Troubles with Process Measurement Begins with IT


    Recently we were researching a specific off-shored business process that was implemented with a homegrown software application. The entire user interface is browser-based and clients can login and kickoff an instance of the business process. The rest of the process is executed offshore and the final outputs sent through the same interface.

    The problem was keeping tabs on the amounts of time different people have spent on the various process steps in the entire business process for billing purposes as well as measuring waiting times between different process steps. The waiting times are important because overall turnaround time for the client depends upon actual time spent on it as well as waiting time between process steps. Any process improvement effort has to consider these waiting times along with execution times.

    However the big problem was that timestamps on when something was started and finished are not uniformly recorded at all stages of the process for such analyses to be done. And this was a homegrown software solution that can easily capture these events if the software development effort had been aware of such a need beforehand.

    This kind of thing is much more common than we think. Nobody can be blamed for this also, since the objective of the software development effort was to primarily to automate the business process first and have it flowing smoothly. Process Optimization was not in the scope of work at the time it was initiated.

    Of course, experienced software designers would tell you that good database design always included a modified by and modified time fields in almost any database table you design. Even with that, if the same row in the table is updated again and again, then you would have the modfified time fields overwritten every time something happens, losing very valuable information for process analysis and improvement down the road.

    If you think this is bad, you should consider large enterprises that may use SAP software for manufacturing, Oracle for Financials and PeopleSoft for HR, Package XYZ for Warehousing solutions. Good luck trying to decipher process step times about an Order to Cash Process in such companies.

    IT systems evolve to automate and make it more efficient to execute business processes. Optimization of business processes are hardly the focus at that time.

    Quite often, process measurement becomes important and critical only in the context of outsourcing/offshoring since many measurements are mandated by the contracts and the SLAs they contain.

    Unfortunately IT systems and software have evolved in contexts completely oblivious to Process Measurement and Optimization. Something all companies have to live with.

    My guess is that "Process Aware" versions of enterprise software from Oracle, SAP, PeopleSoft (I know it is Oracle now, but still there are customers using the PeopleSoft versions) will be developed in the next five or ten years but they are not there yet.

    For home grown software, designing software that is "Process Aware" and captures information such as timestamps whethey you see a need for it right away or not may be good forward-looking design. Fields that capture timestamps whould always be put in the tables whether you see a need for it right away or not. They can come in handy for a hundred other purposes like transaction audit trails or process measurement, analysis and improvement.

     … the designer of a new system must not only be the implementor and the first large-scale user; the designer should also write the first user manual. … If I had not participated fully in all these activities, literally hundreds of improvements would never have been made, because I would never have thought of them or perceived why they were important. – Donald E. Knuth


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