In the beginning…

tl,dr: all business processes start somewhere, whether data, event or request driven. That simple goal is the starting point of request process improvement.

I just need to collect people’s email addresses to get started.

I get into a lot of solution conversations with my friends. This is consulting 101, but there’s more on the line when I’m personally invested in this person.

There are other challenges too, when it’s personal there’s usually a cost prohibitive budget, a.k.a. no cash on hand.

So when someone asked me how to collect information and “get started” a lightbulb went off!

All processes start somewhere.

pexels-photo-28554It appears that almost all business processes come down to a click. An order. A bit. A byte. SOMETHING; whether it be data or a request, something triggers a business response.

Can we then assume that the best software gets this?

When I asked this, I re-asked it a couple times before I realized this was the value IT was providing. Particularly when it refers to Enterprise Architecture.

The decisions you make about the puzzle you are composing with technology investments influences your ability to react to information and events.

Which is why good architects and business analysts ask difficult questions about APIs and Integration points.

Can you send an example of the JSON?

It’s why great application developers know the details of how to alert and register events. As well as how to extract and parse event and alert information in a meaningful way.

How do you start a process? Is it as easy as filling in a request form? Do you click a button? Is it complex or simple? Why?

Participants in our second virtual hackathon have been challenged to start a business process. Create a simple registration application. Start capturing those email addresses and start the business process you need to start now.

For more information about how we feel about business processes check out this simple process flow, subscribe to our blog or check out who we are!

Be a Provider… NOT a Broker!

At Kinetic Data we’ve been talking for years about Service Integration and Automation (SIAM) and building software products to enable Service Providers to deliver at scale.  Understanding the SIAM concept has real value for enterprises looking to achieve successful delivery where service models are distributed across fulfillment silos, and customer experience is of paramount importance.

For Shared Service IT organizations, most have an understanding of the Handshake above 2brokering concept with respect to infrastructure delivery.  In this context, the brokering concept is often referred to as the Hybrid Cloud infrastructure model. In this model, Corporate IT is typically the central provider of infrastructure services, while the actual components making up deployed technology stacks live both internally (corporate data centers) and externally (partner provided, Cloud-based data centers).  Often, Corporate IT may involve many back-end partners in providing those infrastructure components.

At a high-level, the Service Brokering concept appears to solve challenges associated with delivering enterprise IT service in the complex world of today’s global economy. In this model, services are made up of component functions where fulfillment tasks are sourced to provider-partners responsible for delivering their individual part.  While this may seem like a broker model, the reality is that if you view things from the customer’s perspective, the “Service Broker” concept doesn’t make sense at all.  

When I think about my experiences with brokers, some are great and some are not.  Regardless of how good the broker, I’ve ended up (as the customer) having to directly interact with downstream providers to resolve issues related to the service I’ve procured.  I’ll spare the gory details, but offhand I can think of examples with healthcare, investments, house-buying and home repair that make up my experiences.

Each time an issue came up in the delivery of a complex service (home-purchase) and I had to get involved in solving them, it was time-consuming, costly and frustrating. More than once, I decided that regardless of how good the broker was in my initial interaction, I would not use them for the same service in the future as it was easier for me to handle things directly with the downstream provider.  That’s an anecdote for IT outsourcing if you are keeping score at home!

Ultimately, the underlying issues with all of any of these challenging “Service Broker” experiences I have lived were due to the difference between my perception and the reality of the service model I was procuring.

As a customer, I expected an experience where the service being provided was truly integrated end-to-end regardless of who was doing the fulfillment.  What I got was a disparate and distributed service experience that was notintegrated and left me looking for an alternative provider for the future.

So, with respect to Enterprise IT and the idea of “Service Brokering”, think about:

  • A customer procures (requests or buys) a service and expects delivery of it, not just “part of it”.
  • That customer has an expectation (SLA) for that service with corporate IT.  It’s not the customer’s responsibility to coordinate sub-contractor agreements (OLA’s) between back-end fulfillers that comprise the component Sub-Services, nor is it their interest to have any complexity added to their experience.
  • They don’t care if Vendor A is responsible for Sub-Service 1, and Vendor B is responsible for Sub-Service 2.  All they want is simple access to the service and a great experience in it’s delivery.   

