Despite the advantages of business process improvement, management doesn't always recognize the need to take this approach. Often, companies facing economic woes or increasing competition will initially turn to other tactics, including cost reductions.
However, after going through a round or two of those approaches, the organization will naturally become overburdened, which leaves people feeling anxious and insecure about the future. When that happens, executives and their workers tend to focus on core business elements, rather than expanding into new areas. "Sometimes, change initiatives can feel like they're taking people away from the core business," says Brunsman of Alvarez & Marsal.
Neely faced a similar predicament at Mizuno. As the competition grew, business leaders at the company asked where they'd find the time to document and change processes while they were busy focused on keeping everyday operations humming.
To maximize the value of the ERP system, Neely formed a cross-functional team. Its first task was to determine which processes were faulty by going through different departments that were utilizing the system and documenting each process.
The next step was to find specific technologies that would improve the overall workflow. Once that was done, Neely and his team had to figure out how to plug them in while integrating best practices.
The biggest red flag was in customer service. When a call center representative received a call, he or she would have to immediately get a price for the order. That required the rep to access a cumbersome pricing matrix that often froze the computer.
Neely and his team determined that the ERP system should do that--as well as provide any discounts--for the reps, so they set up the system to establish pricing levels for the entire season. Changing the processes enabled the reps to get prices instantly, eliminating the need for phone discussions.
Streamlining the workflow also allowed Mizuno to grow its capacity for taking and filling orders without adding new call center staffers. As Neely's efforts began to show results, Mizuno's president took notice and advocated for more process improvements. "Now they're seeing the value of stepping back and looking at what they do," Neely says.
Charles Livingston, senior vice president for technology at the luxury destination club Exclusive Resorts, had experienced that kind of resistance, so he was determined to overcome it in his current job. His venture into business process improvement centered on automating some tedious tasks to improve customer service.
For example, when members stay at one of the club's 400 residences around the world, they often get spa treatments, go yachting or get groceries delivered. In the past, those costs would be billed back to the member, usually four to six weeks after the trip. Sometimes, Exclusive Resorts would reimburse concierges for the expenses.
Livingston and his team automated the paper-based billing process, so that receipts would be scanned at the time of the transaction by the concierge, who would instantly submit the information to Exclusive Resorts. Since that change was made about six months ago, transactions have been flowing in a matter of hours instead of weeks, and there is no longer any need to float money to concierges.
Of course, it wasn't a matter of simply flipping a switch. Reinventing the process required Livingston and his team to investigate existing protocols in multiple areas, including concierges, in-house management, finance, and customer communications and support. That meant taking a full inventory of the technologies and systems in place, and developing an analysis of how they talked with each other.
"There's a need, especially in large organizations, to have a wide-angle view that takes all the processes into account," Livingston says. "You can't touch the one in the middle without understanding how it affects everything off to the side."
--research findings' analysis by Guy Currier