Has the increasing sophistication of technology helped to evolve business processes or have evolving business processes driven the pace of technology change?
Robert Epstein, business lead for small and medium business at Microsoft UK, examines the way that technology and business process have changed and asks whether IT should fit your existing processes or whether your processes should fit with new technology. Is there a right or wrong way and what are the options for an SME?
Although most advisors would argue that it is important to map any technology system onto your existing business processes rather than mapping new processes to a particular technology, it would be naive to believe that business processes have not evolved alongside these technology systems. Indeed, evolving technology has seen new ways of work emerging in enterprises of all sizes, so SMEs should not be afraid to adopt new ways of working made possible by technology that can deliver value to the business.
SMEs need to seize any benefit they can and technology can be a real source of competitive advantage, often improving processes both within the organisation and with its customers. Take, for example, Microsoft Small Business Server (SBS), a package of products that gives business the freedom to collaborate much more effectively and share information across the business whilst keeping it in a central location accessible to all employees. A customer that comes to mind is The Professional Finance Centre by adopting SBS, they are now able to work at home, to pick up their e-mail, diary and business contacts both from their home PC and their mobiles - it has totally changed the way they run their business, but in a way that makes it easier, not more complex.
For me, however, the most exciting development in business process management from a technology perspective has to be Web 2.0 which offers a vast potential for change, delivering entirely new ways to find, use and share information. We are no longer tied to searching through regimented file structures mimicking a physical filing cabinet but have now been freed to organise our information by keyword, topic, or even by the specific expertise of the author.
Another great step forward we have to thank Web 2.0 for is new ways to collaborate online. Gone are the days when a face to face meeting was the only way to get your business done. Thanks to software such as Microsoft Sharepoint Server, Groove and in the cloud offerings such as Microsoft Office Live Workspaces we can now edit, store and share documents online. No matter where you are, as long as you have access to the internet you can access the latest versions of important documents, share your updates and even discuss them as you work. Businesses can also meet virtually thanks to technology such as Microsoft Live Meeting which allows you to collaborate online in real-time, delivering presentations and sharing information during teleconferences.
The difference now is that intelligent business processes are developed alongside evolutions in IT. IT gives us a toolkit that allows us to develop new processes hand in hand with the needs of people, delivering increasingly efficient processes tailored to the needs of the business' users. Do not leap to buy technology for technology's sake think first about whether the systems you are looking at will fit with what you need from them.
My advice to businesses is to look at the way you currently run your business and where you think it might be improved. Speak to an expert, such as a Microsoft Small Business Specialist, who will have experience of addressing the business issues of SMEs through technology. It could be that technology is the answer to improving a process - or it could even be that your current technology is hindering your process. Whatever the solution, you must make sure it is focused around people and that you have buy in from your people because without them you cannot succeed.