“Steve Austin, astronaut. A man barely alive. Gentlemen, we can rebuild him: we have the technology. We have the capability to make the world’s first bionic man…Better than he was before. Better, stronger, faster.”
I am dating myself with a quote from “The Six Million Dollar Man,” a TV series from the 1970s. But, there’s a parallel between this sci-fi action series and business processes.
The Six Million Dollar Man chronicles the adventures of Colonel Steve Austin, played by Lee Majors. Austin was an astronaut, mortally wounded, rebuilt with bionics and deployed as a secret agent for the government.
Like Steve Austin, many business processes are wounded and in need of serious repair. In our time of hyper competitive markets, increasing complexity and economic volatility, inefficiencies fester across end to end processes due to the misalignment of people and technology silos. As such, many businesses struggle to move the needle on key customer, profit, and sustainability metrics.
It wasn’t long after The Six Million Dollar Man aired that some smart thinkers believed, like the surgeons rebuilding Steve Austin, that business processes could be rebuilt to be highly efficient and more powerful.
This idea is called Business Process Orientation (BPO) and it is a management philosophy that seeks to understand and structure organizations as a collection of processes that exist to create value for customers. BPO aspires to align organizational processes with the needs and expectations of customers. In a process-oriented organization, everyone thinks horizontally across functional silos and is responsible for improving processes, not just the process owners or an improvement team.
BPO emphasizes continuous improvement and innovation and promises to help organizations become more agile, efficient and effective. A study in 2000 showed that BPO is critical in helping companies reduce conflict, improve connectedness within the organization and improve business performance.
BPO is largely a response to the many end-to-end process challenges that hierarchical business silos create. Rigid management structures within silos of work lead to cross-process misalignment and a lack of performance. The result is often a severe disconnect between how a company operates and how its customers experience them (Figure 1). The cost of the resulting inefficiencies is astronomical in time wasted alone, but it also manifests as poor employee experience and negative customer satisfaction due to the breakdown at the hand off points between processes. This all impacts the top, bottom, and green lines of business.
Figure 1: The disconnect between a customer’s credit application journey and the bank’s siloed business processes
BPO is an idea with great intentions, but was ahead of its time. In practice, many companies failed to realize success (some did, but with great effort). The projects were simply too big and complex to drive as BPO espoused a horizontal management structure for each end-to-end process. This often created obscurity in reporting lines and power dynamics across functional areas that were challenging to manage. The verdict is that trading hierarchical management silos for horizontal process silos can create blurry matrixial models.
This was also the era of Business Process Management (BPM). If BPO is the philosophy, BPM is the discipline of discovering, modeling, analyzing, measuring, improving, optimizing and automating business processes. Back then, however, process discovery was performed through time-consuming workshops that sought to understand processes from the input of employees. This resulted in process maps that were highly subjective and based on simplistic assumptions about what was really happening within a company’s processes.
The reality was often quite different. The process maps were an initial point-in-time reference and then seldom used. There was also a heavy focus on workflow management, but implementations often failed to deliver because they were based on assumptions from the workshops. At the time, the aspiration of BPO and BPM was sound, but the key technology to make it practical and successful did not yet exist.
It was Professor Wil van der Aalst’s frustration with the limitations of existing workflow management projects that motivated his pioneering work on process mining in the late 1990s. Referred to as the Godfather of Process Mining, van der Aalst developed a systematic way to mine event data from major business information systems, such as ERP, CRM and SCM, and visualize what’s really happening, instead of what people think is happening. It offered an objective view based on data science.
Process mining created tremendous value for organizations that adopted the discipline. It allowed them to find hidden inefficiencies, quantify their impact, measure conformance and remediate issues through automation with solutions like the Celonis EMS. Today it is widely accepted that process mining is the optimal starting place for organizational transformation, more so than process modeling, workflow management or even automation. The growth of the process mining market over the last ten years has proven that the best way to improve a process is from an accurate view of its current performance.
With the launch of Celonis Process Sphere™, we are within reach of realizing the benefits of BPO without needing to reinvent the management structure of every enterprise. Process Sphere is based on object-centric process mining, a reinvention of the discipline of process mining that lifts process analysis from a flat two dimensional view, to a dynamic three dimensional one. For the first time, we can now visualize a business’s entire process landscape and how individual processes interact with each other from a single object-centric data model. This revolutionary approach is more efficient and comprehensive than traditional process mining in its representation of business operations, allowing for powerful analysis of the hands of points between processes.
Like Steve Austin, processes can become super-powered. This is important because Process Sphere can serve as a galvanizing canvas, or crystal ball, to better align organizational silos for optimal horizontal process execution, the aim of BPO (Figure 2). Furthermore, many process problems exist due to misaligned incentives that work against each other across the end to end value chain. Where there is organizational misalignment, Process Sphere can provide the intelligence needed to help companies optimize the way they incentivize employees. This will do wonders in dealing with the many negative butterfly effects that are traditionally challenging to pin down. Super-powered processes, or BPO, is suddenly within reach, but in a new kind of way unimagined before: driven by empirical observation rather than philosophical principles, or assumptions.
(Figure 2: Connected and fully observable business processes with Process Sphere across a loan origination journey.)
To realize the intent of BPO requires new perspectives of end-to-end processes that can enable continuous improvement. It also requires an agile and incremental approach that supports practical change management, without needing to restructure everything. Implementing highly process-oriented teams and operations that are closely aligned with the customer's experience is suddenly feasible. In addition, this can coexist alongside the organization’s current structure, in a matrix that can now be measured in both process and hierarchical dimensions.
Steve Austin had three elements to his bionic powers; a bionic eye, bionic legs and a bionic right arm. The power in his limbs was only useful to the extent that he could see unique perspectives with his bionic eye before he acted. His human form was enhanced with technology to work in a symbiotic way toward optimal action with power and speed.
So, as we plug in Process Sphere and unfold the full and interactive canvas of all our business processes on the operating table, perhaps we too can be like the surgeons that rebuilt Steve Austin. Because, for the sake of realizing new levels of performance (BPO), when it comes to broken processes today, ”we can rebuild them, we have the technology.”