Monday, November 30, 2009

Sealed with a loving kick

Software is unreliable. And it doesn't respond to the traditional approach for fixing mechanical issues - the proverbial "leather hammer". Worse still, it is easily thrown off balance by a simple change. A tweak here, an addition there, can appear to make things work in more exciting ways, though fundamentally put the whole system at risk. No warning sounds, no new clicking or grinding, just a sudden catastrophic failure.

The positive side of software is that the more that it runs, being pushed and pulled in new and unexpected ways by untrained testers (aka end-users), the more faults are found and subsequently ironed out. The problem for enterprise software vendors is that this really only happens after the software release, since beta testing is all very well, but it just delays the next round of killer functionality hitting the market and being saleable. And without that functionality being available now, how can the poor salesman be expected to hit his or her quarterly target. The reality is that software testing gets in the way of software license revenue.

This is where a software as a service (SaaS) model shows a huge benefit. Customers who are willing to take a little risk and use beta functionality can see the advantages of that functionality early, with a quick and easy rollback to the standard stuff if things start to get a little too hairy (no new installation required). The SaaS vendor can limit the availability of new functionality to just a subset of use cases it offers, while customers with different individual usages of the functionality test it in ways never considered by the designers.

With SaaS, the software that hits the masses is subsequently better tested than most enterprise software could ever dream of. There is no advantage to 'kicking' software to get it to work, but SaaS allows the next best thing - a constant prodding, poking and stretching by many people, ensuring the reliability of the software for everyone.

A post from the Improving It blog

To implement workflow and process automation in your business today, visit

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Business process improvement should not be scary and ugly

Focus - essential and difficult. With so many exciting opportunities to chase and things to do, it can be incredibly hard to focus on the ones that are necessary and may lead to greater success. I'm not suggesting that you or I are disorganized or easily distracted -- I just think that having to burn time on the essential but dull items of a running a business seem like such a waste. That's why I try to focus on using available services that can do some things cheaper and easier than I can, and automate (or at least simplify) those things that I can not (or do not want to) outsource.

In a way, that has been a goal of business process management (BPM) software for a while. The modeling of a business's processes has been made into something that can be done by the experts internally, while outsourcing the execution of it to a lump of software and hardware. The problem with this is that the business process management software that allows such a thing really does not exist. "What? There are loads of BPM software products!" I hear you cry. I absolutely agree - there are load. And they all do the same thing. They convince businesses that they can take control of improving their processes with the business experts they already have, draw a pretty picture, then you're done. You try it for real and reality kicks in. The salesman's shiny shoes are no longer gracing your office corridor, and you are stuck with a 3-6 month software project to get the first process running in a real environment. "I wasn't sold a software project" I hear you cry again. No, absolutely true. The truth of BPM software is that it just becomes a software project to get any useful level of solution in place. Its powerful stuff, but complex, ugly and all consuming of the resources you throw at it.

Have you noticed that there are many software solutions delivered directly online that don't need a software project to get them to work? That's because they have to be fully configurable as there is no option for the software developers to dig in and blow your budget. used to be a great example, but they've bowed to the financial pressure of appealing to the techies, and now they're all about their development platform. Taking that leap could be like jumping from one software development nightmare to another.

"So we are all stuck with email to run our processes?", you ask. No, I don't think so. I would like to show you an alternative, based on the familiar use of online email (like Gmail or Yahoo mail), but in a way that can capture data and documents, and control a workflow process in a way that email just can't do. It is something I have been working on for a while, and I'd love to show it to any supervisor, manager or executive that wants to improve the way their business runs, but does not have the time or energy to make it happen. And if you have a business case but not cash up front, that's fine too. Let's talk about a risk/reward structure (though the price-tag will not blow out your Amex card each month, so you probably won't need to).

There are some things that you are better off letting external resources help with, because they can do them better and cheaper. Designing, improving and running the solutions that manage your business processes is probably one of them.

