Podcast Season 3 Episode 1 – Business Process Management, Improvement, and Automation – The Basics
Talk about an age in which companies are having to reevaluate their business processes due to disruptions in the market! We are here to talk to you about business process management, improvement, and automation, a topic no one can avoid in these changing times.
Erin Keating: Welcome to Neocast. Join our experts each week as we discuss strategies and solutions for your businesses in managed IT, cybersecurity, government contracting and much, much more. Sharing is caring and we’ve got top shelf advice to help you navigate today’s biggest challenges. Let’s get to it.
Erin Keating: Welcome everybody to our next season of Neocast. We were so excited to bring you some information on the brand new CMMC certification process that everyone is going through that works with DOD. We had our resident experts, Eric Crucis and Ed Bassett and we’re excited to move on to other areas of NeoSystems. One of the things that I’ve loved working with NeoSystems is that I have gotten to see all the different facets of the cybersecurity managed IT and now learning about business process improvement that NeoSystem takes care of, so this is really exciting. We have a new resident expert, if you will, that is joining us for this particular season. Marty Herbert, welcome to the show.
Marty Herbert: Hi Erin.
Erin Keating: Hi. So Marty is the practice lead for business process improvement and change management within NeoSystems corporation. Marty, could you tell us just a little bit about how you arrived here and then maybe just give us that two minute elevator pitch of what business process improvement and change management is?
Marty Herbert: Yeah, absolutely. So it’s funny how I got here. My career actually started with compliance focus, so I started in big bad DCAA and really, with that compliance knowledge, a lot of what I was doing on the audit side of things was looking at how people did things and I was noticing a lot of how people did things right and how people did things wrong. So as my career escalated from there, I stayed in that compliance path going along the lines of internal controls and process mapping and process improvement and slowly but surely led me to NeoSystems and at NeoSystems is where I was given the opportunity to really make a practice out of business process improvement, business process management and change management.
Marty Herbert: Really what business process improvement in terms of how we approach it and how I view it is really synonymous. They’re used interchangeably throughout the industry, business process improvement, business process management, but they really are two different things. Business process improvement is exactly what it says it is, it’s improving your processes, it’s increasing the value of a given process, really helping to improve things like quality, enhancing services, cost reduction, maybe even just increase productivity. And a lot of the time that happens through Lean Six Sigma, other methodologies where there’s a process management and where the change management side comes in is really along the lines of making sure that we manage the processes that we do improve upon. It’s that next level, making sure that we control them, making sure that we have increased understandability and visibility of those processes.
Erin Keating: Got you. That makes a lot of sense. And I know that we’re looking to have a couple of different episodes in this first season and it made a lot of sense to me when we started thinking of the questions that people should be asking themselves. These episodes will be relevant for you if you’re sitting there and I imagine a lot of people, right Marty? With this COVID-19 stuff going on, a lot of people have got to be thinking a couple of different things. One is, I want to transform. Now what do I do? Because I’ve got craziness going on and I’m realizing that I might need to be making some steps. Or worse, you might be in the, oh my gosh, I need to transform and think more about my business processes and how I’m managing through this crisis. And if there are some things that you don’t think aren’t broken, why should you be fixing them? So those are a couple of things that we’re going to try to explore over the multiple episodes of this series. But I do think it’s interesting to think around the difference between BPI, business process improvement and BPM, business process management. What kind of questions have you gotten from people given the current crisis that we’re under? Have you seen an impact?
Marty Herbert: Yeah, definitely. It’s interesting because with coronavirus and really with a lot of the different changes that we’ve seen, whether it’s something like this or whether it’s just changes in the way people are doing business and the way that the economy changes over time, a lot of what we’re seeing is this focus now on, like you said, remote work, right? People are starting to work from their homes. People are starting to work remotely from where they usually are. And what we’re seeing and what we’re hearing a lot of is, “Oh my goodness, this is the first time I’ve had to do this. I don’t know how to do this.” And it’s so interesting because I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been working remote now at least for the past 10 years of my career and so I know what it looks like and how processes should continue, but that’s why now all of a sudden there is going to be a… I can see this huge shift happening to, “Oh no, now what? Now everybody’s remote. How do I control the things that I need to control with a remote population and with people not being in the office and right across the cube from me?”
