The Path to Business Process Improvement
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The Path to Business Process Improvement

By Ed Toner, CIO, State of Nebraska

Ed Toner, CIO, State of Nebraska

A recent trend in business culture has me on guard. Reader, beware of the misconceived notion that the technical proficient Chief Information Officer is an insufficient communicator in the boardroom. Both public and private sector organizations rely on business acumen to innovate processes, but a CIO with technical knowledge has the essential skills that are required for true, automated process improvement.

CIOs today are being asked to increase their focus on business knowledge, communication and leadership. Critics have argued that a technology background with hands-on experience is less important (or not at all important) in boardroom decision-making. In my experience, I have seen the opposite to be true. Process improvement is more than a skillset of the analytically minded C-level executive with a structured personality. Process improvement requires technical decision-making and methodic, practical analysis of research and data.

I began my process improvement journey in the birthplace of the science – in manufacturing. My career began at an HVAC manufacturing plant and from there I went to work for a chemical manufacturer. I ran the gambit of Total Quality Management, COBIT, Zero Defects and Just-In-Time manufacturing. An Industrial Engineer, I improved how our product was made by focusing on Quality, Speed (Efficiency) and Cost. Isn’t that what Business Process Improvement needs to do?

Coming from an academic background with experience in Industrial Engineering, I was asked multiple times throughout my career to assist the business in process improvement efforts. This became frequent after I left manufacturing and entered the IT world of finance and transaction processing, so I obtained a Six Sigma Black Belt to enhance my credibility and continue my evolution as a process improvement consultant. My company paid for the training, and my consulting led the business side to enhance their processes which resulted in more than $3M in recurring annual savings during the first year. What’s more this was done without any technology enhancements.

Lessons in business process improvement can be gained from Information Technology models. By following basic best practices such as Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL), Information Technology Service Management (ITSM) and Agile development (or even by following the basic Software Development Life-Cycle (SDLC)), businesses have been making process improvements since the 1960s.

My simplest explanation of process improvement is this, “improve how a product is made by focusing on Quality, Speed (Efficiency) and Cost”. More precisely what I mean is this, initiate process improvement via statistical analysis, design improvement, step reduction, waste reduction, quality control and efficient problem solving. The theory always applies whether I am analyzing and designing plant facilities, assembly lines, equipment and material handling systems, new vehicle registration, unemployment claims, transaction processing or technology enhancements. Thissame basic thought process is the driving force behind process improvements and the reduction of duplicative processes in business and in IT at the State of Nebraska.

Process Improvement efforts are the same today as they were back when I was in manufacturing. You may now know them as “Six Sigma” or “Lean”, but they have been around for decades. What remains consistent is that true process improvement only takes place when both the technology organizations and the business organizations embrace the need for change and cultivate the skills that are essential to identify what needs to change. When business executives engage CIO’s, then they can examine how technology will be able to address the challenges of aprocess and deliver optimal results.

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