Over the last 20 years, organizations, from the
largest to the smallest, have been affected by two distinct waves - the
move to a process based structure, and the emerging power of the Internet.
Not many have been able to effectively reconcile both - the end result
being that companies would either look at the opportunity of the Internet
as a bonus ("all our competitors have online sales, let's have it
too"), or at the other extreme, ignore it totally. Not surprising,
since the web was considered, (till about 5 years ago) to be too immature
for established organizations to design business processes around.
However, with the development of web services and
secure transactions on the Internet, the prospect of looking at redesigning
entire business process for the web is now not only possible, but is
increasingly becoming a necessity for survival.
The reasons are not far to seek. Hyper competition,
shrinking business cycles, commoditization of products and services,
organizational complexity and the WTO has all played a part. These pressures
have resulted in companies looking not just at identifying and reorganizing
key processes for speed, but in fact doing away with (eliminating /outsourcing)
entire processes/sub processes that don't add value. For example, the
concept of software testing, commonly known as Beta Testing, was something
that traditionally was always done in-house. That is, till the Internet
came along and opened up the possibility of doing the beta testing on
the web. Today it is seen not just as a testing method, but also a way
to get people used to the software and build demand. The rise of Call
Centers and Billing and invoicing centers are other areas where companies
have found advantages in Outsourcing entire Business Processes, leaving
it to focus on areas where it adds direct value.
But how do we ensure our survival and growth in these
fast-changing times? The answer would lie in going back to the basics
of Process management, and looking at all our key processes in the light
of the potential that the web offers. No longer is the web only a medium
for information dissemination. Today, it is seen to be a collaborative
tool as well, enabling companies to transcend the limitations of geographic
space and time. It is possible for an organization to have teams situated
in different continents, working around the clock on the same project.
How does this impact the way we do things? All aspects of our work now
need to follow international, not local, standards, and would need to
be more modularized than ever before. It's no wonder that one of the
fastest growing business is International Certifications. Hurdles such
as culture and language now add to the complexity of Project Management.
Another area that the web has changed dramatically
is the role that customers play in the development of the product. Thanks
to the cost transparency and the powerful search engines that the web
offers, customer can now peer deep into the inner recesses of the organization.
They know how much it costs (in terms of time and money) for each feature
that gets incorporated into the solution. This has led to a level of
mass customization not seen for a very long time. It started with Dell
Computers, and it's philosophy of "made to order" PCs and
has soon extended to cover almost every manufacturing industry. How
long before we have interactive e-novels and e-movies, that vary the
ending based on the choices at key decision
points during course of the story!
Organizations that have survived and grown, have done
so by embracing this change and redesigning their processes to suit
the advantages and disadvantages that the web offers. They have gone
back to strategy formulation and reevaluated business contexts and the
process vision. Having done this, they have gone on to develop entirely
new processes based on the new vision and put in place systems that
implement, nurture and even improve on them.
An excellent example of a company that embraced such
sweeping change was Schwab, a brokerage firm that saw, in 1998, the
revolution that the web would bring to the brokerage business. Today,
almost 70% of all of Schwab's business is online, up from just 17% two
years ago. Another example is the computer manufacturer Dell Computers.
Even the mighty General Electric has identified e-enabling as critical
to its plan to remain the dominant player in its industry in the coming
Like any other discontinuity, not everyone will make
the grade. Many of the current "dinosaurs" are doomed to die,
condemned by their size and inertia, to be replaced by new, fleet footed
organizations that leverage the Internet and make it the backbone of
their business. These new corporations will be truly transnational,
knowledge centric and process focused, looking to serve anyone anytime,
anywhere in the world.