Never-Seen-Before business processes

During the days I was doing my MBA, I was introduced to Porter’s Five Forces analysis – Threat of new entrants, Threat of substitute products or services, Bargaining power of customers (buyers), Bargaining power of suppliers and Intensity of competitive rivalry. While all of these forces are very relevant for any business while defining and refining their strategies, I have always been intrigued by the “Threat of substitute products or services” because it can come from rather unexpected quarters and does not give an established businesses enough time to react.

An interesting case study that we analyzed during my classes was about Cadbury’s evolution in India at the turn of the century. Like everywhere around the world, India loves celebrating its festivals and mithais (Indian Sweets) are gifted and consumed with gusto during the festive season. Over the years, mithai and dry fruits have been in many cases replaced by boxes of chocolates and biscuits. This change was driven by Cadbury’s around 2004 when it started its campaign “Kuch Meetha Ho Jaaye (Let’s have something sweet)” and presented its box of chocolates as an alternate gifting option. This caught the fancy of the urban Indian and soon, Cadbury command a lion’s share of the non-traditional gifting space. This impacted the businesses of the mithai-sellers and by the time they realized the impact of this new substitute, the brand had registered in the minds of the consumers.

On similar lines, you would find numerous examples from the current marketplace – and the underlying theme is that this cuts across industries. The advent of technology and digital transformation has meant that the competition need not necessarily come from within your industry. It is in light of this that Porter’s “Threat of substitutes” gathers more moss.

Threat of Substitutes

The future will unfold numerous interesting shifts in the business landscape – leaving some of the established businesses, and possibly roles, redundant. Consider this –As per a recent announcement, YouTube will be going offline in the coming few weeks, allowing users to save videos. You can download a video once, save it to your phone, and watch it multiple times. This will definitely be a game-changer in countries where broadband internet is a premium and is not as widespread – YouTube offline will allow users on data network to watch the same videos over and over again without having to bother about data charges. Another recent report by Nielsen found that YouTube reaches more American adults between the ages of 18 and 34 than any cable network. Overall, where does this leave the TV media?

The media houses have absorbed some of the effects that YouTube’s popularity has had on their businesses – loss of viewership and reduction in advertising revenues. If they are not jolted yet and have not been working their strategies around this, they would fail to evolve and therein lies the risk of Digital Darwinism.

Some more unusual action is being observed in the Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) space in the technology world. The big technology firms have surprised the industry with their unique acquisition strategies – possibly taking a long shot on futuristic business models. How else would you explain Google’s investments in wind-energy and driverless cars, Facebook eyeing drones and satellites? Non-technology firms have also moved beyond their traditional industry verticals to drive new business models. It is this confluence of industries that could generate the next big buzz in the marketplace.

What do all these industry shifts mean to the BPM practitioner? Essentially, it means that one needs to be prepared to study the client’s business without preconceived notions of the business processes within the enterprise. You may not only come across the traditional business processes but some rather unique ones given the fact that the businesses are constantly venturing into new spaces.

For example – a present day Telco firm need not necessarily be restricting its business services to Voice and data-based services but can expand into mobile banking and retail sales, an e-commerce player could go beyond retail sales and establish payment gateways and mobile wallets, a health insurance vendor could go beyond issuing and servicing insurance policies and establish health monitoring practice to track their customers’ health using M2M technology. The examples and possible scenarios are endless.

One needs to be well-aware of the confluence of industries and constant shifts happening in the marketplace. The confluence will be more evident now – thanks to digital transformation drastically pulling down the entry barriers of the past. As a BPM practitioner, it is imperative that you are aware of the “never-seen-before” business processes in the context of your new-age client.

Wearables in the Enterprise-context

A fortnight has passed by since I captured my thoughts around how the nexus of disruptive forces (Cloud, Mobile, Social, IoT) demands new-age BPM thinking. In a section of that blog, I had mentioned that BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and COPE (Corporate Owned, Personally Enabled) are forces that enterprises are coming to terms with. From the employer’s perspective, these measures are intended to optimize the experience for each employee, deliver the service and support to meet their unique needs, and maximize their contributions to the business. From an employee perspective, there is still a shortfall in BYOD – they need to lug these portable devices wherever they go. How easy would it be if one need not worry about carrying devices around but still get the job done on the move? Enter Wearables!!

