Business Process Standardization and Improvement: A Guide for CIOs

In this guide, we’ll explain how business process standardization, management, and improvement can benefit CIOs in today’s fast-paced and uncertain economy.

Business process standardization is a practice within the discipline of business process management, aimed at improving the efficiency and effectiveness of business processes.

Though business process management is a discipline within its own right, standardizing processes can and should be applied to every area of business, including IT.

In today’s digital workplace, it is particularly important to standardize IT-related processes and services continuously – after all, modern organizations are regularly adopting new technologies and processes.

Below, we’ll learn more about how standardizing processes can help CIOs…

  • Improve the efficiency of new and existing business processes
  • Keep the digital workplace more adaptable, agile, and relevant
  • Decrease worker frustration and confusion
  • Enhance workplace satisfaction

To start, let’s learn the basics of business process standardization and management by answering a few frequently asked questions about the topic.

Business Process Standardization: An Introduction and FAQ

Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about business process standardization, which can help serve as an introduction to the topic.

What is business process standardization?

Business process standardization refers to the application of rules, protocols, and procedures to a particular workflow or business process.

Standardizing a process involves:

  • Assessing the current efficiency of the process by analyzing variables such as resources used, productivity, time to completion, and waste
  • Redesigning the process in order to enhance its efficiency and productivity
  • Implementing the new process, analyzing the performance once more, then modifying as needed

Improving efficiency is one of the major benefits of standardization, though it is certainly not the only one. 

What are the biggest reasons to standardize business processes?

There are many benefits to standardizing business processes, such as:

  • Increased efficiency and effectiveness of processes
  • Shortened time to completion
  • Decreased confusion about process requirements or expectations
  • Improved innovation
  • Simpler workflows and a better experience for employees
  • Lower costs

The larger an organization is, the more it can benefit from standardization – though even small businesses can see significant improvements from standardization.

Processes that are not standardized, after all, can result in lost income, lost work hours, frustration on the part of customers and employees, and more.

Process standardization vs. improvement: is there a difference?

Business process standardization can be confused with business process improvement. Though both fall under the discipline of business process management, they are slightly different.

Standardization, as mentioned, refers to the creation of rules, guidelines, procedures, and expectations for a given process or workflow.

Business process improvement, on the other hand, refers to the process of analyzing and improving a specific process.

In many cases, the two go hand-in-hand – standardizing a process often improves it by default. 

Improvement, however, specifically carries the intention of enhancing a process, its outcomes, and so forth.

Business process standardization vs. process mapping: are they the same?

Business process mapping allows for the easy visualization of a business process.

Like other types of mapping, such as user journey mapping, this diagram helps viewers:

  • Quickly understand how a business process occurs
  • Grasp each step or task involved in the process
  • Identify the key elements of the process, such as inputs, actors, actions, and outputs
  • Codify the process into a template

Ultimately, business process mapping is a process that can, like a template, streamline standardization.

This technique is a form of business process modeling, which will be later on in this guide.

How often and when should business processes be standardized?

In larger organizations, standardization should be a continuous process, and many enterprises have business process managers whose job is to regularly enhance existing processes.

The reason is simple: larger companies are undergoing continuous change and improvement, and with the continual introduction of new business processes comes inefficiency.

As long as the gains associated with process improvement exceed the cost of hiring a business process manager, then business process management is a worthwhile investment.

Businesses whose size falls below a certain threshold will find it more useful to outsource business process management or assign these tasks to an existing staff member.

What is business process management?

Business process management is the management discipline dedicated to business process standardization. Though standardization itself can be performed by any business unit, business process managers specialize in a variety of practices aimed at enhancing an organization’s processes.

