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Capturing the Full Potential of the Enterprise
Nimesh Shah
Monday, June 6, 2011
The challenges faced by businesses today are not all that different than the challenges of 50 years ago — pressures to increase revenue, reduce cost, improve productivity, and innovate to address evolving customer needs remain constant through generations. How companies address those challenges and the pace with which they must respond, however, has dramatically changed.

Competitive advantage can be fleeting as information and ideas move through the market literally at the speed of light. Social networking has enabled and empowered consumers and provided a global forum for instantaneous feedback. The term “new and improved” has lost its impact when the market expects constant improvement and innovation. For businesses, the game is the same, but the environment in which we play is not.

Companies that can harness and leverage the energy of the new market realities will be rewarded. Doing so requires they successfully navigate three important hurdles: they must have well defined, flexible and responsive business processes, they must wisely incorporate new technology to accelerate those processes and leverage the power of their employees, and they must raise the collective IQ of the company. This is not an all inclusive recipe for success, but it does represent the best practices of the companies we have seen successfully meet today’s challenges.

Across industry verticals we have seen the efficiency of business process emerge as a key competitive differentiator. Well defined, well executed, and nimble processes allow for accelerated revenue recognition, improved customer experience, and reduced cost. In these companies, the processes are architected and aligned to support key business objectives. There is also a focus on continuous evaluation and redesign to ensure that alignment is maintained. If the process does not meet the business objectives it is reworked or entirely rebuilt. Clinging to processes that are cumbersome or based on systems limitations detracts from potential success and distracts the work force.

Forward thinking companies are now focused on how they can leverage technology to further enable and accelerate their business processes. The effective use and integration of unified communications and collaboration technologies, for example, with nimble, purposeful business processes is opening new avenues to business success. In one example, we saw a client reduce decision cycle time by having the ability to quickly locate subject matter experts, organize a web conference, and reach a decision — from a single application integrated within the unified communications infrastructure. Having availability and contact information easily accessible and an ability to reach participants regardless of location was critical to meeting the reduced timeline.

Work groups are distributed, often globally, and are in constant motion. The market trend is clearly towards greater mobility and remote interaction. Having the ability to integrate mobility into the business process is essential. Mobile apps, mobile device management, mobility policies, and mobility integration with unified communications and collaboration platforms dramatically improve and extend reachability. It also provides workers with greater flexibility in how they are communicated and interacted with which improves employee productivity and employee satisfaction. Increased flexibility translates to increased participation and participation is critical to the effective execution of any business process. Getting the right people with the right information working on the right opportunities, has never been easier, however, it requires planning, technology, and effective processes.

Increasing participation, improving the ease of access to information, and creating the ability to effectively communicate across distances also allows a business to raise the collective IQ of the organization. Knowledge can be more easily gained and shared when the sources are made public. This is not the same as systemic knowledge management (also a process), rather a model of continuous learning. Essentially, allowing employees to gain experience and expertise through the effective use of an automated or communications- and collaboration-enabled business process. The ability for all to know their role in the process, provide timely input, and actively participate at the appropriate moment ensures a better outcome that benefits the business.

To illustrate the successful negotiation of these three hurdles, compare a group research project today compared to the 30 years ago. A 10th grade group of students must collaborate to create a well thought-out original research paper (the “business” objective). The process is well defined: gather a work group, define a thesis, conduct research, evaluate the inputs, and write and submit a single report. However, how this process is managed and executed has changed dramatically over the years. Thirty years ago this project would have required the team to meet in a single location, likely the library, read through stacks of reference material that may or may not be located in a single location, complete index cards to track resources, and type drafts to be shared amongst the team for edits and rewrites. A significant amount of time and resource would be spent just in moving people and paper to a central physical location where the work could occur. Today’s 10th graders recoil at the pure physical effort just described.

Though they do not recognize it, the process they are engaged in is very similar. It’s just a great deal easier and faster. The use of technology has dramatically improved the speed, efficiency, and quality of their work. Teams meet virtually via web and audio conference, create and share notes and research on share-sites, conduct research via the web, and typically interact via a myriad of mobile devices. The ability to collaborate and share information in real-time, regardless of location, has transformed the way in which this process is implemented. In addition, each of the team members has equal access to the content ensuring that all participants can effectively leverage and act upon the information.

This example, while informal, highlights how an effective process fully supported by the efficient use of technology can actually accelerate and improve the impact of process. Placed in the context of a business environment it is easy to see how available and emerging collaborative and mobile technologies can be applied to improve business processes. Leveraging a secure unified communications platform to support these interactions further enhances the business benefits. The impact to cycle time, cost, and quality can be quickly quantified and measured. In high volume transactions, even seconds of saved cycle time quickly add up to significant positive financial impacts.

Overcoming these hurdles and integrating these actions into a corporate plan is not easy. However, there is one ingredient that is absolutely essential to effective execution and can greatly improve the probability of success — corporate culture. If a company is not collaborative by nature, collaborative technologies cannot make it so. Similarly, a company that resists changing business processes or prefers to simply automate what exists today will be equally unsatisfied with the results of their investments. The pace of change continues to accelerate creating exciting new market opportunities, but only for those willing to embrace the change required to realize the potential. Exploring the relevance of your business processes to your corporate objectives and then powering them with appropriate technology may be the key to gaining or maintaining a competitive edge.

The author is Vice President, Global Infrastructure Services Portfolio, CSC

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