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How to Achieve ROI-friendly Improvements in a Market Downturn

By Michelle Mellon
7 min read

After a slow rebound from the 2008 economic crash, most of the worldโ€™s major economies had been relatively stable going into 2018. According to Trading Economics, in Germany the unemployment rate is 3.4%, and consumer spending hit an all-time high of 403.84 EUR Billion in the second quarter of 2018. Yet spending has since decreased, and wage growth has fluctuated at numbers at or below those from a couple of years ago.

The United States unemployment rate has been hovering below four percent for the past year, and consumer spending has been steadily increasing, reaching an all-time high of 12953.29 USD Billion in the third quarter of 2018. But wage growth is not keeping pace, leading many analysts to speculate people will soon be closing their wallets.

The markets seem to agree. In Europe, where the auto industry is the largest private investor in R&D and accounts for nearly 10% of all EU jobs, auto manufacturers recently saw the largest quarterly drop in four years. In the U.S., where manufacturing has been supplanted by service industries, 2018 was the worst stock market year in a decade.
What does it all mean? Well thereโ€™s an entire field of analysis of economic impact factors, further highlighting the uncertainty of these dynamic times. In fact, the only โ€œcertaintyโ€ is that good years will be followed by bad years. But with many economists predicting those bad years are right around the corner, itโ€™s best to be prepared for that eventuality.

Gaining a complete and accurate picture of your operations

Competing in todayโ€™s marketplace leaves many organizations struggling just to keep afloat, let alone prepare for rough waters ahead. But customer needs and expectations donโ€™t disappear just because the market takes a hitโ€”they grow, because people are more selective about where they spend money. So how can you ensure the kind of efficiency that enables a flawless customer journey?

First, you need to know whatโ€™s happening around you. Start by looking at the current drivers in your industry. Are you positioned to address those pressures or capitalize on those trends? Not sure? Itโ€™s time to take a good hard look at how well your organization functions and whether itโ€™s agile enough to ride out the storm.

Like most organizations, you probably have financial reports readily available and insight into your current KPIs. But what about the things youโ€™re not measuring or tracking?

For example:
โ€ข How much money you could save with discounts for on-time payments?
โ€ข How much are you losing in duplicate payments?
โ€ข Which suppliers deliver reliably?
โ€ข Where does your process stall for manual processing or reprocessing of basic tasks?

Most importantly, do you have the data to show what you know, or are you only operating on a hunch?

Thankfully, weโ€™re living in an age of digital innovation, which means thereโ€™s technology to help. Process mining turns your organizationโ€™s data into a visual representation of your processes, so you can see where things proceed as expected, where they deviate and why theyโ€™re off track. Those insights are now your opportunities to reduce costs while increasing your speed, efficiency, consistency, quality andโ€”most importantly in hard timesโ€”customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Building a business case for intelligent improvements

Thereโ€™s a sad irony in the economy of improvements. Implementing new technology to focus on improvements is generally not a priority when times are good and thereโ€™s money available. But investing in process optimization is critical in hard times. So, how do you build a business case for implementing change when finances are tight?

The basics remain the same. Think about your audience and their concerns. Present your problem: Whatโ€™s your goal and why canโ€™t you reach it? Present potential solutions, including your recommended approach. But then thereโ€™s the budget discussion. Whatโ€™s the ROI on software designed to look at your processes?

There are hundreds of use cases for process mining technology with equivalent success stories. Vodafone, for instance, has used process mining to increase their perfect purchase order rate to 92%, drive down process costs by 11% and improve time to market by 20%. And in less than 18 months, Siemens was able to automate more than seven million manual activities worldwide with a team of only three people.

Incremental improvements can have a monumental impact in a slow economy.

  • If you can find and fix areas where processes slow or even stop, thatโ€™s productivity increased, time to market improved, and more potential for sales.
  • If you can uncover and eliminate duplicate invoicing and increase receivables efficiency, thatโ€™s money on hand.
  • If you can uncover process deviations and fix them, you address compliance issues before they become costly.
  • If you can provide an efficient, well-functioning environment, you retain employees, saving time and money on recruiting and training, not to mention less obvious losses like institutional knowledge.
  • If you can identify appropriate automation uses and implement them quickly and smoothly, thatโ€™s speed and accuracy appreciated by employees and customers alike.

Thinking outside the box

One of the steps in your business case is to present potential solutions. And there are, of course, those things everyone does in a downturn: consolidate, liquidate, downsize, outsource. But the other benefit of process mining technology is how it enables new possibilities:

  • Itโ€™s important in times like these to make business decisions that are more objective than emotional. Analyze your unique growth opportunities. Use your data insights for internal benchmarking to see where performance is optimal and whether there are new standards or approaches that can be applied in other areas.

  • Set a common vision. Take the time to solicit input and act upon feedback from your employees. Maybe theyโ€™re seeing something in the data youโ€™re not. The โ€œfire-saleโ€ approach doesnโ€™t instill confidence, and you want to assure them youโ€™re all in this together.

  • Discover expansion areas for additional flexibility. Thereโ€™s looking at processes to improve them, then thereโ€™s looking at processes to enhance them. If youโ€™re able to provide additional services (e.g., implementing chatbots frees up time for service representatives to personally call high-value customers and cement those relationships), you increase your value and flexibility. Also, examine the partnerships that work best for you and brainstorm new ways to use them. Mutual back-scratching feels even better in tough times.

Making the most of your new insights

Transparency is critical to your success, no matter your fiscal state. Understand how your operations are running, understand how your employees are feeling, understand what the market expects, understand how you can fill the void. Thatโ€™s how youโ€™ll stand apart.

Consider process mining technology as an investment not just in pinpointing improvements to get you through a downturn, but a solution to help you thrive well past it. Your customers are the key to your sustainability, and when you have done your best to optimize their experience youโ€™ve lowered the risk of losing themโ€”and your revenueโ€”to competitors, and positioned your organization for an intelligent, prosperous future.

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