A post from the Improving It blog

To implement workflow and process automation in your business today, visit

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Monday, November 23, 2009

Reforming health care, one inefficiency at a time

We all know that the health care system in the US needs reform one way or another. There are some big overhauls required, for sure, but there is a general level of complete inefficiency from an administration, billing and payments perspective that many find shocking. These inefficiencies just cut into the profits of the providers, some would say. True enough, and they are then reflected in what providers charge insurers, which eventually comes back round to hit the businesses and individuals that must pay for that insurance. Nothing comes for free, and when there are unnecessary costs reducing the quality of service and the cash directed at actual patient care, these things matter.

So, whether you care about the fixing health care, or just making a business run better, one area for providers to look at is how they manage billing and collections. Even in fairly routine hospital encounters, a patient may receive services, drugs and other medical items that may be billed through multiple departments. How well have the Account Receivable departments for each department bothered to work together? How often are bills presented to patients from each department individually, often for an invoiced amount less than the cost of actually generating and collecting the amount due. The same is true for small providers such as a clinic or doctor's office. Here the issues are often focused on handling paper, tracking bills and payments and handling patient inquiries.

If it is the IT systems that are in place that force this inefficiency, that is a tough nut to crack. If it is really due to the business processes for managing the entry of billable items, the consolidation of invoices across departments, or the workflow for collections, those are things that should be simpler to address.

The great thing about business processes, especially those that span departments or help small organizations, is that they can skirt the edge of the business systems you already have in place. A new or improved business process can help join the dots - providing a way to put a meaningful line of communication between the current silos of activity. Initially, there is no need to consider a rip-and-replace of systems, or complex integration. Doing something is typically better than doing nothing - and when doing something saves a significant amount of money in printing invoices, mailing bills, chasing payers or patients and hiring temporary workers to handle high workloads, you can start to see the opportunities for doing something bigger in the future.

US health care needs to achieve some quick wins on its path to a full reform. A lesson in reducing waste, putting in some business processes where there are none, and streamlining others, could be a quick win for many.

A post from the Improving It blog

To implement workflow and process automation in your business today, visit

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

HITECH HIPAA - HR can't just push the burden onto IT

Every healthcare and HR professional in the US knows about HIPAA. Its that difficult piece of legislation that says you can't treat an individual's protected health information in the same lax way that organizations do every other aspect of an individual's 'private' data - you can't leak it, share it, sell it, or generally let it out of your sight. The problem is, although everyone knew about the legislation and new at a high-level what it meant, at many levels it lacked any real threat to make people pay attention.

The penalties from the legislation itself appeared to be more like "we expect you to screw up and release a bunch of personal information, so if you do we'll scold you a little, and we know you'll do it again anyway, so we won't penalize you too much", than a real deterrent. The fact that HIPAA worked at all in healthcare appeared to me to be that the bad press that would come from a failure. For example, the Seattle health system, Providence, was finally hit with a $100k fine, but this took repeated offenses and the loss of healthcare records of 386,000 people. According to Anne Zieger on FierceHealthIT:
The fine that will be paid by Providence is actually fairly unusual, as very few HIPAA fines have actually been imposed to date. However, its security issues are also unique. While many health organizations have lost a single laptop or backup tape to theft or disorganization in recent years, I haven't encountered any that have actually had to report multiple losses. That might explain why federal monitors took a particular interest in this organization's troubles.
As I looked through the backlog of news I had been avoiding reading this week, I started to see more stories about the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act. At a time when the government is pushing electronic medical records (welcome to the 20th century US healthcare), someone is also thinking about how badly companies are likely to implement their systems. This story jumped out at me: HIPAA Enforcement Gets More Teeth:

Prior to the HITECH Act, the maximum penalty was $100 for each violation or $25,000 for all identical violations of the same provision. A covered healthcare provider, health plan, or clearinghouse could also avoid the imposition of a fine by demonstrating that it did not know that it violated the HIPAA rules.

The HITECH Act strengthened the enforcement program by establishing tiered ranges of increasing minimum penalty amounts, with a maximum penalty of $1.5 million for all violations of an identical provision. In addition, a covered entity can no longer prevent the imposition of a fine for an unknown violation unless it corrects the violation within 30 days of discovery.

The provisions for the hefty fines appear to only apply to health care providers, clearinghouses and health plans. Since HR does not fall into these categories, all the HR professionals are wondering why they were suffering HIPAA fatigue back in 2005 when the security regulations started to really hit them. The problem for HR is that they pass protected health information (often referred to as PHI) to the three types of "covered entity", therefore they fall under HIPAA security rules.

