process management, eprocurement, customer service, the dark art of sales and the creatures that inhabit these worlds.

Monday, March 07, 2011

British MPs plofligacy reigned in

Back in 2009 the scandal of the British MPs abusing their recoverable expenses hit the news big time and remained on the front page of the newspapers for weeks if not months. At time of writing at least 2 of them are in jail and more to go.

To remind yourself of the whole story.

So it was only a matter of time before appropriate systemised controls were put in place.

Working at an Aussie reseller of the implemented software solution (and how else could you do this but with software?) I was recently also given a more detailed briefing of the improved processes now in place. A problem very neatly solved by a very capable system and implemented across the 600+ squirming MPs from start to finish in around 6 weeks.
Moving from the sublime to the ridiculous, there wasn't a challenge thrown at the system that it couldn't resolve and you can only imagine how extensive the controls and visbility were required following such a publically embarassing event. As could be predicted, one of the hardest things to do was bring the end users - the MPs - into line in terms of systems usage. Again the simplicity of the underlying system helped smooth this transition no end.

An interesting thought struck me - who was the end client in this implementation? It is very easy to assume that it is the MPs - but of course it is not - the real client is the great British taxpayer - and they have complete visibility of who is spending what now. Lots of the MPs are of course noisely complaining about the limitations and constraints that they now have to live by - but they would, wouldn't they? Welcome to the real world.

A fantastic case study of how good systems implemented properly can turn around a business problem with a very rapid return on investment and make a client very happy.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Turning SharePoint from good to great

I touched a while back on the problem with SharePoint trying to be all things to all people and in our offering to clients this has recently taken shape in a meaningful way. With 100 million (yes, 100,000,000) or more seats sold over the last some years there is no getting away that SharePoint has a powerful place in the business software landscape.

The CEO of our author partner - FlowCentric - has published a white paper on turning SharePoint from Good to Great. This harks back to my previous points that it attempts to be all things to all people and in doing so fails to be great at anything.

In reality as we see Microsoft mature its marketing message it appears to move away from the quite exact terms in 2007 of "Streamline Processes" and "Business Intelligence" to more generic terms in 2010 of "Composites" and "Insights". Reading between the lines this suggests to me an acknowledgement that all-things-to-all people is not a viable path to success. Rather it shows an acceptance that SharePoint is a framework and perhaps the plumbing that underpins an array solution sets delivering outcomes to end users.

In the area of Streamline Processes/Composites this allows for and supports the existence of specialist fit-for-purpose tools to address composite areas across the business whilst standing firmly on the foundations that SharePoint brings in the server layer.

So how do we turn it from good to great? By bringing worthwhile and tangible benefits to the key stakeholders - more control for the IT department, better and more visible process outcomes for the business, less confusion for end users.

Get a copy of the whitepaper "FlowCentric turns SharePoint from Good to Great" here.

Monday, December 21, 2009

I thought I was buying a kitchen splashback ...

A little while ago we finished off the tail-end of our home kitchen renovation. The cupboards and benchtop and appliances etc had been in place for ages but the missing thing to bring it all together was glass.

Now it wasn't as simple as a splashback behind the stove, it was that and much more - feature glass on the exposed cabinets facing the external deck, pretty little glass shelves to hold kick knacks and mobile phones, a floor to ceiling mirror at the end of a hallway, a shower screen, new bathroom mirrors - not an inconsequential job but all just commodity stuff, right?

Using a shortlist of glass suppliers gleaned from magazine articles and friends' recomendations we started the "measure and quote" cycle. we had the naieve thought that this was a cost based decision and for the first 3 companies it was. The guy would arrive and ask what was going where, do his measurements, hem and haw about an exposed corner where two sheets of glass were to join, fill in his form and hand over the quote. You couldn't pick any one of them from the pile.

Then Ray arrived. He sat down and asked us what we were doing and what the overall goal of the renovation had been. What did we like about the kitchen now that we had been using it for some months - was our experience different to our expectation? He walked around the room pointing out things from different angles. He sat on the deck and looked back in to where the feature glass was to go. We discussed the mix and match of colours and textures and surfaces and the natural elements outside (sky and plants) that would be reflected within at different times of the day. He made good considered suggestions about what would work where and why. He showed us pictures of other jobs he had done and told us about the satisfied customers. He talked about our feelings for the project. What? Our feelings?

By the time he got around to taking the measurements we were like putty in his hands. We thought we were buying glass. His glass was no different to anybody else's and all the quotes were within 10% of eachother but Ray knew it was about more than that, Ray sold us lifestyle, and he got the business.

In a nutshell - he added value.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Will you respect SharePoint in the morning?

I think SharePoint is one of those software applications that has the potential to be a spectacular disappointment - perhaps undeservedly so. Rarely does one hear or read about an organisation that has easily been able to harness it to its best abilities. It always seems to be "just not quite there".

I think there are a couple of points worth discussing and although this post by Bjorn Kuruknap speaks a lot of truth and left me with tears in my eyes I don't think I'll quite take the same hard position.

Firstly anything that sets out to be all things to all people sets out to fail. The maxim for success is "focus" and SharePoint just doesn't have it. It purports to do document management, knowledge management, process management, content management, business intelligence/insight, portals etc but it really doesn't crack it for any of them.

