Digital transformation tools and techniques greatly simplify and speed up the development of new products. They are counterproductive and even foolish, however, when put to work to support the “same old, same old” processes of product development, design engineering, manufacturing and service. The same is true for the processes used in every other business unit of the company.
For project managers and business leadership in digital transformation, the need for process modernization should be obvious. Digital transformation tools and techniques can greatly improve collaboration and innovation in new product development, just to give an example, but not until many existing processes are updated or, as often necessary, redesigned. This is never easy.
Just as products are redesigned to accommodate new capabilities, processes must also be redesigned. Reengineering is a proven way to address processes unsuitable for trends and enabling factors of digital transformation; these can be major obstacles to collaboration, productivity and even business sustainability.
These views were expressed at a recent virtual conference I attended on Process Innovation and Digital Transformation (“PI-DX”) run by Marketkey Ltd., a London-based business information firm focused on data refining. in intelligence, business insights and innovation.
The panel focused on what Marketkey calls “legacy technical debt.” The remedies discussed included “modernization” of processes and “innovation of processes”, but the problems in some processes are profound. These can only be addressed by redesigning the process, ideally replacing outdated legacy systems and updating the technical skills of the workforce.
Process re-engineering is linked to multi-level digital transformation in which information is freed from pre-operative formats such as spreadsheets, CAD-generated drawings and e-mail attachments; many critical processes are made obsolete.
Digital transformation requires up-to-date systems, tools, techniques and solutions; they can be difficult to work with. In the midst of new data and information realities, these challenges also require skill upgrades.
Processes that until recently were expected to change little have been demolished by new tech-savvy workers, more demanding customers, relentless innovation and shorter product lifecycles. As a result, many established practices in managing information in processes are destined for the bin of digital history.
Change your thinking
As well as information, as well as the processes we use to search, use and manage it. Companies, business units and solution providers see clearly that their assumptions about many day-to-day processes have become questionable.
“The way we got things done” is no longer keeping up with the speed of innovation in today’s markets. And it’s product and process innovation that helps fend off competition, cling to demanding customers, and increase profit margins.
Seen in this light, it is no wonder that processes are influenced in every life cycle of products and resources. These impacts are most disruptive in determining new product requirements and during design, engineering, manufacturing, service and all data management and information gathering activities.
Users and managers must also address the fallout from legacy systems and tools and the processes that support them. A couple of all-too-common examples:
- Reprocessing newly manufactured products at the ends of the assembly lines, delaying shipping and increasing costs
- Uncertain and on-the-fly alternatives that turn into repetitive work cycles producing nothing but frustration
Both are good places to start process reengineering and get user support easily.
Redesigning any process begins with a deep dive to pinpoint where and why things go wrong. Once you have clearly identified the problems and their causes, address them one by one. Therefore, an important part of process reengineering is developing new capabilities to reconfigure the activities and secondary activities that make up the process. Once you have chosen these new skills, test and verify them. Although tedious, the tests and verifications must be carried out with care.
Processes usually generate predetermined outcomes that support decisions or fuel additional processes. Poorly planned changes to a process, or even just some of its activities, could blindly catch workers in other parts of the business unit.
In the company’s high-level business processes, the impact of reengineering is even more profound. These processes include conception for design, design for manufacturing, ordering for cashing and others that should not be overlooked.
A typical scenario for CIMdata clients takes shape during process reengineering. After the process changes are verified as practicable, CIMdata continues to help the customer as the redesigned processes are put into use and, just as important, integrates the changes with other closely related processes.
At this point, several crucial decisions have to be made and the synergy of external expertise and experienced staff takes effect. These decisions focus on ensuring user consent and how best to enlist the support of everyone whose work is related to the process or processes being reengineered. Other key decisions concern the alignment of internal technical resources and securing financial support.
Modification of the work process
Much of the value of process reengineering lies in helping the workforce reap the benefits of abandoning outdated processes. If the workforce wants to embrace change and embrace innovation, make sure reengineering decisions are clearly communicated.
An alternative approach to these communications is budgeting, putting business issues first. This means linking projected reengineering costs to projected revenue earnings.
To help you build your case to redesign a process, here are some realities that shouldn’t be overlooked:
- Processes are connected in countless ways, even without the bi-directional and end-to-end (E2E) connectivity essential for maximum efficiency
- Process changes occur quickly and often, prompting users to change their own processes
- Process changes at the business unit level are triggered by innovations such as augmented / virtual reality and advanced analytics
- Process changes also have a direct impact on users, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning
- At the enterprise level, processes are disrupted by model-based engineering, systems of systems thinking, predictive analytics and agile software development
As workforce skills are updated and transformed, new and better ways will be found to connect people, data, technologies and tools. As these are implemented, process reengineering will increase in value and inevitability.
Perhaps the best approach to process reengineering is to undertake it alongside workforce transition and skills upgrading. None of these crucial initiatives can reach its full potential without the others. The transition of workforce skills while reengineering their processes can go a long way in ensuring the ultimate success of the digital transformation and, in turn, help ensure the long-term sustainability and competitiveness of the enterprise.
Tom Gill is in charge of the CIMdata study for PLM Enterprise Value & Integration. Prior to joining CIMdata in 2010, he was a PLM director at a tier 1 US automotive supplier. Previously he held roles in CAD programming, engineering system administration, and mechanical engineering.