In simple terms, wearables are computer-powered devices or equipment that can be worn, including clothing, watches, eyewear etc.

Brian Ho

The wearables space is still in its early evolution phases and most vendors are in an exploratory mode. This has led to a huge influx of different devices serving varying needs. IDC, in its recent market analysis (Worldwide Wearable Computing Device 2014–2018 Forecast and Analysis), has broadly classified wearables into 3 categories – Complex Accessories, Smart Accessories and Smart Wearables.

Wearable-types

The same analysis notes that “…wearables took a big step in 2013, reaching a total of 6.2 million units shipped, marking a 317.1% increase from the 1.5 million units shipped in 2012. Driving volumes higher was a combination of a warming end-user reception to complex accessories and the introduction of multiple smart accessories. Smart wearables, meanwhile, have yet to reach larger volumes.

Wearables in the Enterprise

With this growing trend, how far are we before these devices enter our business environment? It’s not a question of “if” but “when” will wearables extend into the enterprise. Enterprises stand to benefit from the wearable story, if they think through this diligently and make smart choices that deliver an improved employee and customer experience. As things stand today, I observe that there are 3 broad use cases for wearables in enterprises:

Employee-empowerment

Providing employees with a hands-free operations will definitely add the productivity of the individual. How many times have there been instances when you have been in your favorite supermarket/electronic store feeling lost because of the combined lack of information displayed on shelf labels and limited knowledge of the salesmen around. A dissatisfied customer, a potential sale lost and, biggest of all, a customer delight opportunity lost – primarily because the salesman did not have the right levels of knowledge required to enable that sale. It is situations like these where it helps to have knowledge at the fingertips that businesses would want to drive in wearables. By strapping one of these devices on your limbs, you literally have the information at your fingertips.

Enhanced Customer Experience

Innovative thinking brings wearables and your customers together and driving more value into the relationship. While we have seen what mobile apps have done to customer experience and it is known that these apps can be made compatible to the smart watches, this use case goes beyond this scenario. Insurance companies are leveraging wearables to drive a more objective and individual assessment of insurance premiums, and making their customers aware of how they are performing on the health radar. Strap one of those Fit Bits around the wrist and each step you take from there on is helping you drive your insurance premiums lower. Some devices can even track your blood pressure and blood sugar levels and digitize this information. The insurance firm benefits from the close track it can keep on the health of its customers and provide a personalized experience.
Another smart implementation of wearables was Disneyland’s introduction of the MagicBand device that ties into a new service allowing theme park visitors to make purchases and reserve experiences.

WYOD (Wear Your Own Device)

An employee with a wearable computing device of their choice – sounds too distant? Businesses have taken a relatively long time in devising their BYOD strategies and transitioning into this new reality. If the influx of smartphones made them sit up and take note, wearables will be the next wave and businesses have to think of how they will evolve their WYOD strategies. The good news is that substantial mind-shifts have already happened during the implementation of their BYOD strategies and the resistance this time around will be less. However, the challenges of wearables entering the workspace will also unravel as this space matures, and businesses will have to be nimble-footed to generate value in that context. Just as it was in the case of smartphones entering work environments, security concerns will be center stage with wearables – perhaps, a few levels higher. Having said that, wearables will be an imperative and businesses should adopt and leverage rather than resist and lose out.

Impact on Business Processes

With such an advent of these wearables in the enterprises, there is bound to be an impact on business operations. From the retail floor to the insurance firm to the amusement park, the business processes will soon shape around these wearables. Call to action for BPM practitioners –

Develop Business Processes considering the wearable UI

The marquee BPM tools in the market have evolved in the context of the mobile wave. Traditionally, the business user has participated in the process through a User Interface that is rendered to him on his screen. Today, the BPM tools can additionally deliver this UI on the mobile/tablet screens, either through “responsive web” or a mobile app. With wearables, this UI design has to take the next leap – render the screens on the wearable screens and perhaps, include enhanced speech recognition! The need is to facilitate process execution by the business user through their device of choice – the wearable.

