roduction companies have been digitizing their business processes for some time now, but we’ve noticed an increase in the pace of process management and activity automation efforts.
Tools for doing this abound, as do opportunities to use them. But with more opportunity comes more risk, so let’s consider some common mistakes we’ve seen plenty of companies make – so they don’t happen to you.
Make no mistake – digitalization is a good idea. Automation is a good idea. Thinking of a business in terms of its processes is a great idea. But it would be a mistake to think that these efforts are, well, effortless. Digital transformation is not magic. It requires work. It’s worth it, but again – it’s not magic; deploying somebody’s platform does not guarantee success.
The are many “right ways” to do digitalization; it very much depends on company-specific goals, properties, and constraints. Doing it “the wrong way,” however, seems to follow a set of commonly-seen (and reseen) patterns.
So here are five common mistakes production companies often make – and that you’ll want to avoid:
Every production company is almost certainly familiar with ERP and MES systems, the line of business platforms that support resource management and other key production and operational functions. It’s rare that they aren’t already well-established. And it’s for this reason that, when presented with an opportunity to build a new digital business process, the temptation is to try and expand on these LOB systems first. And yes, that’s often a mistake.
ERP and MES systems aren’t even universally able to be used to implement a variety of business processes. Even when they’re able to do it, they still might not be particularly good at it.
The LOB systems serve very specific and elaborate purposes. They’re expansive platforms, but they’re still optimized on the business problems they were designed to solve. It’s rare that even fans of such systems would describe them as “flexible.”
Contorting an inventory system to handle ad-hoc research and development, or employee lifecycle management, or quality assurance testing done by deliberately inducing problems and monitoring how they’re addressed? That is a recipe for frustration. Its database doesn’t have a place to store that kind of information. The forms don’t consider such scenarios. The business logic engine is even further removed from these kinds of things.
The examples just listed require thinking in terms of cases, not inputs/throughputs/outputs. You might be able to force platforms to implement activity contrary to their design, but he results will take a lot of time and effort to produce and even more time and effort to maintain.
What to do instead? Deploy a low-code platform that understands managing business processes, integration across systems, and cases that might require different steps at different times for different work. What’s more, platforms like this allow for even more solutions to be built for internal processes, partner and customer interactions, document and content efforts, and business processes that involve activity in multiple-yet-separate LOB solutions.
“Problems with updating the ERP system are among the issues most frequently raised by IT managers in manufacturing companies. These issues often stem from companies having dedicated solutions, prepared at the stage of deployment or during further use by integration companies responsible for installation,” says Lukasz Wrobel, Chief Business Development Officer at WEBCON. “You can avoid these problems by using an external low-code platform that enables easy integration with ERP. Migration of the ERP system to a newer version will be easier then, and if you grow out of that, it will be easier and cheaper to replace it.
The digital transformation of an organization is by nature an ongoing task. A one-project-at-a-time basis won’t evolve an organization. A project basis often involves treating requirements gathering as a prerequisite to design, then construction, then delivery, and so on. That might sound good, but it suffers from two problems.
The first problem is that organizations don’t exist to address one problem at a time. They’re doing multiple things at the same time, and all of those things matter. In fact, many of those things are interdependent.
A project-by-project approach all too often results in siloed solutions that bear no resemblance to each other. It makes user education difficult and application maintenance even more difficult.
Moreover, it tends to not deliver results until the project is nearly complete. If a mistake was made early, it likely now has countless dependent mistakes that result from it, and every one of them has to be modified and tested.
Applications are not deliverables – they’re collaborations. Relationships. Ongoing efforts. Things crafted from a culture of continuous process improvement. With a constant flow of feedback and a constant stream of adjustments/enhancements intended to address that feedback. And thus cannot be approached on a project basis. For this reason, the waterfall model, in which a solid analysis of the business requirements allows the target solution to be designed in a way that precisely defines the desired end result, rarely works here.
Digitalization is an ongoing process. The goal is not to digitize an application, but rather an organization. It’s not to build a nice solution, but to create a culture of agility. Thinking about one project at a time is too narrow a focus.
Effective cooperation between the business stakeholders (the owners of the problem) and IT departments (usually the owners of the solution) is crucial to the success of process digitization. That’s why building a common ground and the method of cooperation between them should be the priority for organizations embarking on the digitization path.