If there’s an issue with a downstream fulfillment by Vendor B, it’s ridiculous to expect a customer to care about a missed OLA or further, to get involved in the resolution of a stalled service.  When they come to get service from Corporate IT, they expect a great experience by a Service Provider, not a Service Broker.

If you understand what goes into end-to-end service delivery where there is afocus on customer experience, Service Brokering is nothing more than marketing-speak. Another attempt by industry vendors to try to re-label what already exists and sell it to you as “new.”  The multi-sourced delivery model has existed for decades.  It is not new, and there are real Service Providers out there that truly understand the value of Service Integration in driving excellent customer experience!


Remember:  What matters most is customer experience.  Be a ServiceProvider NOT a Broker!

How to Avoid 10 Common Project Management Mistakes

Project glitches—and sometimes even outright failures—are unfortunately common. But they are by no means inevitable.

According to CIO Insight, “45 percent of large IT projects go over budget, while delivering 56 percent less value than promised.” Yet many of the frequent causes of project setbacks are well understand and can be avoided with proper planning and execution.

10 common project management mistakes - and how to avoid
Image credit: CIOInsight

Based on research compiled by Dennis McCafferty, here are 10 common sources of project management problems, along with guidance on how to avoid each, illustrated with the example of implementing an enterprise request management (ERM) strategy.

Continue reading “How to Avoid 10 Common Project Management Mistakes”

Virtual War Rooms: Collaborating to Solve Big Problems Fast

How can organizations solve complex enterprise problems as quickly as possible? Timeliness is essential to minimize lost revenue and productivity, and in some cases even damage to the corporate brand image.

Resolving urgent, multi-vendor, mission-critical types of problems requires collaboration. But coordinating the input and effort of employees—along with, in some situations,  partners,  suppliers, consultants or others outside the organization—who work remotely, are traveling, or are based in other cities (or countries) is challenging.

While there are a range of online collaboration tools (for functions like project management, voice/Web conferencing, and file sharing) on the market, most aren’t designed for in-the-moment, team-based problem solving. Nor are they focused on the most critical type of problem management from a business value perspective: restoring a service or operation as quickly as possible.

Usig virtual war room software for problem collaboration

A new white paper, Virtual War Rooms: Resolving Enterprise Problems with Collaboration Tools describes the current collaboration technology landscape; situations requiring real-time collaborative problem resolution; and the capabilities needed in an online tool to provide effective and efficient enterprise problem management.

Lost Productivity is Very Expensive

For critical business services in large organizations, every minute of downtime equates to lost productivity, which can be measured in real financial terms. When orders can’t be processed, products can’t be shipped, employees can”t answer phone calls or emails, a production line shuts down, or any other situation where people are unable to do their jobs due to a technology issue—the business loses money. For example, Gartner has calculated that the average cost of network downtime across industries is $5,600 per minute.

Solving Big Problems Require  Collaboration

Large enterprise problems can take many forms, including customer issues (e.g., a shipment fails to arrive on time); a public relations or social media crisis; business impacts from natural disasters; and information security breaches. But a not uncommon (and expensive if not fixed quickly) category is key enterprise systems going down, such as ERP, ITSM, supply chain, factory control, or email.

When such a system stops functioning, rapid problem resolution and system restoration is vital to minimize the expense, disruption, and interruption of vital operational processes. Identifying the source of the problem, correcting, and restoring service often involves communication and coordination of efforts between IT, business function or unit managers, and external consultants or vendors.

Using Virtual War Rooms to Coordinate Action

Online project management tools are generally designed for administering long-term endeavors. Solving large, urgent enterprise problems requires a different type of tool, one designed to enable teams to quickly formulate and execute action plans. Such a “virtual war room” tool should:

  • Enable internal and experts to quickly get up to speed on what’s known and what’s been done.
  • Allow tasks to be assigned and tracked.
  • Permit documents, images and other vital information to be uploaded and shared.
  • Provide real-time communication from any connected device, anywhere.
  • Maintain a record of communications and activities for later audit, diagnosis or training purposes.

