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When different is not differentiating...

November 8th, 2007 (orginally published)

Every company relies on a series of business processes to run their business. Manufacturing has business processes, sales has business processes, marketing has business processes, customer service has business processes, etc. These business processes, which some people refer to as workflow, can be automated or manual.

Businesses strive to differentiate themselves from their competitors and often use their business processes as differentiating factors. An example might be the business process for segmenting customers to allow a business to treat their ‘best’ customers with greater attention than the less valuable customers.

Consistency of an automated business process has a direct impact on an IT organization. For example, if a company has five different ways to order a product or service, then it is likely that there are five IT solutions that also exist - which also means that IT has five different applications to manage, maintain, support, secure, make resilient and extend. This equates to a certain cost for the business.

The variety of business processes could be ‘differentiating’ or could be simply different with no quantifiable business value. If the difference in business process does not enhance the customer experience or add business value, then it is not differentiating - it is simply different. Most mature businesses attempt to seek out variances in their business processes in order to standardize those processes in which different is not differentiating. Different can be a bad thing - it may be confusing to customers if you have multiple ordering processes or multiple quoting processes. Another way of saying this is that having multiple business processes that do the same thing are impactful to the customer experience.

The customer experience or what some refer to as the goal of making a company “easy to do business with” is critical to understand - not by looking at it from the company perspective but by looking at it from the customer perspective. The perspective makes all the difference because multiple business processess may be beneficial to the company from an operations perspective but confusing to a customer.

IT can play a leadership role in helping the business identify what is different and what is truly differentiating. The business team may not be aware of the systems that underlie the key business processes. A simple mapping of systems to business process helps bring visibility to redundant systems highlighting inconsistencies.

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