Caspar Jans's picture

Last week I started a new series on business transformation and in the comments I received there was one that made me think. In my blog I defined a number of elements that are used to execute a process, and one of them being, in my words, human capital. In order words, at the moment that we're not talking about a fully automated process, there will always be human involvement. The comment mentioned earlier made me think about the role of the human element in business transformation and in this week's blog I'll share my thoughts on this subject.

Business processes have been executed since eternity and over the course of time the support people have been receiving in executing these processes has steadily increased from completely manual to partly/semi/fully automated. Despite the fact that we automate more and more activities in our business processes, the human involvement is still and will remain significant and despite all of the fancy promises made by pure-play automation vendors, most processes cannot be fully automated. Even a very well known process such as procure to pay, and especially the Accounts Payable part of it, typically can be automated for about 30-40% max. One of the main reasons for this being the enormous diversity in incoming data (read: invoices and the format they can take and the incorrect data they can and typically do contain).

From my personal experience where I tried to optimize this process for a global multinational, I realize that the human involvement is still vital to the success of the process execution. In other words, humans are a very important input to the execution of a business process and also the only input that effectively has a will of its own. Think about it; data, applications, machines, they all do exactly what they have been programmed to do, but not humans. You can instruct ten people on how to do a task and they will find ten (if not more) different ways to perform this task. The person leaving the comment that got me thinking about it propagated a more human-centered process design and I actually agree with him. The human is the only component in the execution that is not predictable and should therefor be included and engaged more in the design phase of a business process.

Now, how does this relate to the main topic, business transformation? Transformation programs all have one thing in common, they aim to achieve a change in the way the organization executes. After all, if you keep working the way you did, you will get the results you always did and that's not transformation in the first place. So, we can basically establish right here and right now that human behavior is the most critical element for any transformation program, because, again, humans are unpredictable and also often suffer from the not-invented-here-syndrome. This syndrome, by the way, is also strongly influenced by the organizational and national culture of your employees (just to make your transformation even more complex). This means that at the moment you would start a transformation program you would do good to put the human behavior element front and center in your approach, from the very start (analyzing root cause of the problems that warranted the transformation in the first place), via the design of the solution and all the way to the implementation of the solution in the workflow. Yes, this probably also means that your transformation program is going to take a little bit longer, but it still beats the re-work you would need to do afterwards should you have not focused on human-centered change and process design.

Another interesting conclusion we might take from this little thought-experiment is that digital transformation simply does not exist. It's always a business transformation and will always involve the human element; after all, who do you think will be using all the digital wizardry you have been developing (in splendid isolation without an end user in sight?). This also has consequences for the way that you should deal with your BPM approach, because that will be challenged in exactly the same way as the business transformation. Fortunately, in BPM, thinking from an end user perspective is not new, nevertheless not always taken into account in BPM projects and that will be next weeks topic for my blog series on business transformation.

I would like to thank Roeland Loggen for reminding me of the importance of the human connection amidst the digital storms we are trying to navigate.

Ciao, Caspar

Tags: Business Process Management