Ideally, the tool should also be easy to implement, and even more importantly, intuitive to use: there’s no time to train anyone on use of the software when the enterprise is in a crisis situation or dealing with a mission-critical system outage.

Implementing a virtual war room tool enables organizations to make better, faster decisions in difficult circumstances; restore vital services or resolve other significant problems more quickly; and minimize the costs of lost productivity, revenue,  or opportunities. Download the white paper Virtual War Rooms: Resolving Enterprise Problems with Collaboration Tools to learn more.

How IT Pros can be Business Heroes

Though IT groups are sometimes criticized for being disconnected from or out of sync with “the business” (sales, marketing,  finance, etc.), IT professionals—like their colleagues in other functional areas—want to be heroes to the organization.

How to be an IT business heroNo employee or group wants to be seen as a roadblock to business or operational progress. Quite the contrary, most would like to display the agility to leap over financial or technological obstacles; the speed to accelerate cumbersome manual processes; even the foresight to anticipate needs and solve problems before they happen.

While being born on the planet Krypton or getting bitten by a radioactive spider aren’t realistic paths, there are practical steps that IT professionals can take to become business heroes.

How to be a hero

Saving time, reducing costs, and improving the user experience are always popular achievements. Doing all three at once is even better.

Consider utilizing an approach like the enterprise request management (ERM) framework to simplify and accelerate business processes of any complexity, from password resets to PTO requests to new employee onboarding.

ERM is a model that combines an intuitive web portal with powerful workflow automation software to make it easy for employees to request any type of equipment or shard service easily, at any time, from any device,  and check on the status of open requests;  accelerates service delivery; ensures first-time fulfillment; and reduces employee provisioning costs.

To be a business hero, evaluate the ERM approach to delivering services from IT or any functional group better, faster and cheaper.

How to be a super hero

Improving processes for business users is great. But even better is giving business process owners the tools and capability to redesign, test, tweak, and deploy their own automated workflows.

To go beyond better-faster-cheaper, look into graphical automation engine tools that enable business managers, with minimal IT assistance, to map out their own business task workflows.

These tools enable process owners to automate tasks by passing information (employee names, dates, vendor IDs, etc.) between in-place functional or enterprise management and control systems (HR, ERP, ITSM, etc.) without modifying core application code.

To be a super hero, give process owners tools to quickly and easily redesign and automate their own workflows, without risk of “breaking” any functions in legacy applications.

How to be a Guardian of the Galaxy

To achieve the highest level of hero-dom, go beyond meeting user needs to anticipating them. Famous examples of this business super power include Henry Ford, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg.

While anticipating needs can be challenging, the ability isn’t limited to visionaries. Take a look at a business process. Talk to users about their most immediate needs. Then imagine that’s done; what are they likely to ask for next? What ability to meet need B follows from addressing need A?

An example is: your organization has a busy tradeshow schedule. Your company’s exhibit booth is always stored at the same warehouse and shipped via the same carrier. Your marketing team would like the ability to specify event dates and locations for the coming year,  and have the booth automatically shipped to each new venue.

Imagine—poof, that’s done. What else is the marketing team likely to want as a follow-on?

How about connecting your organization’s universal request portal into travel sites like Travelocity, Expedia, Kayak, and Orbitz, as well as your corporate rental car provider and even airline sites, so marketing staff can get alerts about airfares as the next show approaches?

How about also connecting it to your expense reporting system so air, hotel and car rental costs can be reported automatically? And automate shipping of product literature and any equipment needed? And send reminders automatically to marketing staff about key show-related milestones and activities,  like requesting press lists?

To be a guardian of the galaxy, think beyond fulfilling the immediate needs of users, and ask yourself what other capabilities are enabled by the technology that solves that short-term problem?

