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Do you have your business playbook?

A business playbook pretty much covers how things get done within the business. But the components that make up that playbook are up for debate.

Deirdre Fryer, Regional Product Manager – Africa, SYSPRO
Deirdre Fryer, Regional Product Manager – Africa, SYSPRO

When it comes to ensuring that business processes run smoothly, the discussion is very much around which comes first, enterprise resource planning (ERP) or business process management (BPM)? And are the two mutually exclusive? Well, according to Deirdre Fryer, Regional Product Manager for Africa at SYSPRO, there’s a third member of the team, adding to the debate, which is workflow.

“While each of these can stand alone, none of them will be as efficient or as effective as you’d like. A true solution combines all three elements in order to achieve the most optimal result and output.”

The only caveat, according to Fryer, is that businesses should be cautious of over-engineering their workflow to the extent that it includes too much red tape and becomes counter-productive.

“You need to find a balance between how much you need to control something and that process becoming unproductive. The workflow should be a facilitator, not holding the process back.”

In simple terms, she believes that workflow should be focused around process improvement, risk and milestones.

She explains this through an example of a long distance road trip. “If you want to travel from point A to point B, you have a car, you know your destination, you need to travel by road and you have a driver. These are the tools that you need, you just need to plan how you’ll get there. For that you’ll require a map or GPS system that shows you which roads to take, and where there are stop points, petrol points and checkpoints. You need to develop a plan to make sure you get to point B.”

“When I think about BPM and ERP, that’s how I see it. BPM is the plan and map of where and how we are going to get there and the ERP has all the tools that I need, but if I don’t have a plan of how things need to happen, the ERP will still work, but perhaps not optimally and I may well be doing certain things the hard way.”

BPM defines and plans how the business’s various software is going to interact. In essence it becomes a map. It defines areas of importance for the business, identifies milestones and checkpoints, and sees where the risk lies.

Returning to the road trip analogy, Fryer says: “Once you have your tools and your map, nothing really forces you to adhere to either. The driver can change cars or choose to take a different route or stop for petrol on impulse. Businesses face the same challenges around ERP and BPM – and this is where the third layer comes into play, workflow.

Workflow is the executor of a business process. In simple terms, it’s an application that monitors an entire process end-to-end. An automated workflow ensures your processes are standardised throughout your organisation and that there is accountability.While an ERP executes a specific action or task and has rules associated with it, a workflow offers a virtual way to manage an entire process from end to end. “These three elements together offer true optimisation. You can’t do workflow without BPM and ERP, so it really relies on both of those drivers. Workflow brings together people, documents, software and systems to enable better collaboration.”

On BMP best practice, Fryer says first and foremost, it’s key to ensure you model at the right levels: “You can’t do this at too high a level, but you also can’t get lost in the granular. We advise a two-pronged approach: you model the business down to three or four levels, overlay it onto the software model down to a more granular level. This allows for visibility of where process meets application.”

When it comes to the business focus, you need to ensure that all the stakeholders are included in the process. It requires you to drill down to each area of the business, then down to each role within the organisation so everyone understands where they fit into the processes from a holistic point of view. It’s best practice to go down to role level and not just the top management level, says Fryer. “The reason for this is that all too often you find that what business anticipates is happening at a higher level isn’t actually congruent with what’s actually happening at a role level. You need to identify where the mismatch is happening so you can get alignment again.

“All too often you hear about BPM implementation failures. It’s key that everything has to be aligned, the business must agree that the process is right and sign it off. This then becomes the blueprint for process implementation.”

The third key thing, according to Fryer, is to ensure continuous improvement of the process. “It’s all well and good to design a great process that everyone buys into, but then the business undergoes change and the business processes aren’t adapted accordingly, which can have a ripple effect on the business. When changes do happen, it’s key to relook at the business process model and adjust it, and then look at what the impact is going to be across the organisation as well as applications like the ERP.”

This is not a once-off exercise, it’s ongoing and if it’s not kept relevant, can end up being a wasted business enabler. It has to be kept up to date. To this end, organisations should choose a user-friendly BPM toolset to make it easy for the team to maintain keeping it relevant and current. It’s also vital that the chosen toolset covers both the business and the application side of things.

Clarifying the difference between BPM, workflow and ERP, Fryer explains that a business process doesn’t have to involve a system, the process could be manual or external. “In simple terms, BPM is a blueprint, ERP allows for execution of the blueprint and workflow oversees and ensures that it happens when it should.”

This is very much a general trend for successful process automation, according to Fryer. “If you look at the latest technology coming out of the big software vendors, they all seek to drive greater collaboration across multiple processes and touch points, both internal and external to the business.”

So aligning your business playbook with your applications is where the simplicity begins.

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