There is a a great article that talks about the role of HIPAA security in HR back in 2005: "HR's Role in HIPAA Security Compliance" By Philip L. Gordon of Littler Mendelson, P.C. As the article states, HR passed the data security issue to IT, "because that's what IT does, right?". The fact is that, unless HR takes care of its own controls and policies around the handling of protected health information, during every phase of a the relationship with an employee, including recruitment and employment through to beyond termination, there is little that IT can do but store already compromised information. If HR takes information into its own custody and loses it there (a desk drawer, papers on top of a broken shredder, files on a stolen laptop), IT can not take the blame.

For HR, make sure that the business processes you run that touch PHI can be enforced, the data captured can be secured from the point of receipt, and that there is full opportunity to audit everything that you do. You can absolutely do that with manual mechanisms, though email makes data security far more complex than you can imagine. To make HIPAA compliance less of a burden, suggest pushing the responsibility for business processes down to a dedicated business process / workflow automation tool. At a minimum this can show that you are following best practices should the worst happen and the HHS comes knocking at your door. And on a routine basis, the demonstration of compliance again becomes a 'systems' issue for IT or your software solutions vendor to handle.

Like many forms of compliance and governance, making use of process improvement technology designed for running your business better can automatically put you in a better position with HHS, and any other agency or regulator that pushes onerous, but necessary regulation.

A post from the Improving It blog

To implement workflow and process automation in your business today, visit

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Ban Twitter, buy Chatter

Since every company wishes they could ban Facebook and Twitter in work time, why would a want to release a social networking app called 'Chatter', and who in the world would want to pay for it?

There are elements of the time-wasting social networking tools that are incredibly valuable to large organizations, or even smaller organizations that are distributed or where workers are on the road a lot. Keeping people in touch with one another is just one element. The type of features that businesses could leverage, if they could get their employees to adopt them for professional use are:
  • A LinkedIn style location for managing your professional profile, such as skills, education, and areas of company or product expertise - especially valuable in organizations where you don't always know who will be the expert in something specific you need for a project
  • Twitter homepage or Facebook wall for advertising your current status, broadcasting cries for help, and keeping in touch quickly with those people in the other offices that you know well but rarely see
  • Instant Messaging, like Google Talk, providing 'presence', so you know who's available and when, and the ability to contact them rapidly when they are there
  • Wikis, like the famous Wikipedia, allowing rapid online documentation libraries to be built up by anyone - perfect for any employee, project or product related documentation that changes frequently
  • Blogs, like this, providing a form of easy internal communications for employee information and updates, and the associated RSS feed reader
  • Groups or communities of interest (e.g. Google Groups), that allow people with related interests to share their ideas and experience with others - especially valuable in development and innovation based organizations
  • Online collaboration - like WebEx, or that highly hyped Google Wave, for seeing what is going on in somebody else's world and interact with it there and then
Most of these types of technology are available for use free of charge, inside or outside the firewall. In my opinion, the one thing that nobody has done well at this point is to pull them all together into a single, clean, secure, easy to use, and highly functional product that the CIO is willing to pay for.

Maybe, if Salesforce gets it right, they will be the first. What they will also need to get right is the ability to integrate this new stuff directly into the other applications that people use for business purposes, day in, day out. And embed collaboration into structured processes, and vice versa. Without that, collaborative, social networking tools remain an ad-hoc, "nice idea" for killing bored moments at work.

A post from the Improving It blog

To implement workflow and process automation in your business today, visit

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Monday, November 16, 2009

The value of the Internet is approaching zero

The value of the Internet is approaching zero, because it is driven by marketing, vested interests and lack of transparency, according to Colin Henderson on The Bankwatch blog. We can expect a collapse of a magnitude similar to (although consequences smaller than) the current financial crisis. Which is my way of paraphrasing Colin's dire predictions for a Web based on Twitter retweets of retweets that manipulate rankings and pretend there is actually a dialog happening between people. (Colin writes it better than me, and has some great links as well).

