Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Improving an "information driven" business

Some businesses are driven by events (something happened and I need to respond), and others are driven by information (lots of things happened and I need to respond to them en-masse). Flows of work (as modeled, measured and improved by business process management - BPM), take individual events or transactions and guide them through to completion. So if you are an "event driven" company, your customer requests, orders and other transactions are generally easily improved. But what if you are an "information driven" company? Get reports, print them, file them, seems to be a common option. There are some really big challenges in improving the "information driven" company. 

Around this time last year I started working with a client on what seemed like a simple electronic document management project. As a company in the financial services sector, there are needs for managing transactions, obviously, but there is a huge amount of the business that is driven by information. Compliance and Credit especially are areas where firms like this need to look at the information about clients on an aggregate basis in order to make decisions and spot red-flags. So what was needed? Well, let's just take all the reports, deliver them electronically, and those that can't be processed in that way (too much manual line-by-line, page-by-page review and annotation) get scanned and stored.

This project was eye opening, and reinforced some ideas I hadn't seen in a while. When improving a business across many business processes there are some approaches that are worth considering:

  • Avoid rat-holes by working backwards: look at the end result of the paper trail that is produced and work backwards through the people that handled the information to identify the "happy path" process
  • Use the org-chart to find natural order: people tend to work within the constraints the organization places on them in terms of departments and teams. Understanding this can help you get familiar with a new business faster
  • People hate working on-screen:  if your people must stare at reports all day long to get the information they need, it is unlikely they will transition to working on-screen without a fight
The challenge is that a well trained human mind is a great tool for analyzing and understanding patterns across large amounts of data, allowing information on reports to translate into a distillation of information and possibly events that can be understood by people with different skills. How do you represent what goes on in an analytical human mind when processing information? Can you automate it (and do you really want to?)? And how can you make the processing of this information better, faster, repeatable, and less paper-based?

There are many options, depending on a specific needs. I'm looking at tools as simple as checklist, as common as rules engines, as widely used as 'business intelligence', and as futuristic-ly  powerful as Complex Event Processing. There is definitely not one hammer for every nail when dealing with information-driven problems.

It is the challenges like these in business improvement that sometimes are not easy to address, but are extremely important. These are the fun ones!

A post from the Improving It blog
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1 comment:

Chuck said...

At one business high volume title insurance and settlement services company I converted in the mid-90's there were over 120 reports from various legacy systems. We took each report and attempted to backtrack the "owners" of the reports and the touchpoints. After much wrangling we settled on about 15 vital reports and 30 "needed by so and so person" reports. We cutover the new transaction processing system during a 45 day parallel process (close in the old system, open in the new system) and only furnished 5 reports daily. As certain people trickled out of the woodwork we determined what they needed and added it to the "progamming list". After one year the number of reports was a grand total of 18, twelve of which were delivered electronically. We also disabled all the printers on the floor except for check and closing statement preparation printers. Only one printer was available for reports on each of the floors. Chuck.