Erin Keating: Right. And the fact that you actually have firsthand experience of how to do that with a firm that has to have the utmost security restrictions, given that that’s your purview, I think that would be really helpful to have the experience of going through it every day. The company has the experience of managing that every day and then you’re able to transfer that knowledge onto customers, I’m sure.
Marty Herbert: Absolutely. We do. We see it a lot where the information really has to mesh between systems, has to mesh between person to person, and really making sure that all of the information that’s generated by a process stays the same information from point A to point B.
Erin Keating: Right. Well, I have to ask you just for personal advice, what’s the advice on how we manage working from home? You apparently have been doing it for a long time. Oh my gosh. People are going into freak out mode. What would you say is the top number one tip?
Marty Herbert: Yeah. I wish it was as easy as just one thing, but really, it’s find a space, right? It should be so much more complex than that, but it’s just find a space that you’re comfortable in. I mean, whether there are days when I’m sitting at my desk every day doing exactly what I do for hours on end, and then there are days when I’m sitting on a recliner in the living room because it just makes more sense. So just find a space that you’re comfortable in and be able to keep on working from there.
Erin Keating: Got you. All right. Well back to BPM and BPI, now that I sound like I’m so in the know here with the acronyms. Why are so many people interested in these particular things?
Marty Herbert: It’s interesting. A lot of what we’re hearing is just the desire really got into two things that’s happening, right? Either one is I need more control or the other one is I need to transform something, and those really the two reasons that they’re coming to us.
Erin Keating: Interesting. So tell me a little bit more about that since I am not an IT professional. What do you mean by controlling a process?
Marty Herbert: So controlling processes really a lot of what we get is managers going, “Oh my goodness, my process is so out of control right now. I don’t know who has what when. I don’t know who’s doing what. I know things are getting done. I know that the beginning is good. I know that the end is because I don’t know what’s happening in between.” So sometimes it’s just out of fear, right? We do a lot of things based on fear and there’s a lot of things we do based on necessity and we get a little bit of both even just within trying to control the process. But it’s interesting for me how soon we forget how long this technology has been around to enable us to do the kinds of things that we need to do.
Marty Herbert: So I mean I can remember being in college and filling out website forms. This is the give me more information, put in a name, put in an email address and hit the button. That’s been around for so long, getting information from point A to point B. And yet what we see a lot in business process improvement area is just starting there, just being able to make things electronic, there’s so many paper forms, so many emails, so many things that you just can’t take real action on that we process them on a daily basis to make things more efficient just from a basic data-driven model of trying to make sure things get from one place to another.
Erin Keating: Sure. I know exactly. I’m thinking about, and I’m thinking ahead to my next question, which is going to be what process transformation is, but I’m reminded of a time when at my last job at one of my last previous employers, Audi of America, we for a long time had everything in folders and we had to sign these papers and we would have to route around all the proper business owners to approve the next level of spending and it would have to make its way to legal and all these types of things. And I remember when they finally instituted, because so many of us traveled and it was just crazy to think that you would have to wait for a person to be in person to sign a PO approval when it finally went digital. And I mean it really is quite an undertaking. So is that the type of thing, I mean it’s very, to me sounds very pedestrian, but is that the type of thing that people can be thinking of as far as a process just something as minimal as that?
Marty Herbert: Yeah, definitely. And it’s funny that you mentioned some of your experience because I look back, I worked for DCAA 15 years ago and while I was doing that one of the things I did there was we went from those big paper audit folders to, at the time it was CD-ROMs, but it was still an electronic audit file and it was 15 years ago. And now what we’re seeing is we’re walking into major corporations and one of the first things they say is, “Yeah, here’s our older, here’s our filing cabinet.” Or maybe, “Here’s our electronic files.” But we can’t do anything with any of the information that’s in the electronic files. It’s just electronic files that are taking up virtual storage instead of actual physical storage. So that’s a lot of what we’re seeing, even at really big company.