For a real example, to see how easily manipulated Twitter is for example, take a look at Edelman's Tweetlevel, a service that tries to demonstrate the value of social-media, by creating metrics their PR professionals probably work to enhance for their clients. I have no idea what an Edelman sales-pitch is like, but I can imagine it is starting to revolve around selling how great their Tweetlevel numbers are for 'representative' clients. Even more amusing will be the game that other PR agencies will play with it. Imagine agency X walks in to Edelman's own clients and shows directly in Tweetlevel how much better the client could be doing if they moved to work with agency X.

Oh and for the sake of transparency, my Twitter names (yes I have a semi-professional one and a company one) rate quite awfully. No excuses, except that I find it hard to actually engage with people on a meaningful level and get my work done without a paid resource to help, which would really defeat the object of engaging with people in a sincere way.

It seems that I am happier spending half and hour a day writing some lengthy, sometimes original drivel on this blog, than half an hour total distracting myself every ten minutes to type 140 characters and point to a website that I found only for the purpose of manipulating my Twitter follower count. And if you occasionally enjoy what you read here, that makes it all worthwhile.

For another perspective, take a read of William Gibson's "Idoru", amazingly published in 1996. Gibson gives a high-energy and insightful view of how the Net becomes overwhelmed with corporate interests and legislation, and a dark-net called the Walled City springs up to allow people (by invitation only) to live and express themselves in a meaningful way, outside the grasp of corporate manipulation.

Yes - this blog is attached to a company website, but the thoughts expressed here are my own. Since the product you may buy from the website is also representative of my thinking, that seems to be the fairest marketing you can hope to get.

A post from the Improving It blog

To implement workflow and process automation in your business today, visit

Coming soon... Download the podcast of this blog post

Friday, November 13, 2009

Reduction in travel saves us from misguided use of mobile technology

As the global recession bites deeply, the number of miles flown by the road-warrior and regular employees has dropped considerably. As far back as May last year, Michelle Conlin of BusinessWeek reported how:
[...] companies as varied as Advanced Micro Devices, Xerox, Cisco Systems, AstraZeneca, and Adecco are cutting internal business travel (grinding from corporate office to office) by as much as 50 percent.
Not only has this increased the need for the online collaborative tools such as WebEx and GoToMeeting, it has made me question whether companies need to focus on the expensive development of mobile clients for their traditional business applications. When everyone was constantly 'out of office', having a Blackberry UI, iPhone app, or at least a dumbed-down portal suitable for access from airport security queues around the country was an essential 'me-too' for business application vendors. The question now is whether there is sufficient value in providing this, for the vendors, or the companies that use their tools.

More and more, companies seem to want to keep track of employees, and the work they are doing. Less and less, they want them being only partially connected as they flit from city to city. Home-office working allows use of a decent laptop and a broadband network. Netbooks enable a reasonable sized screen for accessing regular web based applications on a fast-enough 3G network. So what is the value in business applications on tiny little mobile devices?

Mr/Mrs Road Warrior will be picking up a mass of email, and won't be trying to write his/her opportunity report for the regional sales VP on a Blackberry. So why waste the company's money implementing a complex system to allow such misguided use of technology.

A post from the Improving It blog

To implement workflow and process automation in your business today, visit

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Maybe Google has it right...

A couple of weeks back I blogged 'Your desktop will get a facelift. Who is holding the scalpel?'. It got me some interesting feedback by email that I won't repeat here from proponents of a couple of the technologies mentioned. The post, and some subsequent discussions have led me to think more about the browser's role in applications, SaaS and keeping IT costs down.

The reality of the situation is that the browser is a big, bloated, resource hog of an application that business users' PCs can not live without. IT has to maintain it, keep it updated, keep it secure, whether they like it or not. So the benefit of SaaS running in a pure, unadulterated browser, whether it is Internet Explorer or Firefox (or maybe Safari, Chrome, Opera, ...) is that the application just works. No additional IT expense managing another application. No extra resource hog (one, in the form of a browser, is sufficient for most PCs).

