Process versus System

In today's world of do it better, do it faster, we often look to technology to save the day. There isn't anything wrong with looking to technology for opportunities to improve. The challenge arises when the technology is chosen before the process that needs to be improved is analyzed. This happens for many reasons. Some are just due to ignorance (we thought we had analyzed the process). Some reasons are due to arrogance (this is my department and this is the tool we will use). Others just don't realize the difference between a business process and a system process.

A business process looks at all the activities performed (be it by a system or by a human). It considers many aspects of a process such as (but not limited to): business policies, legal constraints, unpredictable data sources, risk factors and controls, and all the tools used to complete the process. Most processes, from start to finish, cannot be completed by any one system.

A system process looks at the flow of data as it moves through the system. A system can be programmed to support policies, constraints, multiple data sources and so on. However, without first understanding the human element of the process, the system is only a tool. When a tool is chosen first, it is often the business process that has to be reinvented to accommodate the tool. Some might think putting the system process first is like putting the cart before the horse.

In a perfect world, the current business process would be documented, including all the tasks that are known to be the problem. Then the process would be defined as what it should have been all along, correcting issues and making the process the best it can be given the current or slightly updated tools. This is the foundation for moving forward, for creating what the process could be if the most appropriate tools or systems were in place and automating the process as needed.

Beyond the perfect world, unless a system is being built from scratch, the perfect business process will need to be adjusted to accommodate the system-out-of-a-box. BUT, by first documenting the process as it is today and working it into what it could be, this information can be used to assess the impact of a system that is not exactly what is needed. This leads to the world of change management, preparing process users to do it differently.