One final note: heroes don’t keep people waiting. When the Penguin is freezing over Gotham City, Batman doesn’t tell the good citizens to wait while he replaces the engine in the Batmobile. Even if you’ve got a major ITSM, ERP or other system implementation project in the works, you can continue with smaller projects that add near-term value by utilizing software tools that work with what you have today as well as what you’ll have tomorrow.

Even without a cape, super strength, or x-ray vision, you can be a business hero. It just takes the right approach and the right technology.

Next Steps

Three Ways Enterprise Architects Can Conquer Business Challenges

Enterprise architects face unique challenges as the bridge between IT and the business. They need both deep technical skills and business acumen; the ability to understand the details of technical infrastructure combined with a big-picture perspective; and the communication skills to work as effectively with introverted IT staff as with extroverted business leaders.

This position wasn’t necessary and didn’t exist in the days of monolithic departmental software systems that operated independently and couldn’t “talk” to each other, but emerged as a vital need with the introduction of web services and service-oriented architectures that enabled IT components to be connected and re-used across multiple applications.

Challenges for enterprise architectsEffective enterprise architects must be able to balance short-term priorities (e.g., simplifying processes for BYOD device registration and support) with a long-term strategic design of the organization’s IT infrastructure (how will new applications, tools and processes fit with and enhance existing core systems?).

In addition to the need to possess and master this unique combination of skills, enterprise architects are challenged on a day-to-day basis to:

  • Execute on a vision for improving business processes, but often with no direct authority or budget.
  • Persuade the leaders of other business functions to believe in and help achieve specific objectives to move the enterprise forward.
  • Balance tactical, short-term, quick payback projects with strategic initiatives across the business.

Of course, the role has its attractions as well. It’s a high-visibility position with the opportunity to make a significant difference for the organization; it provides the opportunity to work with cross-functional, often multinational, teams; and the challenges (noted above) keep the job interesting.

How can enterprise architects successfully achieve their objectives while conquering the challenges inherent in the position? Here are three strategies for maximizing effectiveness:

Build support. To overcome corporate inertia and resistance to change, think about who will be positively impacted by an initiative, and how to communicate the benefits in terms that resonate with each group.

For example, a project to enable employees to report service incidents through a simple interactive web portal–rather than picking up the phone–is more likely to be embraced by those employees if it means their issues are resolved more quickly. The help desk manager will appreciate the reduction in call volume. HR will like the increase in employee satisfaction; departmental managers the increase in productivity; and executive management the decrease in support costs.

Create ad hoc coalitions and teams. Projects are more likely to succeed if those affected have input at the planning stage, and even more so if those individuals are involved in building the new system.

For example, empowering managers to create, test, and deploy their own automated processes using simple graphical tools greatly improves not only the quality of the process, but also the likelihood of adoption.

Tackle big challenges using an agile approach. As noted above, enterprise architects get involved in a mix of small, tactical improvements and large, strategic projects. Large projects are generally assumed to entail much greater cost, time, and risk.

But large projects, even those spanning the entire enterprise, can be made more manageable and less disruptive by adopting an agile approach. For example, implementing an enterprise request management (ERM) strategy to simplify and centralize employee provisioning across shared services functions can start small, with the redesign and automation of just one or a few common (or particularly painful) processes.

Then the implementation can be expanded to encompass additional departments and services incrementally. In this case, enabling process owners to design their own task flows, as cited above, not only increases the likelihood of project success and user adoption, but also speeds the rollout by spreading the work across multiple managers.

To address budgetary constraints as well as controlling the growth and complexity of the organization’s IT infrastructure, enterprise architects look to leverage existing technology investments whenever possible. Tools that facilitate communication between core management systems and data sources, and between those systems of record and user-facing systems of engagement, enable enterprise architects to improve processes and automate task workflows with minimal investment in new technology.

The Kinetic Task automation engine is one tool that can serve as the “plumbing” for cross-functional business process improvement initiatives, managing the information flow between any systems that can communicate via common methodologies such as APIs, Web Services, REST, or SOAP.  Kinetic Task is perfect for agile organizations providing the flexible pragmatic approach a scripting environment provides, while also providing the control and management functionality of a robust BPM tool.