If you ever present your IT group with the idea of adding a new installed desktop application to the standard stack of stuff users have on their PCs already, they cringe. Why? Its not just a one off cost of installing a hundred desktops that worries them, you can add to it:
  • maintenance and upgrades for the installed application going forward
  • updating the standard 'build' that a new employee gets when they join the team
  • keeping the standard build up to date as the new application is updated
  • ensuring that the application does not put the network, PC or other data at risk of security flaws
  • handling the issues with dependencies on other applications (where the new application breaks an old one)
  • installing additional components (such as Java, .NET, Adobe Air, Silverlight), thereby adding more hassles and costs
  • compliance with software licenses, and handling licenses embedded in the installed software
  • additional complexity of disaster recovery and business continuity plans that cover desktop environments (you can't easily move to a temporary facility if proprietary software has to be installed)
SaaS solutions are designed for browsers. They should not require plugins to work effectively, although power-users may benefit from them, they should also be able to work without them. If the user's laptop falls out of the overhead bin on a transatlantic flight, real browser applications allow the user to be up and running as soon as they get to the hotel business center and the battered desktop PC.

It seems that we are not going to get a precise scalpel with Internet browsers - they are often a sledgehammer against a nut. But for business applications, one sledgehammer should be quite enough.

A post from the Improving It blog

To implement workflow and process automation in your business today, visit

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

VMWare and SaaS really can make office PCs a cheap commodity

Any business that is vaguely serious about their IT infrastructure and its security is probably worried about the cost and hassle involved with keeping their PC software up to date and operating effectively. Then comes the need to replace a bunch of PCs or handle a damaged laptop, and the day to day management of updates becomes an even bigger hassle for the IT team.

There are a huge number of day-to-day and one-off expenses associated with maintaining a PC infrastructure that are associated with the software on the PC, rather than the hardware itself. When the PC and associated software should help people get their jobs done, rather than waste their time, its easy to see why many companies are looking for alternatives to the Dell + Windows + expensive service contract approach to desktop management.

Fortunately there has been a recent explosion of alternatives. In the last week we have seen Ubuntu, the easy to install and use Linux desktop, release version 9.10. That release competed in the same launch timeframe as the 200 dollar upgrade to Windows 7 Professional, which does little to change the status quo. We are seeing an aggressive push by Google to get the ultimately easy to maintain office productivity suite (all you have to maintain is the browser on the desktop, not even fileservers or email), with a 50 dollar per year pricepoint. Zoho provide a a more feature rich alternative to Microsoft Office online than Google, and Microsoft Office is competing with itself in the online, zero management hassles space.

Now VMWare has announced its newest version of virtualization for the desktop, allowing you to handle user PC desktops as a managed service, running centrally much like Citrix used to offer, but done differently. Something goes wrong with a user's PC? Get a new lump of hardware and they are up and running just as before. Add twenty new employees this month? Just hit 'go' to provision their desktop environment on the server and make sure they have a lump of hardware to run it (I know of a large insurance company that was doing this for the last two years for their home-based workers, to great success).

Oh Mr Dell, the hardware is so much less important now - as long as it works. Maybe you'll go back to your roots of building cheap, reliable hardware through an innovative supply chain and assembly model, rather than trying to compete with Apple (or even Sony or HP), who can market the expensive, desirable personal PC products so much better. My six year old Dell laptop is so much more robust and reliable than the two year old equivalent my wife bought, but if my wife's PC were a disposable price and easy to switch out to another box with no delay or hassle I might just do it.

Maybe we all need virtualized desktops. We appear to have accepted that PC hardware is consumable, a commodity that will get used then added to a festering pile of toxic waste on a foreign shore, as much as we hide from the horrible reality. So for business's sake, let's make hardware cheap, with no frills (and therefore a big percentage less waste to pretend we might recycle). Alternatively, leave a pile of solid, built to last desktop PCs under desks in offices, for use on a first-come, first-served basis, and hand out cheap Netbooks for the traveling workers who want convenience and mobile access to their applications anywhere. What makes these models work in practice? Separating the software from the users' hardware, with all the software that people run managed centrally, with VMWare hosted desktops in our your own server rooms, Ubuntu servers in the cloud, office apps at Google, CRM at Salesforce, oh and don't forget business processes managed run by Consected.