These practices all fall within the business process management life cycle, and they include:

  • Business process standardization. Standardization, as mentioned, refers to the development of procedures, protocols, rules, templates, and so on. Providing a set of standard procedures or best practices ensures that employees adhere to the same workflow each and every time they complete a particular business process. Not only does this provide a level of quality control, it increases process efficiency and performance.
  • Business process analysis. Business process analysis is one practice within business process management. As the term suggests, its intention is to analyze an existing business process, then determine the efficiency and effectiveness of that process. Useful metrics to explore include the process’s costs, its time to completion, the quality of the output, and the quantity of the output.
  • Business process design. Designing business processes refers to the creation of new processes from scratch or redesigning existing ones. This practice goes hand-in-hand with the other processes covered here, including analysis and standardization. When designing new processes, the aim remains the same as with every other step in the business process life cycle: maximize efficiency and performance.
  • Business process improvement. Business process improvement is specifically aimed at enhancing an existing process. Managers will evaluate the process’s performance against the goal of the process, redesign or modify it, test the new process, and continue in this way until the performance of the process has improved. 

Ultimately, every organization manages its processes to a certain extent, whether or not they have a unit dedicated to this function.

Why Business Process Standardization Matters for CIOs

In the digital age, strategic CIOs must adopt an ever-increasing amount of responsibility. 

Once, IT was considered a back-office or tertiary function that could operate more or less independently from other departments. 

Today, however, IT teams have become core drivers of business value and they must coordinate closely with other business functions.

Among other things, CIOs must assist with business processes related to:

  • Digital change strategies
  • The adoption of new technology 
  • Existing IT services 
  • Data and data technology
  • Cyber security and digital resilience

Since digital technology is so technical and since it is continually evolving, creating efficient digital business processes require a certain amount of digital savvy. 

It is certainly not necessary to be a coder in order to use digital software efficiently, but it is necessary to have super users, effective training, and a digital adoption strategy, as we’ll see below.

Top Challenges to Business Process Standardization

Though business process standardization is relatively straightforward, in complex enterprise settings standardization can be a challenge.

Some of the most common challenges include:

  • Having multiple processes to support several separate systems
  • A lack of visibility into data
  • Costs
  • Fragmented or siloed business operations
  • Inefficient cross-system training

One common thread underlying many of these challenges is the concept of fragmentation. This should come as no surprise since the modern digital enterprise continually implements new technology so often.

The ongoing proliferation of technology, combined with the inherent complexity that exists within large companies, only makes standardization more difficult.

Simplifying that complexity is the best solution, and this can be accomplished with the right strategy and the right tools.

For instance, if siloed data inhibits the standardization of processes, then a strategy to tackle this could revolve around data transparency, enabled by the right software solution.

If ineffective training inhibits employee productivity, then digital adoption solutions (DAPs) can streamline workflows with automated cross-platform training.

Performing assessments at the outset of any standardization project will help managers identify such problems early on, as well as potential solutions.

Business Process Standardization Software and Platforms

Several categories of software can assist with standardization, including several that are not strictly considered business process management platforms.

There are several factors to consider when evaluating vendors, such as:

  • The current state of the organization’s business processes
  • How large the organization is
  • The reason for adopting business process management software

Each type of software presents a wide range of features and is designed for a different target audience, so it pays to clarify these details before actually identifying potential vendors.

Here are a few examples of the types of solutions that can benefit a business:

  • Business process management platforms. Large organizations recognize that business process management is a continuous life cycle, which continues to evolve alongside the organization. Platforms that dub themselves “business process management platforms” are enterprise-grade solutions that offer extensive features, above and beyond basics, such as business process mapping. Modern-day providers offer AI-driven user interfaces, customer-facing low-code app development, real-time business process analytics, and more.
  • Workflow management software. Workflow management is occasionally used synonymously with business process management. A workflow, after all, consists of a series of tasks with a definite objective, just as business processes do. Workflow management systems, however, share the same goal as project management systems – to simplify and streamline an existing business process. These tools, in other words, are not built for business process analysis, design, and improvement.
  • Task management and project management tools. These offer the least flexibility, though they can still be quite useful, especially for individual employees or smaller businesses. These tools offer features that are very useful to anyone managing a recurring workflow or a one-time project. They can certainly be customized and used as process templates, so they can be said to offer standardization features, at least to an extent.
  • Digital adoption platforms. Digital adoption platforms (DAPs) can be used to automatically guide and train users on a specific series of tasks. In this way, they can help managers define and teach standard procedures to employees, quickly and efficiently. Certain platforms, such as the WalkMe platform, also contain analytics that can provide detailed insights into the performance of a workflow.