Erin Keating: Got you. And so is some of this even impacted by GDPR and just new regulations that are coming into play where businesses are having to consider that processes that have been in place before may need to transform and we can probably parlay this into the question about process transformation to even be eligible towards current legislation and regulations around industries.
Marty Herbert: Oh, absolutely. I mean you think about the types of data that we have to capture as a business and the way that we need to capture that, the way we need to secure it. And a lot of the time what’s happening right now is for better or worse email, right? We’re sending things back and forth between people and in fact, part of the reason that NeoSystems even went through this business process transformation was really to get to the point where we could ensure that the right information was going to the right people. So it was along the lines of both compliance and transformation, but also controlling that process so that we knew that when we were sending out sensitive financial data, it was going exactly where we said it was going to go and only the person that we wanted it to go to was getting it because we transformed that process.
Erin Keating: Right. And again, I think if we just talk about current circumstances with COVID-19, now you’ve got a bunch of processes for those listening out there. If you’re trying to think about what might not need fixing, I would reckon that people are going to start seeing a lot more needing to be fixing, because they’re starting to deal with this remote workforce, right?
Marty Herbert: Absolutely. You’re going to start seeing more along the lines of, “Hey, I thought my process was going really well and it was when I could take something and pass it over the wall, when I could take something and walk it down the hall.” That’s by and large just not the way that we work as much anymore in the economy and as it’s shifting in a way that our society is going is to this idea that we are a remote and diverse workforce. So with all of that is, I think that’s part of what this COVID-19 thing is going to do is it’s going to bring that out. It’s going to bring that to the forefront.
Erin Keating: Right. Knowing that, I think it’s something like 49% of our private sector businesses are small businesses said these are the types of tasks that they’re going to be facing and looking to professionals like you all and others to help them start to even wrap their head around what processes they need to be improving or changing.
Marty Herbert: Yeah. And it’s funny that that actually ties right into that process transformation and control where it straddles that fence. So you think about those small businesses that are out there and a lot of them are, I mean, what do they want to do? They want to grow, they want to get bigger in a lot of cases. So a lot of times what’s happening is you have those same managers who are trying to control the process, who are looking at, well I’m getting ready to go from 50 employees to 500. I’m getting ready to win this big contract. I’m getting ready to do all of these different things that I wasn’t doing before, working remotely. So we see a lot of businesses that are in this growth mode that are also trying to change a process and get it under control. That way they can make sure that they have business process management in place before it actually gets to a point where they’re pulling their hair out and can’t handle what they’re doing.
Erin Keating: And it’s easy for people who aren’t managers or companies large enough to have huge IT systems to not think that through. But of course if any newspaper you open these days and you look at any restaurant that’s trying to manage through this crisis, it isn’t just as simple as, “Oh, we’ll just now start taking orders and delivering them at the door.” I would imagine a lot of those large companies are in fact going through what you’re speaking of is true business process transformation and yes, there is a workforce transformation that they’re having to go through, but behind the scenes there are thousands of people likely working on coding and apps and programs and management for making that all possible.
Marty Herbert: Yeah. And a lot of it’s going to come down to a certain level of trust, right? So you can’t miss out on the fact that there’s a human element to all of this and business processes live and die by that human element a lot of the time because you really are dealing with people who are trying to do the best job they can. They have to be given the tools, they have to be given the procedures, the policies, the process to do what it is they need to do. And really, again, in this transformational time in as many different ways as they possibly can.
Erin Keating: So in thinking about how much there is room for error in the human side of things, where does automation fit in?
Marty Herbert: Yeah. As we go, a lot of the time what happens is we start talking about business process improvements and becomes real easy is, oh, what’s going to fix it? Well the robots can fix it, the technology can fix it. Technology is going to fix all of the problems. And I wish that was the case because it would make my job a lot easier.