A post from the Improving It blog

To implement workflow and process automation in your business today, visit

Coming soon... Download the podcast of this blog post

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Case management - follow the bouncing ball

I just had the unfortunate pleasure of tuning in to a sponsored webinar called "Smart Case Management: Why it's so smart" on ebizQ - unfortunate because I tuned out before the end and missed what was so smart about it. Unless I really missed the punchline though, I am starting to believe that nobody in the traditional business process management (BPM) software industry really understands case management. This is probably because it doesn't fit their view of the world, so they'll just force fit everything into fixed workflows (sorry, 'executable business processes' is the marketing term) and add a rules engine, or a pretty collaborative-esque UI, or whatever other thing they own that helps them try a new marketing tactic.

If you know that you have a major business process with a need for real case management, not 'smart, slideware case management', how do you convince your boss that traditional BPM might not be the real answer? See if these five attributes fit your business process:
  1. A large chunk of the process is centered around knowledge workers, experts, brokers, underwriters, assessors, analysts, specialists, or whatever else you might call the people using brainpower to get the work done
  2. Your process has many starting points, and channels through which a 'case' may begin, or be identified as being part of a pre-existing case (phone, email, customer call, broker, management edict)
  3. There are many possible successful (and possibly unsuccessful) outcomes that represent the end of this process, but not necessarily signify the end of the whole case (the client lives on)
  4. The users of the system need to be guided when to deal with work in workflows centered on this case, but also need to be able to interact with it at any other time (such as when a client calls unexpectedly or the auditor stops by)
  5. The general flow of work may follow a fairly basic structure, but a case must always have the opportunity to deviate from that previously defined path, to cater to: the unusual situations; the escalations; the high-risk / high-value opportunities; the client threatening litigation; the partner offering a huge deal.

To visualize what case management is, try this. Think of the bouncing-ball that used to guide you in singing the lyrics on TV and early karaoke. (Image courtesy of ASIFA)

The ball is the 'case' (an account, partner, client, policy, etc or combination thereof). As the ball bounces along its path, the singer is guided and assisted in singing the song to the predefined flow. Real life says that the singer, being the expert in vocalization of words and tunes (the animator of the ball maybe can't sing), may actually deviate from the written words, as he or she ad-libs a little. The TV doesn't prevent them from doing so, but certainly makes it easier for them in an unfamiliar tune if they can follow the flow.

As the ball is bouncing along, you look closer at it and realize that it has a bunch of other items revolving around it (visualize electrons around the neutron if the ball was an atom). These other items are the processes and communications that go on as needed around the core case (such as the auditor digging in to the detail). Typically they interact with the ball and the words, but unless something goes wrong, they don't throw it off its bouncing path.

Occasionally a separate harmony kicks in, and the ball (here the visual messes up a bit) floats between multiple lines of lyrics being sung by different people. No one person is the owner of the tune, and they all interact a lot, or slightly as they harmonize. The case follows the tracks of the different processes, for as long as required, though not necessarily according to a predefined path.

Finally the song ends and there is a successful outcome. The singer, and the ball, don't disappear though, they just go off to do different things for now.

So, if you were able to visualize that, you have a good sense of the complexity of case management, and why it is so valuable for some business processes. It is the facilitator to the case (the ball), following its general path, while allowing everything else to get on with what needs to be done around it, and enabling the 'ad-libs' to result in a better outcome than a strictly mechanical approach. In reality, case management reflects the real life of business, clients, opportunities and day to day work, and the value that smart people can bring to what they do when the systems the use allow them to do so.

A post from the Improving It blog

To implement workflow and process automation in your business today, visit

Coming soon... Download the podcast of this blog post

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Running a project should not be mismanagement by email

If you have ever run a project, or even been on the blunt end of the tasks coming out of a project manager, you'll understand how difficult effective tracking of communication can be. The tracking of individual tasks on the GANTT prove hard enough, with many projects resorting to a printed copy that gets a thorough paint-job with a green highlighter at regular intervals. Now try and track the implicit communications and requests that make up the tasks on the plan (or often outside of it), and you'll prove to yourself that there really has never been a good way to track your project related conversations and responses, many of them getting lost in email. So, for my newest consulting project, I decided to 'drink my own champagne / eat my own dog-food' and use Consected to manage the structure of my project, track the communications with the joint teams, track the project plan and record the masses of notes that I normally expect to generate or receive.