In some cases, it may be useful to choose more than one type of process management software, since their features will not always overlap. 

Best Practices for Standardizing Digital Business Processes

Digital technology continues to evolve, which means that organizations must continually adopt new technology and new processes in order to stay relevant.

This continual evolution necessitates the continual standardization and improvement of business processes at multiple levels. 

IT teams must work with various business units to coordinate the interaction of individual software programs, technology toolboxes, the IT infrastructure, and users. These must all be strategically chosen and designed in order to maximize the efficiency of business processes.

For instance, an individual software platform may come packed with features and it may seem desirable on the surface, but its value depends on several other factors.

Software is only useful if:

  • Employees have the right skills to use it
  • That software can integrate efficiently with other workplace technology
  • The software platform is fully utilized after it is implemented

The efficiency of business processes, therefore, depends a great deal on elements such as these.

Below, we’ll focus on the importance of the digital side of business process management and why it is important to rethink the notion of standardization.

Digital Transformation and Business Process Design

Digital transformation has become a common term in the modern business world, referring to a wide variety of organizational changes and business processes.

image source: deloitte.com

Though the term can have different meanings depending on the context, it generally refers to the use of digital technology to help an organization evolve.

Digital transformation initiatives often leverage technology to:

  • Improve the customer experience
  • Enable completely new business processes and functions
  • Enhance organizational performance
  • Gain a competitive position
  • Innovate and develop new products or services

Inevitably, these types of initiatives involve organizational change – in some cases, rapid and radical change. And with those changes come new business processes.

In order to implement such digital transformations effectively, there are a number of required ingredients, such as:

  • A structured approach to change management
  • Business process management
  • An agile approach to organizational change and business process improvement
  • An effective digital adoption strategy

Ensuring the efficiency of new business processes, in other words, requires more than just business process standardization. It also requires a top-down approach that takes into account the human side of the equation, as well as the technology itself. 

Business Process Improvement and the Digital Workplace

The digital workplace refers to embedding new digital tools and processes into the work environment. 

Yet, as mentioned, the effective operation of the digital workplace doesn’t just depend on software deployment, it also depends on elements such as:

  • Business process design and standardization
  • The integration of workplace tools
  • Employees themselves, including digital engagement, digital savvy, and digital skills

Of these, digital savvy is perhaps the most important.

After all, deploying digital tools and designing processes often depends on logistics or the skills of a small team of specialists. A cross-departmental team, for instance, may be able to design an effective and innovative business process, and an IT team may be able to quickly and efficiently deploy the relevant tools.

However, to successfully implement those tools in the workplace, employees must have the required digital savvy and digital skills.

Business process standardization can ensure that employees understand expectations and adhere to the appropriate best practices – but an appropriate employee training solution is required in order to ensure that business processes can actually be implemented effectively.

Digital Adoption Strategy and Business Process Optimization

Digital adoption includes software implementation, but extends its purview further.

A digital adoption program focuses on:

  • Improving employees’ digital skills in order to enhance productivity, engagement, and the employee experience. Digital skills determine how much employees are able to contribute to the workplace. In the digital age, a skilled workforce can improve organizational performance, agility, and innovation, among many other things. An unskilled workforce on the other hand, can inhibit innovation, lower business process efficiency, and more.
  • Fully utilizing technology and maximizing software ROI. There is a tendency in business process management to focus on the process itself, rather than on the less quantifiable factors that can impact process outcomes. Digital skills, as just mentioned, is one such element. Another is how fully a platform is actually utilized. If software is only partially utilized, then business processes will become less efficient and effective.
  • Streamlining and improving the efficiency of digital business processes. Today, digital technology underpins all business processes, so it is almost redundant to say “digital business processes.” Regardless, the intention of a digital adoption strategy is to improve the productivity of users, the value of products, and the effectiveness of business processes.

