The adoption of cloud computing is often seen as a way to consume IT as a utility, just as a company purchases electricity or raw commodities. Many organizations also see cloud as a way to accelerate the deployment of new capabilities that will make them more competitive in their markets. While these are powerful reasons to go to cloud, there are other benefits.
Cloud migrations can be long and often complex transformations. However, as an organization untangles its legacy business systems, their functional business processes can be improved as well.
Many organizations are stymied in their ability to scale due to legacy business processes put in place as part of past implementations of Oracle, SAP and Infor. Many of these processes were appropriate at the time, based on the business climate, velocity and what was known. But frequently, they become anchors, limiting a company’s ability to respond to market conditions. Some examples of inefficient processes include:
- Travel Approvals – Many organizations require actively approving all travel requests for every individual, rather than focusing on the exceptions to corporate policy. This leads to an abundance of approvals that management must review, creating information overload that prevents leadership from seeing and managing the exceptions that should be the focus for improvement.
- Timecards – Many organizations gather highly detailed data about the time and activities of employees. Much of this data is complex to collect and never used by leadership. Staff will often find shortcuts for entering time, leading to low quality data that is far less useful if management chooses to review it.
- Expenses – Many expense tools are very complex, requiring multiple levels of review and approval against a complicated set of organizational policies. As with travel approval, this leads to an overemphasis on approvals for compliant expenses, while missing the opportunities to look deeper into the exceptions that can lead to organizational and process improvement.
- Human Resources – Many organizations have moved to a “self service” model of HR tools, with the goal of enabling managers and individuals to complete activities once done by HR generalists. While that goal is positive, these systems are often overly complex, written in HR language and difficult for staff to understand and use.
All these challenges manifest themselves through complex business processes that lead staff to find “work arounds” that get enough of the job done to stop getting notifications from the tools implementing the processes. Unfortunately, these “work arounds” often lead to poor quality data, preventing decision makers from effectively responding to the real conditions within the business.
The cloud by itself cannot resolve these poorly implemented and overly complex processes. But the forcing function of a cloud migration can provide the organization with a compelling event to trigger a deep evaluation of which processes are right for the organization, and how they can be implemented in a cloud-first world. Some of the opportunities for improvement include:
- SaaS – Implementing SaaS solutions can free a business from managing tools, allowing staff to focus on improving outcomes. SaaS vendors also bring a very deep expertise in the business functions they provide, bringing industry best practices to your migrations and implementations.
- Process Simplification – Processes should focus on ensuring a business is protected and efficient. They therefore should be simplified, so you can respond to and manage exceptions, while allowing compliant work to move along without friction.
- Need Versus Want – Many functional business tools have a long list of features that the users had asked for, but then never used. Cloud migrations are an opportunity to review past functional requirements and validate whether the early assumptions of feature needs were correct or not. Planning for features that an organization may need one day is often a futile exercise. Organizations should instead focus on providing the capability that is needed, and minimize the number of features and exceptions put in place for events that will most likely never occur.
- Culture – The organizational culture must be adjusted to focus on simplification. Staff should be encouraged to minimize friction when individuals are completing their job functions. Organizations with a constant improvement mindset will be able to move rapidly in a cloud-first world, respond to change and quickly adjust to new business conditions.
This transition to cloud is a lot to bite off for many organizations. To execute properly and completely, it requires a sustained commitment from leadership over a long period of time. But the long-term payoffs will enable an organization to lay the groundwork for future organizational advancements and transition to a culture of constant improvement.
There are many promising technologies on the horizon to enable businesses to respond better to market conditions. Improvements in artificial intelligence and machine learning will enable more and more manual business processes to be automated, freeing staff up to handle exceptions and manage change. The first step to consuming these new technologies is to deploy the tools and implement the business processes in a flexible way that can respond to change and realize regular improvement.