What did I want to achieve? First for the good of the project I wanted to make sure that all of my project information was carefully organized so that I could find it at any time, and so I could track follow ups with the client and vendor (I'm sitting in the middle, trying to clean up a messy project) without driving myself make sure that all of my project information was carefully organized so that I could find it at any time, or the post-it notes into crisis. Second, I wanted to get a better handle on the strengths and shortcomings of using the Consected solution for a project that doesn't have a lengthy business process or workflow.

What is the outcome? The project appears to be picking itself up well, due to (or despite) my last minute introduction to it (the aim being to pick it up by the scruff of the neck and beat it into shape). And Consected has proven what a great fit it is for this type of unstructured or semi-structured project management or case management work. Even better, it now has a nice, simple, but powerful ready-to-run solution for managing consulting projects, or likely many ad-hoc projects you see in typical organizations.

Does this sound like something you could use to track your projects and communication better? Great, because this is a preview that Consected will offer this Consulting Project service, and some accompanying solutions for immediate sign up and use in the coming weeks. If anyone is interested in signing up for the free, public beta of this ready-to-run solution, drop me an email at phil_ayres @ or go to the contact page of, so I can add your name to the list of people to notify on release day.

A post from the Improving It blog

To implement workflow and process automation in your business today, visit

Monday, November 02, 2009

Listen to your gut when process intelligence fails you

Business leaders seem to pick for themselves one of two styles of decision making: decisions based on data or decisions based on gut-feel. Both have their place, but only the former can seem to be enhanced through the use of technology. When measuring work inside business processes, gaps in data are assumed to be a failure of the analysis, rather than an underlying indicator of something worse.

If you take a read of ZDNet's Is BI ready to meet the real world? article today, it should reinforce the fact that leaders pick their own style, though the article pushes the belief that logic trumps intuition, even if the data it is based on is only 70% complete. The article suggests that intuition and the gut can be all too easily influenced by such 'evils' as marketing and branding, things that are designed to generate a reaction at a subconscious level. The problem is that a leader making a decision based on data is also being manipulated - by the often blinkered assumption that the data shows all the facts, or is even relevant to the decision he or she is trying to make. Numbers, charts, and 'lies, damned lies and statistics' present a view that one can not argue with.

My experience working with business process management (BPM) tools and the statistics they show are that rarely, if ever, is the performance information they present at all truly valuable to a business leader attempting to make high level decisions. The data is valuable only to a micro-manager concerned with the task-level supervisory role. The so called 'process intelligence' (that I admitted to be a novice of, back in 2006 when I first wrote about it) that is provided by BPM is limited to the slice and dice of individual workers' times to complete work, or such similar metrics; experience has shown me that there is little relationship to the actual value of the work to the business. To give you two examples of where process intelligence and BPM really fails:

1) The process intelligence does nothing to help make an assessment of where in the organization your highest value sales-leads are, what the conversion factor is, and whether increasing or decreasing the opportunity count in any part of the sales process generates higher or lower total revenue.

2) BPM does a fine job of allocating work, but a terrible job of understanding the complexity of the work that it is delivering. When the BPM analytics look at the work that was pushed around, it sees it only by the simple classifications that the data contain (this was a 'work order', that was an 'employee onboarding' case). There is nothing about the complexity of the work, since BPM can't handle the ad-hoc nature of the requirements and these continue in email as before.

"OK, so BPM and process intelligence don't give me that information. I'll just use the information I do get from it.". The problem here is that the data will lull you into a false sense of security - you will believe that you have everything you need, and will force fit decisions into what the data shows you. It is hard to get the gut and logic to work fairly, side-by-side, when both know that they are right.

So instead, it becomes important that you gain a better view of what is really going on inside your business processes, while actually running them better. If BPM can't provide the data for what your people are doing, its probably because the tool or implementation can't actually influence or assist them in what they are doing. That is what the data is really telling you: there is a gap in your data because there is a gap in your processes.

If you want your business to run better, don't try and fill the data with gut-instinct. Instead follow what your gut is really trying to tell you: the BPM implementation you currently have is not delivering all it should. Work to improve it, or replace it with something more appropriate.

A post from the Improving It blog

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