Business processes are more important than systems

The most successful IT leaders become experts within the field in which their companies operate

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Business processes are more important than systems If the business process is flawed, the IT system designed to support it will be flawed as well
By  Tom Paye Published  September 18, 2015

Technologists are prone to thinking that any problem can be solved through technology.

This worldview is fair enough, in my opinion, because over the years, the clever use of IT has broken down immense barriers which, in a previous age, would have seemed insurmountable. And that thought process has only been amplified with the consumerisation of IT. Do you have a problem? There's an app for it.

Despite the - often correct - assumption that most challenges can be overcome through technology, though, there's no doubting that caution needs to be taken when implementing new systems. Specifically, the business process that the system will support needs to be taken into account.

Put it this way: IT solutions systemise business processes. This is great when you've got an agile and effective business process in place, but if the business process is flawed, the IT system designed to support it will be flawed as well. Sure, it might make things easier, but in the long term, you're never going to get the best results, because the underlying process isn't up to scratch.

Take, for example, accounts. Most organisations have CRMs that help the finance department to process invoices and payments, and then to chase up clients when their payment due date is up. But say the business lacked a process that would have the finance department follow up on invoices released. It's an extreme, unlikely example, I know, but bear with me. What if the business was consistently out of pocket because of late payments, due to the lack of follow-up calls chasing for late payments?

You could throw IT at the problem, purchasing a CRM that would show who the late payers are. But if employee behaviour remained the same, it would simply systemise a flawed business process. What would need to be done in that situation would be to implement some change management, ensure that accounts follow up with late payers, and then implement a CRM that supports the department in that mission. People and processes should come first, but as a technologist, it's sometimes a little easy to forget that.

Where does this leave IT? Well, it's IT's job to understand what solutions will help the business - either through driving efficiency or opening up new revenue streams - but to also advise the line-of-business execs on how that will affect the business processes. LOBs might very well hit back at a new technology proposal, claiming that, under current conditions, the solution doesn't provide enough value. In that case, IT could come back and say that, with a little change management, the solution will provide everything it promises to and more.

In short, IT leaders should be just as savvy about the overall business processes as they are about their own departments. Only then will they see real opportunities to streamline operations, and be able to pick out where new solutions can deliver real value. The most successful IT leaders become experts within the field in which their companies operate - which is why you see so many CIOs eventually go on to become COOs and CEOs.

I'd still maintain that it's largely true that technology can solve almost any problem. But I'd add that the technology adoption has to come with the right change management. Fix your processes, then systemise them, because doing it the other way around will almost always cause headaches.

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