Erin Keating: Talking to the resident [inaudible 00:15:29] here, so. I still use pen on my crossword puzzle.
Marty Herbert: Hey, you know what, I take notes on paper every day. And because I just, I know there are certain things that we just can’t let go of.
Erin Keating: Sure.
Marty Herbert: And that’s why regardless of whether it’s just improving a process, whether it’s trying to manage and control the process, but automation kind of overarches some of that, right? There’s a lot of talk on the national stage right now even about how automation, I mean you’ve listened to some of the presidential debates and things like that, they are talking about automation and those types of things. And with business processes, there’s really two different types of automation, both a workflow automation that, I need to do something as a person and I need to continue to get it routed through and get the approvals and different information from different people and those types of things.
Marty Herbert: And then there is the robotic piece. But as soon as people hear automation, they think about the assembly line. They think about the robots putting the pieces together. But there is also automation from the human aspect as well. There is that make sure that you’re getting the right data, make sure you’re getting the right information from the right systems that are part of that process for better or worse, even when we’re doing pen crossword puzzles, we do still have to deal with technology. So it’s going to fit everywhere where there’s going to be some kind of technology touchpoint regardless of what the process is. And that’s what you just have to factor in. It becomes a factor in improvement in management, not necessarily the overarching goal in a lot of cases.
Erin Keating: Right. And I think a lot of the times people are trying to think through what’s the appropriate use of technology. So when you’re looking at things through the lens of business process improvement in management, how are you thinking about appropriate use of technology?
Marty Herbert: So the automation and technology is really meant to help a process. I mean that’s really what it comes down to. There’s so many times and I seen a lot of systems and honestly a lot of applications that have gone down this radical of making a process or a fate, even just doing one thing, I mean it’s Rube Goldberg in a lot of cases. We get these we get these systems that are set up that don’t help the process. So there’s definitely a niche for this robotic process piece, right? The piece that is going to seek to kind of replace the human in a process. I’ve seen those instances where just talking to someone can help more than trying to route something for an approval a third or fourth time. I mean, pick up the phone and yes, send an email that’s going to potentially get lost in the inbox, but there are so many times when as a business process transformation expert, it really becomes incumbent upon me to make the recommendation for technology when it makes sense, but also to remind people that, hey, we still are human after all.
Erin Keating: Got you. And I’m just curious, there’s a lot of people that are tuning into NeoSystems podcast, they see NeoSystems for sure as a company that works with government contractors. But this has me thinking about just a much broader audience. I know my husband for instance, recently started working in the windows industry and construction industry and this occurs to me now you’re talking about this balance between a human interaction and automation workflow automation versus robotic automation. And there’s so much out there, new programs that have been developed for something as specific as a windows company, right? On how do you measure and then put the order in the system and then receive the order and then make sure you assign crews to it and then make sure that you’re invoicing and yada, yada, yada. And it makes me think about how many companies of a certain size should be thinking about consulting experts, even when you grab a solution that you think you’re just taking right off the shelf, that it’s all inclusive, that it really helps to think about it more broadly of great, now you have this technology. What does this mean overall as a business process improvement? Does that make sense to you?
Marty Herbert: Absolutely. There’s so many different things that any business does and you’re right and NeoSystem focuses in a lot on government contractors and those types of things. But even as early on in my time with NeoSystems, probably within my first year with the company as we were doing some business process improvement and automation, one of the things that came across my desk at one point was of all things a soil company, and here they were they had this business process where there people would go out into the field, they would take their note pad, they would write down the soil measurements, they were taking measurements in the field and they would then however long it took them, an hour or two hours whatever, to get back to the office.
