Who’s Afraid Of The Dark Process?

kaustubhcapgemini

IT geeks love new terms and acronyms. One such term, which grabbed attention, was “dark processes”, conjuring up frightful images.

Analysts like Gartner’s Jim Sinur define “dark processes” as an unofficial process used to deliver results but not visible to management. We can extend this to processes which neither add much value nor have any management visibility. Just like dark matter overwhelms visible matter in our universe, dark processes overpower standard processes in many organizations. Many of us use worksheets to overcome and outdo standard processes.

During a typical work day we use many “customised” processes to complete our tasks. Say to create a business plan, will you use standard processes? Even in highly automated and standardised processes, like recruitment, there are many dark processes that are a result of tradition or individual preferences. Even a repetitive but critical management reporting, many reports get compiled and consolidated manually.

In our experience, organization has many invisible processes. You would have heard “Our sales people rely on a monthly report generated by our marketing; and this is prepared by John, our marketing manager.” When you check with John, he says he simply sends the campaign and sales data to Mary, their marketing analyst. Mary says that she follows a historical practice, of entering the data into an excel sheet created by Steve (who has retired), and forecast numbers are generated. No one knows the logic built and most importantly why.

Businesses change fast and processes change faster. And IT systems are not able to cope with it. Hence people resort to other means. And soon many people start using it and over time everyone identifies with these new methods.

Uncovering Dark Processes

 The processes can be classified as Stars, Sidekicks, Gems and Trash. Let us examine each one of these processes.

 

What kind of processes?

Examples

What do I do with them?

 

Stars

Core processes critical to an organization. Are well understood and largely automated or at least have a well defined standard operating procedure

 

Order to cash for an online retailer or accounting processes for a bank or POS processes for a store retailer or meter data management for an utility.

Re-use and automate using process centric tools like ERP or BPM.

 

 

Sidekicks

Well understood and most often automated but non-core to the organization. They play a supporting role.

Recruitment or payroll process for an organization.

Important and these processes are candidates for outsourcing or in-sourcing.

 

 Gems

Have immense value but go unnoticed. This is what Jim refers to as Dark Processes. Final output hides the “innovation” and “creativity. And are used in fast changing situation.

Assortment planning or forecasting, R&D processes in pharmaceuticals or new products conceptualization in insurance

These gems need to be isolated, formalized and re-used extensively.

 Trash

These processes are simply deviations for historical reasons. These are dark processes too but are unimportant.

 “Status reporting” in a non-standard format.

These processes should be in the shredder and be replaced by sidekicks or stars.

A chaotic situation emerges when organizations launch extensive transformation initiatives involving process re-engineering and optimization. Since the dark processes are hidden even from experts, “healthy” processes are optimized ignoring the gems that make the organization unique.

We need to unearth these dark processes and ensure they are properly catalogued. Rather than checking with SMEs it’s best to get to end users and understand these processes. While initially the task may look humongous, it will normally be easy and involve subtle variations. And users will welcome it. For example over a period many manual processes have been automated and these have become standards.

Flexible IT platforms like BPMS platforms will be crucial to process consulting initiatives as they allow rapid automation and incubation of new processes. These platforms allow new processes to be integrated into the “stars” of the organization without introducing any risk.

It is also important and critical to realize that organizations will need higher degree of process flexibility. And hence it’s important that we re-use some of these dark processes and help have a balance between flexibility and standardisation. A “process store” where people look up and promote these dark processes will be an interesting option.

Just like we teach children not to be scared of the dark, we shouldn’t be afraid of dark processes.

(The article has been co-authored by Kaustubh Gokhale, Vice President and Head Centers of Excellence, and  Tanmay Dey, Manager, BPM , Capgemini India)