In short, adoption takes a comprehensive view of the digital side of the business and helps businesses integrate new tools as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Since digital transformation depends so heavily on the effective implementation of new digital tools, digital adoption is a crucial business function for the modern enterprise. 

How Digital Adoption Platforms (DAPs) Enhance Business Processes

Digital adoption strategies are aimed at the efficient integration of new tools into the workplace, by providing employees with flexible, personalized training.

In the modern workplace, perpetual learning is fast becoming the norm, and employers are often tasked with training, reskilling, and upskilling their employees.

However, there are several reasons why traditional training approaches simply cannot keep up with the fast-paced digital work world:

  • Traditional training methods, such as classroom training, are not scalable or cost-efficient
  • Online courses, such as video classes, provide general information, but job workflows require training that is personalized and specific
  • Older approaches to training cannot provide personalization at scale
  • Digital technology changes rapidly, which requires a training approach that can change just as quickly

In the modern enterprise, where productivity depends on effective training, these types of problems can result in significant inefficiencies and even productivity problems.

Digital adoption platforms (DAPs) solve these issues by delivering automated, individualized training at any scale. 

The WalkMe digital adoption platform, for instance, offers core features that include:

  • In-app walkthroughs
  • Software tutorials
  • Broadcast messaging
  • User-friendly chatbots
  • Software analytics
  • Task automation

Utilized properly, these platforms can offer major benefits to a forward-thinking enterprise, such as:

  • Easy standardization of business processes
  • Improved employee productivity and performance
  • Greater overall software utilization
  • Streamlined employee onboarding and training
  • A better software experience for users
  • Higher software ROI and product value

Ultimately, these platforms can contribute to the improvement of organizational performance by improving employees’ digital savvy, cultivating a culture of self-reliance and learning, and increasing the workforce’s ability to adapt to change.

Such traits are valuable under any set of circumstances, but in today’s uncertain economy, it is more important than ever to have a culture and a workforce that can adapt quickly.

After all, in the wake of the current COVID-19 outbreak, many organizations are driving organizational change forward at a rapid pace – if employees cannot stay productive and adapt, then the organization won’t be able to either.

Advice for the “Next Normal” of the 2020s: Design New Processes Now

During the pandemic, organizations around the globe were forced to undergo massive changes in a very short period of time. Many businesses were forced to close in order to protect the health of their employees and their customers.

Others implemented telecommuting arrangements and shifted their business priorities.

A few forward-thinking companies, such as Accenture, chose to accelerate their digital transformation programs rapidly. 

At first glance, taking such unexpected action in the midst of a global crisis may seem illogical, but Accenture is not the only company that recommends pushing digital transformation agendas forward.

McKinsey also suggests compressing long-term digital transformation programs into the short-term, advising that the 2020s will be markedly different from the years previous.

They dub this the “next normal,” a new era that will require significant changes to business models and processes.

What the “next normal” is and how it impacts businesses

A number of experts and industry leaders suggest that many of the trends we are experiencing today will have a lasting impact on the post-COVID world.

For instance:

  • Robots have been deployed into customer service roles and public service roles
  • Telehealth and telemedicine have increased in popularity
  • Contactless payments have also seen an increase in use
  • New health policies and regulations have transformed the way brick-and-mortar businesses conduct business
  • Many offices have become virtual workplaces almost overnight

Some of the changes here will be rolled back partially and others will be rescinded completely, while others are practically irreversible.

For example, BCG says that “we could see a greater focus on crisis preparedness, systems resilience, social inequality, social solidarity, and access to health care.”

All of these are, as BCG claims, certainly plausible, yet they are not certain.

What is certain is that some advancements simply will not reverse after the crisis.

Advancements being made in telehealth and telemedicine will continue to evolve, even after the pandemic subsides. And there will undoubtedly be a greater interest in telemedicine, both from patients and providers.

