Retailer to supplier, order to delivery. Anything wrong with this?

16 09 2010

Sorry, the title is a little misleading, there is nothing wrong with that workflow as such, but in the real world the actual workflow is not that simple. Add to the situation the number of suppliers a retailer orders from, add to it the management of their own EPOS system and stock, throw in a pinch of time management and you can see a number of problems cropping up…

Our workFile EPOS software has been around for a while now, and a number of stores are using it very efficiently, with it streamlining many business processes and ensuring day to day activities are completed and not missed. Not trying to sell my own product here, but its a great EPOS solution…However, one of my biggest frustrations with the solution (especially in particular industries) is that suppliers don’t make it easy for stores to purchase from them. The workflow from a retail managers point of view is not great, and to top it off, it isnt great at the suppliers end either…

The problem

A store needs to place an order with a supplier, typically because stock has been sold or they are looking at new items to keep in stock. Great, our workFile EPOS software auto generates orders based on some complex rules, I digress, needless to say the store knows what it wants to order. However, what does the manager have to do then? Ideally, press a button and be done, but that’s not the case. Typically they then have to call through to their representative, indulge in a nice chat, talk them through every single order (which in some cases can be hundreds of different stock lines), hope that nothing has gone wrong, hang up and then wait for delivery…So, something the stock system has done in a single minute, has now taken up almost an hour (obviously depends on the size of your order) or more.

Many suppliers do now see this as an issue, and offer email order generation. This means the manager can create an email and send that (again our workFile EPOS software will do this for them quickly and easily). However, are suppliers missing the point? It now means someone else at their end still has to do a lot of hard work, though true, life for the retailer is that little easier. But there are still issues here. The retailer would love to know the actual status of the order, expected shipping date, when it has been shipped etc. A simple email offers no benefit to the retailer other than some time saving. In many cases, it may even mean special offers are missed…

Using websites is the next step, with many now providing ordering screens through their website. Again though this can be time consuming for the retailer, especially if they use the website in the same eCommerce fashion the general public uses websites. However, those special offers will be visible (you would hope). Suppliers need to think how their retailers actually work, be it via eMail, phone, web or even better through EPOS….In addition, our problem at the supplier end is still there….

The solution

Well I don’t want to give too much away as my company already has a solution in place and is currently trying to push this into specific markets. However, needless to say, the solution involves fewer steps and a far greater level of system wide integration between retailer and supplier. It also involves cleaning up the process not just at the retailer end, but the suppliers end. As a specialist in Business Process Management, you can see my frustration at how “broken” the workflow is between retailer and supplier in many industries…

There is one thing though that we all have to remember. A client of ours hit the nail on the head when he said “Suppliers act like petrol stations, they don’t want you to be able to get your fuel and pay without coming in and seeing all the other things they sell. What they want is to make you come to them, they can talk you into other items to add to your order…After all you don’t sell mars bars at the petrol pump”.  With this in mind, we have to ensure that suppliers still get what they want from a more streamlined workflow process. When a manager has to talk to an agent from a supplier, the supplier can at least highlight new products, special savings, increased discount opportunities etc. So, any new workFlow needs to be able to replicate this in some way. So an improved solution must work, retailer to supplier, but also supplier to retailer…

When this starts to happen I will be a happy man, our workFile EPOS software has been setup and ready for this type of workflow for a number of years now, yet alas, no suppliers are ready to embrace this way of working…Yet…

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Fileshare with Search? No way, ECM delivers

10 09 2010

I have written a number of posts on ECM savings, why organisations should utilise ECM, how ECM and BPM together deliver a more streamlined working environment etc. however, in this post I am going to compare ECM strategy to simple file shares and search engines.

Why you may ask, well it’s because many business managers and even some in IT, believe that they can maintain content by simply using server file shares and some form of search engine.

Now let’s keep this question in mind and think of your organisation. Often with ECM and BPM technologies we become too abstract, too conceptual and because of this, business may miss our point or simply fall asleep (can’t blame them for that one). So try to think of your organisation and the way in which you work, the content you have and the people that need access to it.

