The reaction of many business owners faced with information technology (IT) choices is fear. While they are very knowledgeable about what they do, they may not know as much about the technology that could help them better run their businesses, says Tim Holman, president of lyteITup, the technology division of Definity Partners.
“Simplifying, standardizing and automating their processes can help businesses overcome that fear,” says Holman. “It is taking that large, complicated process, breaking it down into smaller steps and identifying what the value-add and nonvalue-add steps of that process are,” he says. “When you do that, you can make the process run more effectively from beginning to end.”
Smart Business spoke with Holman about how to streamline your processes to take the fear out of IT.
What is the most common issue business leaders face in regard to technology?
The fear of IT. Most people are very passionate about what they do. Clients are usually good at products and processes but not necessarily technology. A lot of leaders have received faulty advice along the way and, because of that, they have concerns about the next step from a technology standpoint.
You need to remove that fear; the way you do that is by understanding your processes, and then simplifying, standardizing and automating them with technology.
How do you begin to simplify your processes?
It starts with understanding your overall business strategy and objectives. Once you understand a process from a strategic point of view, even a complicated process, it is easier to understand the improvement opportunities that exist within that process.
The first step in simplifying is to identify the nonvalue-add items in a process and eliminate them. You do that by asking lots of questions and by really understanding what is important to your business, what keeps you up at night and what the roadblocks are to your ultimate business objectives.
Typically, as a result, you will see a significant reduction in the number of steps in the process and gain a better understanding of what that process really is. At that point, the whole conversation becomes less difficult to understand and, therefore, much easier to implement. In the end, the process must be concise and support the overall objectives in as few steps as possible.
How do you then work to standardize and automate your processes?
As you begin to standardize, you will often find that it is unclear to everyone how they affect the process. The most important step is to ensure that your associates are trained on the process and that they understand it from beginning to end so they know how they can affect the result of that process. Without this understanding, it is difficult to build a process that is executed consistently throughout the business.
To automate your process, look at what you can do to leverage technology to make the process more effective. Whether it is something as simple as data entry or as complicated as doing database work to help mine data, it all runs more efficiently after you have simplified and standardized your processes. As a result, your processes become repeatable and sustainable.
A good example of this is the Electronic Medical Record (EMR) process being discussed within the health care industry today. The objective is clear: allow any medical record to follow an individual as needed. The challenge is determining who needs what information when and in what format. Once this process is agreed upon, or simplified and standardized, the automation becomes easier. Until then, automation of the process is ineffective at best.
What are the biggest mistakes companies make when going through this process?
If you do not understand the process, then you can’t improve it. You can’t understand how you may be affecting someone negatively if you do not know everyone’s roles throughout the process.
Not understanding your business processes hurts your business flow because you may be constantly doing things that are non-value added or causing pain. If the processes are not aligned with your business strategies and objectives, leaders have to realign them to ensure they are supporting overall objectives.
Does using technology to improve processes only apply to manufacturing?
It does not matter what industry you are in. Every business has processes, which can each be broken down into simplified steps to understand what the beginning is, what the end is and what the outcomes need to be. It does not matter whether it is health care, construction, manufacturing or distribution; if you understand what is key to your business, and the inputs and outputs required to meet those objectives, you can improve processes.
When is the right time to get started?
The right time is when a business leader understands that the pain exists and has the self-awareness that there is an issue preventing the business from running better. This self-awareness comes through asking questions, talking to peers, a lot of reading and/or asking the question, ‘How do I get better?’
Business leaders need to understand when the technical skills are outside their area of passion or expertise. At that point, leaders need to bring in an outside perspective to build on an understanding of the business’s processes focusing on how to simplify, standardize and automate them with technology.