Optimize processes around Wearables

Business Process Optimization could possibly be taken to the next level if we leverage these devices as an effective aid in process execution. If a process participant is not bound to his desk or a handheld device, and is still able to carry out his task while on the move – this can lead to quicker response times. It requires some innovative design thinking by BPM practitioners to identify the “fit-for-wearables” scenarios that will enable clients see the value that they always long for. Businesses will be open to innovations in technology as long as we can demonstrate the value of leveraging them within their business processes. As an example, Virgin Atlantic has already made an early-adopter move and leveraged Google Glass to deliver a personalized check-in experience for its Upper Class passengers at Heathrow’s T3 terminal. Enterprises are in experimental mode and some of these early adoptions may not take-off smoothly.

The wearables space is evolving and maturing with each passing day. Technology firms and analysts are jumping on the bandwagon because they realize that the space has huge potential. There will soon be a consolidation based on market feedback and this should provide the much needed direction to the wearables market. There will be challenges and apprehensions around security with wearables entering the business environment but I am sure as this space evolves, those will be addressed as well. What is important is that a level of maturity is reached – both in terms of the device functionalities and enterprises evolving their strategies around these wearables. As BPM practitioners, do keep a close eye on this evolution and keep your “smarter thinking” hats on!

Disruptive forces and new-age BPM thinking

Change is commonplace. However, the forces driving change in the marketplace have never been as disruptive as they are today. Businesses have to be nimble to adapt to and adopt these inevitable changes. This process of adaption and adoption calls for a shift in the Business Process Management (BPM) landscape as we know it. Convenience and engagement are now prioritized ahead of automation and standardization as the core values of BPM. This blog discusses the impact that the disruptive forces – mobile, cloud, social, big data, internet of things – are having on business processes and shifts that the business have to make to ensure there are no tremors.

Reality of Disruptive Forces

While we all know that change is inevitable, it is the speed of change that has taken some of the less-nimble businesses by surprise. Widely available broadband bandwidth has led to explosive changes. As the marketplace changes rapidly, business strategists realize that they need to constantly reinvent themselves to overcome these VUCA challenges. So, in light of these disruptive forces (see graphic below) – Are you prepared to navigate the dynamic and rapidly changing landscape of Business Process Management?

Disruptive Forces impacting BPM

Cloud 

With businesses steadily opening up to the cloud model, we are witnessing business processes move to the cloud – especially the ones that do not deal with sensitive data. Businesses are increasingly turning to dynamic hybrid cloud to reduce costs and enable more scalable and flexible business processes. This means that the new-age processes could involve process orchestration between an application(s) sitting on-premise and another application(s) hosted on the cloud. While the BPM process engine functionality should be able to drive that orchestration, this also means that businesses have to think beyond the “process optimization” principles that have been at the heart of process improvement approaches. This does not take away the significance of all that has been done till date for process improvements – it just requires businesses to think differently about ways to drive efficiencies. Most of the process improvement effort till date has been relatively ignorant of the hosting location of the business applications. However, this rewiring of businesses will make it necessary to start considering hosting options as well because they drive down costs substantially and deliver a much better end-user experience. Innovative thinking around this could lead to the evolution of new business models driven by business processes that are remarkably different from the ones we have known in the past. Consider this – till a couple of years back amazon.com would have meant ordering your favorite book, an electronic gadget online. The fact that they realized there is inherent potential in their huge IT infrastructure that can be tapped into – and came up with Amazon Web Services – leading to a new business model. This innovative thinking means that Amazon today has business processes around remote computing services that were non-existent a couple of years ago.

Mobile

With handhelds (mobiles, tablets, phablets) replacing the desktops and laptops as the preferred gadgets to stay online, they are driving businesses to think. Mobile enterprises can attract new customers, transform their business and IT infrastructure, develop mobile apps to boost enterprise efficiency, and improve customer service and interactions.

The new-age mobile enterprise is opening up to the concepts of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and COPE (Corporate Owned, Personally Enabled) to deliver an experience that is employer-friendly. With handhelds being commonplace in work environments, the business processes stand to benefit from them – if leveraged the right way. The fact that a customer’s loan could be approved by a credit manager on his ipad while he is waiting for the boarding announcement at the airport means that the end-to-end process execution times are ready to be redefined. In today’s business-in-motion environments, workers expect to be connected to their critical business processes while on-the-go. It is imperative to deliver more meaningful user engagements by extending business processes to the mobile working environments. However, one needs to note that handhelds are not just another device to access the same service – they are a different form factor and that means that they need to deliver an experience that is substantially different from the web-experience. Boilerplate solutions that are clones of the web applications will not work here. So, while defining business processes for the new mobile world and defining the user interfaces along the business process, one has to extend their horizon to think of delivering the “right” experience across form factors.