ECM in your organisation

Think what sort of content you have and the volume you have in your organisation. Are we talking electronic documents such as those from Word? Are we talking scanned files? Presentations? Marketing material? Video? Audio? My list could go on…Let’s now think of a way to find those files? A simply file share will be impossible, and to look through a massive list of files brought back based on simple metadata or via some files content just won’t do the job. It’s alright for a couple of hundred files, but an organisation will have thousands, millions and for larger SME’s millions upon millions of files. File shares and searches in this fashion just won’t deliver the results, nor will it scale with your business. Also there is the cost, would the cost of such a search engine and file share deliver any real big differences? NO…

ECM will help you structure and assign metadata to files, it provides you with numerous ways of finding that content, numerous views, and numerous security models and can support any form of digital format. It can also take care of simple workflows such as publication while managing strict and useful version control. In addition, ECM will scale to meet your business needs and ensure your workers can access the content that your organisation holds, allowing your workers to work more efficiently and with all the information to hand, just when they need it….

How does ECM fit in…

ECM is not just a piece of software; it is a complete strategy (as well as technology) for managing the creation, storage, use and disposal of information / content. No doubt your organisation will have many different forms of information created in various different ways for different audiences. Because of this they will have different attributes, different security needs and different lifecycles. Also keep in mind that many different content types may cross different boundaries, for example marketing documentation may be used for print, it maybe a business document and or may also form web content.

ECM will ensure you take a holistic view of managing both structured and unstructured content. Because you need to have structures, policies and procedures to deal with your content, ECM ensures you meet a number of compliance regulations no matter what industry you are in. It maybe a little more “overhead” but the rewards far outweighs the effort.

If we believe that staff members need the right information at the right time, then the most important factor to facilitating that is information and knowledge management. The way we deliver this is through ECM.

What else can ECM deliver?

So what else can ECM deliver that file shares and Google like searches cannot? Well we have touched on a few, namely security, lifecycles etc.  But also keep these in mind:

  • Records Management – managing structured information from other systems
  • True version control – being able to quickly view previous versions of files and potentially role back to older versions
  • Audit – Being able to see everything that has happened to that content
  • Web content management – maintaining your online presence
  • Social Media outlets – bringing together your use of Social Media and the information it may hold
  • Complex metadata rules – Allowing you to assign complex metadata to any form of content
  • Content that triggers processes (active content) – Content can trigger business processes, or become a part of simple or highly complex business processes. ECM and BPM seamlessly integrate
  • Distributed access – being able to access that content anywhere in the world via simple interfaces that still maintain the highest level of security

 

Quick conclusion

ECM out performs file shares and Google type searches in every which way you can think of. Sure you may need to think about creation of content and metadata more, but the rewards of doing this are there right across the business. The default strategy within a business should not be “let’s share files on the server”, rather it should be “let’s get our ECM approach together”.





Why IT projects fail

8 09 2010

In my previous post I looked at “How do we ensure a BPM project succeeds”, but it got me thinking, why do many IT projects fail? I racked my brains through the very few projects I have been involved with directly that have, not failed as such, but not gone well shall we say. I also started to think back to many projects I was brought in on to help succeed, and tried to remember just why they were failing in the first place.

There are numerous reasons why projects fail, why requirements were missed, why over complex procedures are put in place when not needed etc etc. But what are the real big reasons, what do we have to really understand and monitor closely as to keep an eye on proceedings and limit the chances of failure…

Politics

Ahh internal politics. This is possible the biggest singular reason why projects fail, usually as a direct cause. So what do I mean here…Well, at the early stages of a project, you need to ensure you get the right people with the right knowledge involved, especially if you are identifying requirements. But this is where it all starts. Straight away politics takes over, and putting together a “high level” team, along with “senior users” etc all means politics kicks off. For example how often are you working in a team and realise (as a consultant) that some of the people in that team from the company just shouldn’t be there. Why are they there? In addition, you walk the floor and find key users with a lot of knowledge not involved in decision making? Their absence has meant functions are overlooked, processes missed and for what reason? Often it is internal politics that decides who is in what team…

This isn’t the end though. No, internal politics can also mean you see key personnel dropping out of projects being moved elsewhere in the company. You also find people trying to make a name for themselves using your project as a vehicle, and because of this they slow everything down, re-visit old ground and basically make everything a pain in the neck (being polite).