Through communication, team building, agility, and careful technology investment, enterprise architects can successfully conquer the challenges of the role and use technology to improve business processes and outcomes.

Next steps:

Enterprise Service Integration: It’s Not Just About Data

In today’s complex technology landscape, organizations are challenged to consistently improve service delivery while reducing costs. The competitive marketplace requires enterprises to have the agility to address changing business needs quickly and effectively.

Enterprise service integration with Kinetic TaskShared-service models are the corporate norm in efforts to scale service delivery models. These shared service groups (e.g., HR, facilities, finance, operations, and IT) are using large-scale software systems designed to handle specialized requirements while meeting compliance and regulatory needs.

There is an evolving demand for integrated automation strategies to provide key business services across the enterprise. It’s not just about integrating data, it’s about delivering effective service.

A new white paper from Kinetic Data, Enterprise Service Integration with Kinetic Task, explains why service integration is a better approach than data integration, and outlines how the Kinetic Task automation engine enables service integration across the enterprise in a scalable, flexible, and manageable manner.

Long gone are the days of “single vendor” solutions for management and control across the enterprise. Organizations today utilize specialized applications for finance and accounting, HR, IT service management, supply chain management, and other functions. These applications not only come from different vendors, but often run on different operating systems, on different hardware, on-premises or in the cloud.

Point-to-point data integration is one approach to connecting applications, but is difficult to scale and nightmarish to maintain.

Allowing specialized applications to be used in a service-oriented architecture (SOA) is widely regarded as a better approach. By providing a centralized hub for service design and integration, companies benefit in several ways.  Integrations are now manageable, centralized, and standardized across the enterprise. Not only can data be integrated across systems, but approvals, notifications, and messaging can be centrally managed via a workflow automation engine.

Kinetic Task can connect to any application or database to extend the benefits of BPA to any processes across the enterprise. The engine is designed to be extended not only to COTS systems but to any system that can communicate via common methodologies such as APIs, Web Services, REST, or SOAP. This strategy applies to both triggering systems and systems involved in the fulfillment or completion of the process.

Download the white paper Enterprise Service Integration with Kinetic Task to learn more.

Make Your Customers Happy AND Cut Costs with Self-Service 2.0

Most of the time, increasing customer satisfaction also means increasing costs: adding product features, providing off-hours support, extending warranty periods, etc.. So, it’s surprising that when an opportunity comes along to both delight customers and save money, many enterprises fail to jump on it.

Yet that’s exactly the case with self-service 2.0 (which is distinguished from self-service 1.0 by being action-focused rather than knowledge-focused). In a Harvard Business Review (HBR) article, Why Your Customers Don’t Want to Talk to You, Matt Dixon and Lara Ponomareff report several provocative findings from research on customer service preferences, among them:

  • “Companies tend to think their customers value live service more than twice as much as they value self service. But our data show that customers today…value self-service just as much as using the phone.”
  • Furthermore, “this indifference holds regardless of (customers’) age, demographic, issue type, or urgency.”
  • Two-thirds of the customers…told us that three to five years ago, they primarily used the phone for service interactions. Today, less than a third do, and the number is shrinking fast.”
  • While time is a factor, the efficiency of using an ATM or airport kiosk vs. interacting with a live employee alone doesn’t explain “why we go out of our way to take care of our service needs ourselves.”

In attempting to interpret these findings, the authors hypothesize that “maybe customers are shifting toward self service because they don’t want a relationship with companies…(and) self service now allows customers the ‘out’ they’ve been looking for all along,” which, if accurate, leads to the startling conclusion that “Running your company as if customers want to talk to you isn’t just expensive, it’s potentially undermining your efforts to build longer-term loyalty.”

Avoid customer frustration: use self-service 2.0
Photo Credit: couragextoxlive via Compfight cc

What may be most surprising about the post is that it was written in 2010. Yet if you’ve tried to resolve a customer service issue recently on any number of corporate sites, you’ll realize how little has changed.