Digital trends such as these, as we will discover below, have sped up significantly during the crisis and such trends will almost certainly reshape the post-COVID era to a certain extent.

How to plan for the new normal

To accommodate the disruptions covered above, many organizations have been forced to implement a range of new business practices.

Given the uncertainty that characterizes the current crisis, it is certainly difficult to forecast with any great deal of accuracy – after all, every country, region, and industry plays by a different set of rules and will react differently to new developments.

However, the key turning points will remain the same, and those revolve almost exclusively around government-mandated restrictions.

Creating plans that revolve around these restrictions, Deloitte explains, will allow organizations to remain both flexible and prepared, even if the recovery timeline is unknown. By planning for several levels of restrictions – peak restrictions, the relaxation of restrictions, and the near-total removal of restrictions – businesses will have plans that can be implemented in all of these potential circumstances.

Regardless of how aggressively an organization pursues transformation and change during this crisis, organizational change is inevitable to a certain extent. 

To execute such changes successfully, organizations should:

  • Develop plans for multiple scenarios, as mentioned above
  • Design and standardize new business processes 
  • Implement a structured approach to change management
  • Focus heavily on enhancing the digital side of the organization

Of the trends mentioned earlier, one of the most central is the continued digital evolution of technology. 

New innovations and advancements in the field of digital technology, for instance, will not be reversed, and several have pointed out that the COVID-19 crisis has become a catalyst for digital transformation.

Since certain digital trend have accelerated so rapidly during this trend, new digital business processes should become a major point of focus for CIOs and IT departments.

A How-To Guide for Business Process Standardization

We have already seen the advantages of business process standardization and improvement, which can increase operational efficiency, improve the employee experience, and more.

Also, it has become apparent that new business processes, plans, and standards will become sorely needed in the coming months and years, as the world transitions out of the COVID-19 pandemic and into a new normal.

Though planning for multiple scenarios, as Deloitte and other research firms have suggested, may entail more legwork, the fundamental principles for business process design and planning remain the same.

Below, we’ll explore the steps involved in the business management life cycle, which are essential for the development of any new business process:

1. Strategize and set goals

The first aim should be to define the purpose and scope of the design or improvement plan, as well as the purpose and scope of the actual business process in question. These guidelines will help define exactly how efficient or inefficient the process is in achieving its stated goals.

During this stage, the target process or processes should be clearly identified, along with goal-driven metrics and KPIs. These will be used to analyze the target process both before and after implementation.

This strategy will help to guide the rest of the project, by keeping it tied to a specific agenda and specific performance goals. 

2. Assess and analyze

When improving existing business processes, it is important to analyze that process as-is. 

Or, when designing completely new business processes, it is also useful to analyze analogous processes and use them as a basis – after all, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. 

This analysis should incorporate as much data as possible, using interviews, process documents, performance data, and so forth.

All of that information can provide insight into the existing version of the process, what works, what doesn’t, and how improvements can be made.

3. Design and model

The previously collected data should be enough to design or redesign the target business process. 

A business process model, such as a flowchart or a task list, can be a useful way of outlining each step in the process. 

Though they may appear simple on the surface, the clear definition of each step in a process is essential for understanding the process, improving efficiency, and defining standards.

4. Execute

Once the process has been designed and clearly communicated to the relevant personnel, it should be executed and evaluated.

The performance metrics covered earlier, such as time to completion, costs, quality, and output, can then be compared against previous versions of the process.

Employee feedback can also provide useful insight into the process’s performance and that feedback can even be mined for ideas on how to further improve the process.

5. Refine

Organizations are like living organisms – they continually evolve, mature, and change.

Business process improvement, therefore, should be a perpetual process that continues throughout the life span of the organization. 

As long as there is room for improvement in quality, cost, timelines, and productivity, processes should be continually refined over time. 

Chris is the Lead Author & Editor of Change Blog. Chris established the Change blog to create a source for news and discussion about some of the issues, challenges, news, and ideas relating to Change Management.