Standardise to reap global gains

Standardising operations is about more than just systems implementation, it depends on a sensitive approach to cultural change

Many organisations operate over multiple sites and in multiple regions. This has come about because of the nature of global businesses and the increased merger and acquisition activity throughout all industries.

Consequently, many offices, although within the same company, are operating in completely different ways. This is not simply due to different languages, but also due to different operating environments, processes and technology being in place in each location.

Although local offices operating in silos from each other has worked for many years, more and more companies are finding that with globalisation comes the need to operate in the same way across all markets. This is driven by the need to have more flexible and cost efficient supply chains, which in turn requires consistency of business intelligence.

To deliver this change in business model, many organisations are moving to a more central style of management. Managers want all areas of their responsibility to operate in a consistent way so it is easier for them to interpret trends, identify differences in performance between offices, and to be alerted to impending problems.

Companies with different set-ups in local offices are finding it hard to standardise the business processes across all locations to achieve these objectives. As a result, offices are duplicating work and reporting, simply because they are not following the same processes. This is why many companies are taking the global decision to standardise business processes.

However, this is not just as simple as implementing the same underlying applications that support business processes in each office or country. Far too often organisations look at this as a technical problem, when in fact technology is just part of the solution.

Most of the time, the cultural change required is much more significant than the technical challenge. Organisations therefore need to review processes and operating models from different offices and locations, and design a business process framework that bridges this gap.

Many companies struggle with bridging this gap because they do not undertake the necessary consultation with local offices and do not involve the employees that will be using the processes and underlying systems at an early enough stage.

The important thing to remember is that it is not just a systems implementation project, but a transformation project.

For employees to change the way they work they need to understand the rationale behind the change and feel that they are involved in the end result. Companies will never be able to design and implement a system that all employees love, but by involving them they can ensure it meets their needs and gain their buy-in.

Taking key users from each local office and getting them involved from the beginning will help in the long run, even if having many differing opinions to begin with can be difficult to manage.

In addition to getting end-users to feed into the project and ultimately buy into it, they will also be returning to their offices with an expert level of knowledge to share with their colleagues.

While it is important to ensure that different sites do not operate in silos, it is equally important to make allowances for specific local requirements, especially those that are legal or statutory in nature. Without this, sites will simply resort to the "old way" of working after the initial changes.

By ensuring the appropriate level of sponsorship and buy in, and viewing the project as a business transformation initiative rather that a systems implementation, businesses can become more efficient and effective, and ensure duplication of work and different styles of reporting are a thing of the past.

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