My favourite experience though is internal IT departments refusing to get involved because they were not consulted with at the beginning of a project. Classic….There are so many many more examples, but let’s just say, if a project is going to fail; internal Politics will have something to do with it…

Before moving on, internal politics can also lead to the wrong system, solution or vendor / consultancy being used. More often than not, internal politics determines just who the business can work with on a project, not even taking into consideration expertise, skills, price and many other common factors.

Nepotism

This follows on from politics to be honest, or could even be seen as a part of internal politics. Unfortunately nepotism can often raise its head on an IT project. In many cases (well all in my experience) this causes friction and can have a real negative impact on a project, contributing to failure ultimately (if it goes that far).

It sounds obvious, but if someone just can’t pull their weight, or doesn’t have the necessary knowledge to be involved in the project (no matter what stage) then that person, no matter who they are, shouldn’t be involved….

Building on this though, it can also lead to particular vendors, or particular firms being used when simply they shouldn’t…

Incompetence

This one is a worry, as how do you identify someone is incompetent before it is too late? Unfortunately I have worked on projects with people who just don’t have a clue. To say they are incompetent maybe an understatement. I, as a co-worker can spot this, but more often than not, manager’s spot incompetence too late. It is therefore important that managers get a feel for their team, get feedback and try to judge if anyone is being “carried” or just plainly is incompetent

Change Management, or resistance to change

This one is deadly; it seems to creep up on IT projects. The 3 reasons before can all be “nipped in the bud” with good management. In addition they show up early in an IT projects lifecycle. However, poor change management or resistance to change from staff can mean that you may have the best solution in the world, but it will ultimately fail because no one wants to change the way they work.

To minimise this, IT project managers need to get not just key staff involved early on, but as many staff members as possible. I am not suggesting they all get to put their 2cents in, but allow them to feel a part of the project, get them involved in reviews, prototypes, demonstrations, the odd focus group etc. This way ensures that when the system comes along, many users have already come to terms with this fact and the solution itself. It minimises the risk of change resistance…

Conclusion

Ultimately managers make or break a project. The reasons shown above can all be avoided with good business management, good people management and a little dash of political prowess.





How do we ensure a BPM project succeeds? People, technology or tools?

3 09 2010

For a while now, BPM vendors and analysts have had a real drive towards out of the box generic tools and solutions. So much development cost and consultancy time has, and is, being spent trying to fit processes into pretty flow charts, and more worryingly into BPM vendor designers. There is massive development work and tools for “designers”, “connectors” and “integrators” but do these tools actually help a business implement BPM? More importantly do they actually help the business realise the main goals of a BPM solution, such as customer experience, efficiency gains, productivity gains and an overall reduction in end to end process cycle times?

Currently there seems to be two trends in BPM, the first is focused on tools and quick automations (lean is a good example) and not on the actual people who make a process work. The second, concentrates on endless improvement of processes through flow charts, through people, and doesn’t utilise technology or tools very well at all….

Why so much hype on tools?

It is a current trend in both business and IT that things must be “generic” or “off the shelf” products. It seems not many organisations like the idea of developers being involved, developing processes or components that work for their organisation. Many would rather they can purchase something off the shelf and have it configured for their needs, even if this restricts their systems performance and capabilities.

I am not a great fan of many “tools” in BPM simply because many tools look great in demonstrations but don’t actually provide anything in the real world. Of course there are exceptions, tools that help me calculate through-put of a process, help identify bottle necks etc are all good, but tools such as “connectors” and “designers” are just too restrictive. However, I am a strong believer in technology, technology is massively important in terms of BPM and any IT based solution. Technology can deliver more to your business and in many cases, can give you that competitive edge.