Social

Social networks have invaded our world and are becoming (if not already) an extension of ourselves. Social business has created a new source of human data, enabling businesses to gain greater insight into the sentiment, activities, performance and behaviors of large number of people. These businesses are driving enterprise-wide collaboration and workforce talent optimization by interweaving their social strategy with their overall business strategy. With an influx of millenials into the workforce, social networking is already pervasive and business processes have to wake up to this reality. The new-age workforce wants to use social networks to share content, have livid discussions on communities, share experiences and work cohesively – at scale and without boundaries.

Business Processes stand to gain from this shift. Consider this simple use case – we have seen many business processes that keep looping back and forth between process participants for want of some information/document resulting in a longer execution cycle. Now, if social were embedded in process execution, the process participant can locate an expert in the relevant social community and reach out to him on-the-go over an embedded chat engine to have his opinion on how a particular situation can be handled better. Essentially, collective knowledge is enabling people to rapidly learn, act with greater confidence and influence others in entirely new ways. Business processes have to leverage the immense potential that social businesses can have on service optimization.

Internet of Things

While social networks connect people, Internet of Things (IoT) is the interconnection of uniquely identifiable devices within the existing Internet infrastructure. The term IoT has been around for some years (also popular Machine to Machine – M2M or Cloud of Things – CoT) and is set to transform industries through innovative use cases.

Equipment providers supply physical data – an entirely new and huge class of data – to be mined and to enable intelligent operations through deep sensing and instrumentation. Smarter businesses are looking for new actionable insights to transform their businesses. Integration of the physical world and business enables a new level of actionable insights, leading to new business optimization. IoT is about creating systems of insight by delivering actionable insights in the physical world. Business Processes need to be cognizant of this new disruptive force and rewire the existing processes to be responsive to the insights generated by the devices around. In fact, devices could soon do most of the straight-through processing work expected out of optimized business processes – in ways that have not been seen before. For example, retailers are already witnessing how RFID technologies have driven M2M from the boardrooms to the shop floor and this necessitates them to revisit their existing business processes. Not too far in the distant future, we could have businesses executing their processes through wearables!

What does this mean for BPM practitioners?

BPM practitioners have to respond to these inevitable changes and this means that they have to approach business process optimization exercises differently. This does not mean that you do away with the traditional study of AS-IS processes and brainstorm to arrive at TO-BE processes. What this essentially means is that the practitioners will have to rewire themselves in the way they think of business process optimizations. They need to be constantly cognizant that it is the user experience that is significant while automation and standardization are a given.

Design thinking is a collection of practices that helps teams better identify with customer experiences, and shift from logical problem solving to creative experimentation. With design thinking, the focus shifts from delivering features to delivering experiences. The practitioner should start his business process study by understanding what experience will appeal to the end-user of the solution. This needs him to understand the customer from all perspectives (see graphic below).

Understand the Customer ExperienceOnce this understanding is gathered, you need to be constantly thinking of the end-user experience as you progress through the traditional AS-IS study and TO-BE definition. Importantly, the ideation during TO-BE definition should incorporate aspects that deliver an engaging experience to the business users through the BPM application.

Another important aspect of Design thinking is described by Don Norman – “Designers […] don’t try to search for a solution until they have determined the real problem, and even then, instead of solving that problem, they stop to consider a wide range of potential solutions. Only then will they finally converge upon their proposal.” As an example, if the client’s real problem is lack of visibility into process performance, BPM practitioners are used to prescribing a dashboard that can help them track the process on a single screen hosted centrally on the office floor. While that may not be a wrong solution, it is only one of the ways to achieve the requirements. However, restricting to this one prescribed solution may not deliver an engaging experience for a constantly mobile workforce. So, it is important to understand the end-user experience and consider a wide range of potential solutions before arriving at the TO-BE definition. This is Design Thinking.

The disruptive forces – Cloud, Mobile, Social, IoT – are already impacting the marketplace and these impacts are only going to grow in magnitude and speed. Businesses are realizing this new ground reality and boardrooms are evolving strategies to leverage them to drive growth and evolve new business models. This calls for a new way of thinking around business process management – the design thinking – and practitioners need to adapt to this new imperative to deliver processes that are user-centric. The sooner, the better!