Marty Herbert: They’d gives that paperwork to whoever the scientists were who then analyzed all the data to then give them the results to do whatever it was that they were doing with the soil. And one of the things that they were looking for was how do we improve that process? And again it goes back to the example of the form submission, right? I need to make sure while I’m out in the field being able to do these things, I mean we’re so remote, we’re so mobile, we’re still able to do so many things from so many different places that wouldn’t it be great if I just had an app for that. I can put my measurements into the app, push the button, and it’s there before I get there and they’re already working on it. Or maybe I get results even before that. But there are so many different places across industries and even within a company, across different departments that people struggle with. And that’s a lot of the time where a business process improvement specialists can come in and take a really critical look along with them to talk about those different processes.
Erin Keating: Well along those lines, I know that you philosophically have some thoughts on the changes that business improvement, business process management and business process automation are enabling. Do you mind sharing some of your thoughts more broadly?
Marty Herbert: We talked a little bit about it early on with the COVID-19 response and that how that outbreak is kind of giving us insight into what I think is a shift in the way that we are all working. Suddenly, just because we have to, we’re starting to see a lot of people staying home more. Just because they’re staying home, we see that those who can work remotely are doing so. We’re seeing schools that are going virtual out of necessity, social gatherings, meetings, education. They’re all shifting online, at least for a period of time. And this period of time I think is going to be long enough that it’s going to get us comfortable in doing things a different way. So because of that, even if it is just temporary, I think we’re going to see that technology has enabled to do a lot of things and still be effective. And my hope and my belief is that with this pandemic, it ushers in a shift in the way that we think about work.
Marty Herbert: So I think across human capital we might start to realize that the best people may not live within commuting radius. We still have to know that they can continue to do their jobs within a business process structure to continue to do the way that we as a company identify. Maybe it’s in accounting and finance, IT, contracts in any of those back office functions. The thing that NeoSystems really focuses in on, many of those back office functions, we realized that the systems that we use are already online and accessible. What we don’t necessarily see is that those processes have been put in place to allow us to know that those things can continue to be done. We’ll start to see that some of the introverts that are out there are going to still work well in their pajamas.
Marty Herbert: The extroverts out there are going to be able to work and make sure that the camera’s pointed up whenever they’re doing video conferences and honestly, we’re still going to see the executives who are saying just as connected as they’ve always been, but they’re realizing that their people can be trusted to be remote, to still get the work done and especially when they have the ability to see things through the lens of business process improvement and establishing really a good business process management baseline that allows them to have their people working from wherever and whenever quite honestly.
Erin Keating: Right. Absolutely. Well, I will tell you that Zoom thing is already working across multiple places. I was on several different conference calls yesterday where I go, “Maybe one of the things that this will change is that women no longer have to worry about wearing makeup because clearly we all don’t mind not doing that when we’re on Zoom.”
Marty Herbert: That is so true.
Erin Keating: Whole industries are going to change.
Marty Herbert: Absolutely. We even have a virtual happy hour set up this week.
Erin Keating: Yep, great.
Marty Herbert: So, we’ll see how that works out.
Erin Keating: I have two of those set up with two different sets of girlfriends. It’s what’s going to keep us sane, I tell you, but it’s also going to keep us safe, so great. I can’t wait to talk to you a little bit more about what some of those tools are for BPI and how they’re being used and what the factors are that are going into these shifts with you next episode. So thanks so much for getting us just set up with some basic knowledge and the one, two, threes ABC’s on BPI, BBM and BPA. I look forward to catching up with you next time Marty, on what tools we need to be thinking about.
Marty Herbert: Absolutely. Thanks so much.
Erin Keating: Thank you.
Erin Keating: The NeoSystems difference. We specialize in serving organizations of all sizes. In today’s fiercely competitive market, is your organization constantly searching for ways to gain the advantage of our competitors? Smart organizations are paying more attention to their strategic back office operations. NeoSystems offers scalable back office services and solutions to improve your organization with a team of industry experts, industry leading information technology tools and an advanced technical infrastructure. From software hosting and security solutions, to managed accounting services, NeoSystems with custom built solutions and services that are tailored to fit your organization’s needs. Check us out on the internet at Neo Systems C-O-R-P .com. That’s NeoSystemscorp.com.