David Brown, Chair of the IoD Jersey Technology sub-committee, discusses the quantum shift businesses have made in operations since COVID-19 changed the corporate world

Who would have thought in just a matter of weeks that we would find ourselves in such interesting and challenging times where long-established processes and daily routines are pushed to the limits?

It speaks volumes for the flexibility and diversity of human nature that businesses have been able to make such quantum shifts in operations especially as the lead time for such a shift gave little chance to preplan.

It goes without saying that most businesses have Business Continuity (BC) plans which are usually tested once every year or so but few would have thought the reality of the shift, the speed to move to such a ‘new norm’ and the associated human aspects that would bring.

BC is one thing but, doing this with your family around you, significant movement restrictions, great concerns about family and friends who we now physically cannot contact bring a whole new series of dimensions which businesses process simply cannot control.

Process and Productivity rely heavily on well ordered steps and close interaction with different parts of the business be it Sales, Operations, IT, Risk, Compliance or Client Facing. Any element of disconnect in these can cause friction that shows itself in different ways. This can be poor or incomplete data collected at the first contact with a client, misinterpreted information leading to assumptions being made through to data being captured across multiple applications (that support the process) but collectively not representative of the whole relationship.

Some of this disconnect can be handled internally but usually leads to frustration and lost hours as procedures are elongated but invariably means further (re) contact with the client. Add to the mix the current climate where you may not be able to simply interact with colleagues and processes become ever more strained.

Good process design should involve ALL people who might touch that process, over and above the obvious candidates of owner, participant and recipient of the process. Almost regardless of process specifics, the people involved would include the following:

Owner – the person who’s job it is to approve existing and enhanced changes to the process design. Even if this crosses business domains, the approval is eased by having 1 decision point. The one who the CEO will hold responsible if this process fails!

Users – the individuals and teams who have all or some of the touch points no matter how small. These need to include normal daily process and also any BC changed process maps. Consider not only ‘what’ decisions are made but ‘where’ and ‘how’. Also, your dependencies on elements and processes outside of your control. that Banking feed, the utility bill, the Bank manager sign off …

Risk and Compliance – Far easier to involve these key players at the start vs having them change all your nice design maps at the end. They will always provide a different view of the process and usually with some well reasoned regulatory considerations.

IT – May be involved through the security angle but operationally IT needs to be aware of key timing and dependencies of key business processes. Your IT team may be very plugged in and hands on with the business or you could be outsourced but involve them in process (re) design. Placement and availability of key servers and infrastructure is worth getting right at the start.

Security – Ever increasing consideration on not only the invocation of a given process, that may be driven by an externally facing system but also any application interaction that is required to progress and complete the process. Considerations to potential denial of service for critical elements of the process.

Clients – Really spend some time considering the user interface. What device is the client using, what do lookups look like, is entering dates simple, can you default any content, do you ask for data only once and in what sequence? In some early government projects that I was involved in many years ago, we had someone dedicated to this and fed changes in at design level (the most efficient and economic point to change a process). It became a fun part of design as we walked through ‘easy’ and ‘not so easy’ clients.

Measurement – Build this in from the start. How do you propose to measure your process? this can be simple counts of the number of times it is executed, the number of times a particular ‘leg’ is taken, the length of time the process takes both overall and between steps, where it gets stuck. All this helps you in the process of continuous improvement.

Data Protection – There are increasing laws now to govern this. Not to make life awkward but to ensure we all know our responsibilities for capturing, handling, changing and deleting safely and predictably. Processes should underpin this which makes ultimate compliance far easier.

Documentation – Auditors and controllers love documentation. Many say we have fully documented process and procedures and many have CPD programmes to hammer these home. But, how many can say that busy staff honestly read all the sentences of corporate documentation each time they enact a payment, create a Director, or close an account? Have you looked at your Document Management System to see when and who last read particular process descriptions? It can be quite telling. There are many tools available now to support structured and integrated policy documentation to be well maintained and target updates to those who need to know a change has occurred.

As more and more businesses begin to embrace wider digital capabilities and robotic augmentation, many of these key elements become far more predictable. And predictable processes mean for a safer, more measured, accurate, compliant world.