Secondly when you get something for free (thinking the WSS flavour here rather than MOSS) it doesn't earn much respect from you - so it can easily be treated in a casual or dismissive way. Just because the software came for free doesn't mean you can plug it in, switch it on and expect to get happy users and a quality outcome.

The threat of SharePoint is the viral spread of poorly formed and executed team sites and processes that leverage and further entrench the likes of Word and Excel based forms and edge-to-edge thinking in an unmanageable and un-auditable environment. For business it means no better control and little discovery of areas crying out for improvement (no "lightbulb moments"). For IT it means added drain and chaos in support and significant challenges when the time comes for upgrades. For end users it means confusion in where to go to do what and an enforcement of an unnatural place to go to do things (personal note: I live in email and I hate being forced to go to a portal/website to do something - "don't make me go somewhere, just let me do something").

Like any multi user application/framework, you need to understand your requirements, priorities and your desired outcomes. From that you need to consider what is an appropriate approach to addressing your needs and then you need to plan and design how to achieve the best results. All of this entails the hard slog of thinking and communicating, not website development.

With the proper due diligence in place you are in a strong position to start looking at possible solutions. SharePoint may very well be the right answer, or more likely part of the answer. Your due diligence will help you identify its weaknesses and strengths for your specific purposes and help identify if other tools are needed to fill the gaps. But thinking is harder than hard work and most organisations don't apply themselves in a coherent way to the challenge so SharePoint ends up being a spectacular disappointment.

Monday, September 28, 2009

It's been a year ....

How did that happen? I took my eye off the blogging for a minute and 12 months slipped by.

Getting back into it now, and what a year it has been, I'm not going to bother commenting other than to say "I don't think that is a sea bird sitting on the bow, there must be land nearby".

What is really coming into its own now is the whole business process management story - the "do less with more - leverage your existing investments - get efficient, get smart" mode of thinking. We are seeing a lot of companies under pressure to maintain and improve their customer service whilst still reeling from one or more bouts of cost cutting in the last 12-18 months. And of course "cost cutting" for many means less people, either through deliberate reduction or non-replacement of attrition.

But they are not pulling the lifeboat up on the beach just yet. There are few plans to initiate major projects. What is of interest is the opportunity to cost effectively extend the footprint of the existing solutions, to reach out to different stakeholders and include them in a controlled and efficient way, to start a process in the way they wish it to be completed - accurately and audit-ably.

And that is a BPM sweet spot.

Some of the recent projects of note we have been delivering for customers include:
- better asset management to reduce additional capital purchases
- better employee onboarding to get people generating revenue earlier
- better invoicing processes to shorten the time to cash
- better spend control to reduce unnecessary costs

All very focused "do less with more - leverage your existing investments - get efficient, get smart" activities that have bring rapid results and tangible return on investment.

Certainly looks like a coastline in the distance.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Check out my Wordle to date

This is fun - a Wordle makes an image of a block of text based on the frequency of words used within it.

Check out my blog Wordle as at 15 Sept 2008

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Operating in a constrained resources environment

With employment hovering around 4% in Australia these days the brutal reality is that the people available for work quite frankly can't or won't. Many businesses, my employer included, are scrambling to find quality people to fill the vacant positions throughout the company.

This brings two interesting issues to the fore:

- you need to be efficient and effective in what you do

- you need smart tools and systems for people to work with


Efficiency and effectiveness enables your people to do more with less or the same. It allows people to process the 80% straight through activities with the least amount of perturbation and confusion. It frees time for the smart and skilled people to focus on the issues of importance, the 20% exceptions that really need the rigour and focus of the human touch.

Smart tools and systems encourage people to see the value that is placed in their own skills and experience. If you seduce new hires into the business and then present them with fractured and flawed processes that demand they spend an unreasonable amount of time and effort in administration they may well decide to look around again for somewhere that respects them more.

So what can we do as businesses to become better employers of choice then the next guy? Well my employer takes part in the Hewitt Best Employer initiative which measures and reports on the work force engagement across a wide range of focus areas - this is a great initiative and well respected within the business.

At an operational level over the last few years we have implemented a number of improved business management systems including time sheeting and CRM. We have also automated a wide range of internal finance and HR processes within FlowCentric that have radically improved the content gathering, verification and delegated approval activities and unbelievably reduced the time lag. These processes including adding and changing financial customer and supplier records, personal expense claims amongst others. This is an endless journey, there are always new processes to automate and improvements to make to the existing ones.

Interestingly the change management was not as challenging as we had thought it would be. The take up of these improvements and the employee survey feedback has been extremely positive. The web and email environment for the automated processes reduce to virtually zero the amount of face-to-face training required. The speed of process initiation and execution has been pretty much universally welcomed. Indeed now the level of expectation has risen to a point where what was "special" has become just "business as usual".

We are proud of the process improvement solutions we bring to market, we use them ourselves, they work well and deliver genuine and measurable benefits. Our people are more efficient in their jobs and respected in their workplace. We know we have to operate in a constrained resources environment for the foreseeable future and we continue to focus on improving.

Try it out for ourselves - we could deliver a measurable benefit in a key process in your business within 30 days - not must risk or cost in that.