 The problem I have with such focus on tools is that the real issues are often overlooked / lost. Often a constant drive for tool means we actually lose sight of the people that make the business work. If we constantly try to think of them in a production line, then we dumb down their capabilities and restrict the service they can provide to the business and to customers.  Also, do we actually need all of these tools? Are some more bad than good? Are some just pointless? (Yes in many cases to all three)…

On a side note, it’s also worth noting that I have seen many “configurations” of systems and tools which basically have developers writing code or modifying code so that a tool meets the customer’s requirement. Isn’t that defeating the point? Tool configuration can get pretty expensive…

Should we be hung up on technology?

Many will say No here, and that we should be focusing on the business needs. As I said, there seems to be two trends in BPM. Keep in mind though, if you select a technology or platform that is too restrictive, then it will have an impact on your business processes, staff and ultimately business itself. No matter what solutions you are looking to utilise, you must have the technology and its capabilities in mind at all times. So we should be hung up on BPM technology and just what the platform can deliver.

Businesses should also have technology in mind across the complete enterprise, some form of technology strategy and roadmap should be in place, easing administration, implementation and making system integration easier.

Alignment with IT capabilities

Business strategy and processes have to be aligned to IT capabilities, and not the other way round. If IT or a technology doesn’t have the capabilities to deliver what you need, then the business will have to make do. Is this right? Probably not, so this is why a good focus on technology is needed, maybe not tools, but the underlying technology. But let’s look at this from a different point of view. Many times I have been involved with projects where IT capabilities have actually highlighted different and more efficient ways of working to the business. The business requirements then change to ensure they can take advantage of the IT capabilities. BPM is probably the most important area of IT where business and IT professionals need to communicate clearly with each other, and actually be involved every step of the way, together…

Does the flowchart and designer tool limit our capabilities?

Whenever we talk about BPM people want to “map” and draw lovely flowcharts to explain a process. This is great at a high level business point of view, but almost always, flowcharts will not show everything that actually goes on. In addition, you can’t really use these to go and explain to each staff member just what they should be doing in terms of work and how they work.

I don’t have a problem with using flow charts to illustrate a process, what I have a problem with is building solutions based on flowcharts / maps via some form of designer tool. This way of working is far too restrictive, in terms of integration, process capabilities and empowerment of staff. The designer is a great tool and way of working for demonstrations. It quickly illustrates how BPM can work for an organisation, and shows how easy it can be to implement. However, it has so many short comings that it actually restricts the way the business can work.

I have talked about the designer a number of times, and the fact that we don’t actually need a designer. We should be using intelligent processes and processes that are capable of being highly adaptive.  If you haven’t read this previous post, please have a read through my thoughts on mapping tools: https://andrewonedegree.wordpress.com/2010/03/24/adaptive-bpm-no-mapping-tools/

In short, the designer tool limits capabilities greatly. This is the prime tool that people get hung up on, yet it is a tool I say we do not need.

Being adaptive and the empowerment of staff are the keys to success…

Technology is important. When looking at BPM solutions, think “what can this technology do for us in the real world”, don’t get carried away with pretty designers, fancy tools etc. Technology is important, the tools not so….

If you can leverage a solution that is highly intelligent and highly adaptive, then you increase your process efficiency gains greatly. In addition, you put the people that make your business “tick” at the centre, empowering them to work more efficiently and in a fashion that benefits your customers and you as a business. Think, if your staff members are working away and they come to a point in the process where they need to do something different, if they have a technology that allows them to do this, and to build it into the process for future users, then your customer will receive a great service and your process has grown and captured more of what is going on.

Adaptive BPM solutions sit oddly enough in the middle of the two trends within BPM. The technology and tools available ensure that the processes are constantly evolving; the technology and the available tools show this to the business. Designers and decision makers can then re-engineer these processes, look for efficiency gains and then re-implement. In addition, the people at the centre of the process are empowered and not restricted in the way they can work…

Final thoughts…

To succeed with BPM, always keep in mind the technology, the people, the process and available tools. I suggest you prioritise these as follows:

  • Technology – Is it adaptive? Can it empower staff? Can it integrate?
  • People – Can these people work with enough freedom?
  • Process – How can we reduce processing time?
  • Tools – What tools will help me make decisions