What Should Come First: Business Processes or Analytics?

business processesAs more and more businesses become fully digitized, the instantiation of their business processes and business capabilities becomes based in software. And when businesses implement software, there are choices to be made that can impact whether these processes and capabilities become locked in time or establish themselves as a continuing basis for business differentiation.

Make sure you focus upon the business goals

business processesI want to suggest that whether the software instantiations of business process and business capabilities deliver business differentiation depends upon whether business goals and analytics are successfully embedded in a software implementation from the start. I learned this first hand several years ago. I was involved in helping a significant insurance company with their implementation of analytics software. Everyone in the management team was in favor of the analytics software purchase. However, the project lead wanted the analytics completed after an upgrade had occurred to their transactional processing software. Fortunately, the firm’s CIO had a very different perspective. This CIO understood that decisions regarding the transaction processing software implementation could determine whether critical metrics and KPIs could be measured. So instead of doing analytics as an afterthought, this CIO had the analytics done as a fore thought. In other words, he slowed down the transactional software implementation. He got his team to think first about the goals for the software implementation and the business goals for the enterprise. With these in hand, his team determined what metrics and KPIs were needed to measure success and improvement. They then required the transaction software development team to ensure that the software implemented the fields needed to measure the metrics and KPIs. In some cases, this was as simple as turning on a field or training users to enter a field as the transaction software went live.

Make the analytics part of everyday business decisions and business processes

Tom DavenportThe question is how common is this perspective because it really matters. Tom Davenport says that “if you really want to put analytics to work in an enterprise, you need to make them an integral part of everyday business decisions and business processes—the methods by which work gets done” (Analytics at Work, Thomas Davenport, Harvard Business Review Press, page 121). For many, this means turning their application development on its head like our insurance CIO. This means in particular that IT implementation teams should no longer be about just slamming in applications. They need to be more deliberate. They need to start by identifying the business problems that they want to get solved through the software instantiation of a business process. They need as well to start with how they want to improve process by the software rather than thinking about getting the analytics and data in as an afterthought.

Why does this matter so much? Davenport suggests that “embedding analytics into processes improves the ability of the organization to implement new insights. It eliminates gaps between insights, decisions, and actions” (Analytics at Work, Thomas Davenport, Harvard Business Review Press, page 121). Tom gives the example of a car rental company that embedded analytics into its reservation system and was able with the data provided to expunge long held shared beliefs. This change, however, resulted in a 2% increased fleet utilization and returned $19m to the company from just one location.

Look beyond the immediate decision to the business capability

Davenport also suggests as well that enterprises need look beyond their immediate task or decision and appreciate the whole business process or what happens upstream or downstream. This argues that analytics be focused on the enterprise capability system. Clearly, maximizing performance of the enterprise capability system requires an enterprise perspective upon analytics. As well, it should be noted that a systems perspective allows business leadership to appreciate how different parts of the business work together as a whole. Analytics, therefore, allow the business to determine how to drive better business outcomes for the entire enterprise.

At the same time, focusing upon the enterprise capabilities system in many cases will overtime lead a reengineering of overarching business processes and a revamping of their supporting information systems. This allows in turn the business to capitalize on the potential of business capability and analytics improvement. From my experience, most organizations need some time to see what a change in analytics performance means. This is why it can make sense to start by measuring baseline process performance before determining enhancements to the business process. Once completed, however, refinement to the enhanced process can be determined by continuously measuring processes performance data.

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Author Twitter: @MylesSuer

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