The issue in 2014 isn’t that companies (by and large) don’t offer online self-service, but that many still don’t do it well. In a final finding, the HBR authors note that “a staggering 57% of inbound calls (to customer service centers) come from customers who first attempted to resolve their issue on the company’s website. And over 30% of callers are on the company’s website at the same time that they are talking to a rep on the phone. That’s a lot of frustrated customers.”

Business-to-consumer (B2C) sites are (generally) mature in ecommerce, and making strides in other aspects of online customer service. Their business-to-business (B2B) counterparts are now catching up: according to MarketingCharts,  “B2B commerce is shifting offline to online and self-service, say 57% of B2B vendors from the US and Europe,” with 44% of respondents “also agreeing that B2B commerce is adopting B2C best practices in order to optimize the purchasing experience.”

However, “The most commonly-cited challenge in B2B commerce is providing intuitive and user-friendly interfaces for multiple touch points, cited by half of the respondents.” The challenge in optimizing the user experience and ease of use for customers explains why the HBR findings regarding the high percentage of customers frustrated with online self-service offerings remain relevant.

Fixing these problems is vital. As Forrester Research states in their January 2014 report, Transform Customer Processes And Systems To Improve Experiences, in what they term the age of the customer: ” Competitive differentiation achieved through brand, manufacturing, distribution, and IT is now only table stakes. A major source of competitive advantage is the one that can survive technology-fueled disruption —an obsession with understanding, delighting, connecting with, and serving customers.”

And obviously, firms that can reduce costs while also achieving these objectives will be at an even greater competitive advantage.

Consequently, Forrester lists among its top customer management trends for 2013 (with our comments in parentheses):

  • “Brands are turning their attention to CX (customer experience) design: More firms will realize that the right customer interactions across all touchpoints don’t just happen; they must be actively designed.”
  • “Untamed processes are getting more attention: More firms will move away from isolated BPM and/or front-office CRM projects and toward cross-functional transformation initiatives to support the invisible, untamed customer management processes critical to exceptional CX.” (This is why an enterprise request management (ERM) approach is valuable; it entails  automating and optimizing cross-functional processes, designing process steps to address the “white spaces” between functional groups where these “invisible, untamed” processes dwell.)
  • “Agile implementation approaches are scaling to the enterprise level: More firms will adopt agile project management” (as well as agile request management) “and software development methodologies based on iterative development principles…”
  • “Mobile applications are empowering employees and consumers.” (Agile service management is again also key to supporting a mobile workforce and mobile consumers.)

Tracking service-related metrics with Kinetic InfoForrester further recommends identifying and tracking specific service-related metrics (such as “the number of customer support cases closed per day, the number of calls handled per agent, the service-level agreement (SLA) compliance rate”); setting process designs  before applying technology; and overcoming adoption issues  by letting business users influence functionality.

Which leaves only the final question of how to improve the online experience for customers; how can organizations best simplify UIs to eliminate the need for customer calls, thus simultaneously increasing customer satisfaction and reducing customer service costs?

One approach is “rip and replace,” discarding existing customer service systems in favor of newer installed or cloud-based offerings. While this approach may seem to offer long-term advantages in terms of a more modern IT infrastructure, it’s expensive, time-consuming, and disruptive; and unless it can completely replace existing systems, it can actually make an organization’s technology environment more complex, and increase the risk of redundant and potentially mismatched data elements.

A better strategy is what Forrester covers in its July 2013 report, Prepare Your Infrastructure And Operations For 2020 With Tools And Technologies, of adding modern systems of engagement atop legacy systems of record (established, in-place management and control systems). This is the approach taken in ERM; leverage existing enterprise and department applications in which you’ve already invested money, time, and training—then add new technology only as needed (e.g., request management portal software, workflow automation, EAI, etc/).

The good news for organizations embracing the challenge of redesigning processes and customer service UIs to simplify the user experience is that doing so not only reduces service costs, but also increases customer satisfaction and loyalty. The even better news is that taking an ERM approach can reduce the time, effort, and expense of conquering that challenge.

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