In today’s business environment, organizations know that to be competitive, they need to respond to change—especially as customer expectations increase. Customers are more mobile today, and so expect a certain level of quality of service regardless of where and how they conduct business. Customers also expect organizations to respond with a significant amount of personalization.

It is extremely difficult to meet these challenges in a timely manner if business processes are widely dispersed and inconsistent. Consistent core business processes and data representation is essential to allow decision makers to respond quickly to the changing market.

Defining and maintaining consistent core business processes is a lot easier said than done but critical if an organization is to survive in today’s market. In this article, I’ll define core business processes and explain how to differentiate these processes from their implementation. I’ll also pass along some tips on how to prioritize which processes to investigate first.

Defining the core business process
A “core” business process is defined as the minimum individual tasks to be accomplished to provide a certain level of consistency in output—without any consideration to hardware, software, or performance.

When a core process is implemented, anything can be added to make the process more efficient, but nothing can be eliminated. When the core business process states that certain tasks must be performed in sequence, then it must be reflected in the implementation. In the same manner, any specified formulas or steps associated with a task must also be reflected within the implementation.

When asked, most organizations will claim that their core business processes are documented. Yet, typically, it is not the core business process that has been documented but the implementation of that process within a particular system. In this scenario, the documentation contains system or application process models reflecting implementation details such as “enter username.” Most times, documentation of a core business process doesn’t reflect whether a user is identified by a username, smart card, biometrics, or some other method of authentication, as long as the organization is satisfied with the accuracy of the documentation. Identifying and authenticating a user is an implementation issue, not a business process.

It’s not easy to separate implementation from the core business process. Just take one business process and see how readily you can identify the major tasks involved without letting implementation issues creep into the mix.

And it only gets more difficult when core business processes become more intricate and critical within the enterprise.

Using the right process methodology
The methodology used to identify, derive, or create core business processes will vary with an enterprise’s size, industry, and culture.

But there are several proven methodologies and supporting tools for deriving and improving business processes.

The first three steps are straightforward:

  1. Investigate and remove hurdles relating to organizational cultural issues, governance processes, and supporting infrastructure up front.
  2. Educate participants on what a core business process is, how it will benefit their respective business area, and the chosen methodology that will be used to derive these processes.
  3. Don’t try and do all of the critical business processes at once. Suggest a phase approach with a sound transition strategy.

Once you’ve identified core business processes, it’s important to prioritize which ones to tackle first. A new business channel is a good place to start, as business analysis and requirements gathering have likely already been done, which should provide a good jumping-off point for identifying core processes. Next, tackle any business process areas featuring disparate results between business units.Then, look at processes for which new enabling technology is being considered. Rounding out the list are those processes supported by different implementation and those supported by more than one location or business.

It’s never too late to start
If enterprises are to remain competitive, they need to reduce the complexities resulting from widely dispersed and often disparate business processes. Establishing consistent core business processes is just one step toward meeting increasing customer expectations in today’s market.

Dan Oliver is a managing consultant based out of the Washington, D.C. office of Headstrong, a global consultancy that transforms established companies into digital businesses that generate added customer and shareholder value.

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