Formal software development shops have gravitated to what is known as the DevOps (development operations) methodology, and the approach has value beyond the formal code-intensive work to which it was first applied.
DevOps involves ongoing and close communication between business and IT and iterative work in task groups. Such groups’ tend to focus on building prototypes. Prototypes get evaluated and discarded or improved. When they’re sufficiently improved, they’re deployed to increasingly larger and larger numbers of users. Feedback is collected and funneled back into the cycle of continuous improvement.
That aforementioned collaboration between IT and business stakeholders matters at several points in the process. Stakeholders are de facto testers, and are the principal source of both ideas about what to do and feedback on how well it was done. IT is the principal source of how to do what has been identified as important and how to react to feedback.
Oftentimes, superior results take place when early input is enhanced. One truly effective way to enhance requirements and ideas is to turn them into examples. Prototypes that illustrate what is desired. Prototypes that take far less time and technical talent than creating ready-to-use applications, but are far more effective than specification documents or envisioning/brainstorming sessions.
A great example of purposeful prototyping by business users with delivery to IT in mind is WEBCON BPS Designer Desk. It’s not a low-code application design tool; it’s a no-code application modeling and example-building tool.
“It is easier to critique what we can see than to imagine new unseen things. It’s certainly true of IT projects, where the possibility of showing a prototype as early as possible allows you to quickly spot any issues, identify areas requiring clarification and avoid a wobbly consensus based on incorrect assumptions,” says Wrobel. “If we have a tool that lets business develop and test a prototype before the IT department gets involved, we are able to significantly reduce project costs and deploy them faster. The biggest long-term benefit is business managers building these examples come to learn how to think in terms of processes, and as they think about ways to make the organization better, their ability to express it in actionable ways improves by leaps and bounds.
A common mistake that companies make is identifying the software available on the market and then trying to fit the way they operate to the software. This approach makes sense, of course, when you want to adopt other companies’ business styles and their best practices along with the software. It makes even more sense in heavily regulated industries where compliance is wired into every step a company makes.
But those are systems of record. Of operation. Not systems of differentiation and advantage. When you want to create something new and wonderful, the odds of finding an off-the-shelf solution that already does it are not high. By definition, it’s a new idea, isn’t it?
In such a case, the right way to go is to define the expectations in line with the way your company operates. They can be met with bespoke solutions. Happily, thanks to low-code platforms, you do not need to commission dedicated apps, which are costly and hard to maintain by definition. These platforms allow your IT department to create the tools that exactly meet your business needs – in less time, at lower cost, and with a greater potential for creation, adaptation, and evolution of innovations.
While digitizing processes these days, it is easy to fall into the trap of buying many different solutions from a number of providers. It’s particularly easy to make that mistake when faced with the plethora of SaaS tools in the cloud. However, your employees will suffer from this approach as they learn and adapt to a repertoire of many different applications. This situation will be far from ideal for the IT department too – after all, all these solutions need to be maintained on a daily basis. And when it comes to integrating them, it’s normal – and right – to wonder if there might not be a better way.
If your digitization strategy is focused on an open-ended platform designed to produce multiple kinds of solutions, you’re solving user education and application integration issues before they become problems in the first place. Instead of cacophony, you get coherence; the majority of your solutions are built as part of a one flexible environment with one consistent interface language and one reusable set of technologies. Users, whether trained or not, will be able to easily use the new applications and quickly benefit from the digitization of processes. The IT department will maintain a single platform, thus generating lower costs and less risk.
According to The Total Economic Impact, a study conducted by Forrester Research on behalf of WEBCON, by deploying a single low-code platform to digitize processes rather than seeking dedicated solutions, the surveyed company has saved over a million dollars over three years. Learn about this survey and see what other benefits the single solution to digitize processes has provided that business.
As we’ve gone through these five pitfalls, we’ve admittedly suggested a common way forward that avoids all of them. We take this idea and build on it even further in the article Is digitizing business processes worth it?, and we hope you’ll take a look at it as time permits.
Over the last decade, our WEBCON BPS low-code process automation platform has helped over 500 international companies around the world in successful digital transformation.
Our goal is to support organizations in creating a modern workplace that improves how people work, drives insights, and helps navigate business strategy in times of constant change.
No matter if you’re looking to automate one process or dozens of them, we’re here to help you succeed with an enterprise-grade platform and a network of passionate and experienced professionals with a wealth of experience in delivering business solutions for market leaders.
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