If you want to read the first part of Toan Nguyen’s chronical “Digital Transformation: the theory of evolution of business software users – Part 1“.
Stage 3: Create processes to give meaning and to facilitate “Taylorization”
Once the computer tool has been mastered, the user faces the challenge of integrating it into his work environment. Knowing how to switch between functions of the application is one thing, but what do these functions do and with whom?
Business processes provide the reply to this question; they are translated operationally into procedures.
Remember that the very essence of a business process is to focus the actions of all players on external customers by describing tasks (e.g. “create a customer contract”) and their chaining (logic charts) and defining the roles and responsibilities of all the people involved in the process. (Note that there also exist “support processes” for internal customers such as the Human Resources Service.)
As enterprises become more digitized, the process activities become heavily dependent on the corporate information system and its tools. Inputting data on a screen is just one step in a workflow involving other people each of whom has a well-defined task and role.
This process-based approach has been impacted by modern computer tools to such a degree that there are now Business Process Management (BPM) platforms that automate and/or orchestrate tasks. This is a kind of “Taylorization” of all corporate activities, not just factory-type manufacturing ones.
The user must find his bearings in this forced march; he must know his role and understand what he is supposed to do! To help him do this, enterprises continue to produce a multitude of procedure manuals, dense and detailed but often totally impenetrable to users – even when they are backed by business process training sessions.
Widespread adoption of ERP software is symbolic of these changes, for it is used to manage large numbers of key business processes (procurement, sales, production, accounting, etc.).
Yet today it is clear that many users are struggling to cope with this (r)evolution. Companies report problems of user uptake and acceptance of their ERP system. It is by no means rare, for example, to see staff using MS-Excel for order processing instead of their ERP system. Why? Because it’s easier to simply cut and paste a purchase order into a spreadsheet!
At this stage the user faces a major – and difficult – evolutionary leap forward: he needs to integrate completely the computer tool in his activity.
To give another example, many enterprises observe that their salespeople find it painful to adopt CRM software. They sometimes see the system as a means of spying on their activities or just a pointless administrative burden rather than a helpful tool beneficial for them and the company. But the Sales Manager knows the system is an invaluable management aid that helps optimize the sales effort. So an accompaniment (change management) approach is vital to ensure that users grasp the operational significance of their jobs.
It is not easy to impose a “process vision” of software usage. The main challenge is to make business processes as simple as possible – which can be difficult in traditional silo-type organizations – and then make users aware of these issues that may appear far removed from their own roles and responsibilities.
Stage 4: Fully understand the signification of data
In this “Big Data” era, collating and analyzing much more systematically all the data scattered across the organization has become a veritable competitive challenge. Good quality data is essential to generate reliable indicators. According to the accepted “GIGO” (Garbage In, Garbage Out) computer science paradigm, bad input will always result in bad output! Information system users provide the inputs, so it is they who determine the quality, good or bad, of the outputs. Data input in an open door, let’s not forget.
It is vitally important that users understand the signification of what they are doing: first the signification of business processes and then the signification of the business data.
Take the example of an international group consolidating its human resources workforce. It will want to collect information about all its managers. However, the definition of a manager might be quite different in Sweden and Brazil, for instance! Similarly, consolidating multi-country or multi-activity financial results necessitates an alignment of the financial indicators to ensure consistency. In this context it is important that users fully understand the signification of their data in order to supply the best information possible. Users must have a global vision of their data: their definitions and criticality, how they are exploited, and so on.
Once the user fully understands his data he will have made an important step forward from simply knowing how to use his application: he will in future contribute to better control of the global business. A salesperson’s data are principally his catalog of offers, customer segments, contract types, etc., whereas financial staff are more concerned by definitions of indicators and the chart of accounts. These examples illustrate why users need to fully understand their data. Yet in practice they rarely do, not least due to the sheer volume of different data types to be processed.
Stage 5: The autonomous, committed user
In the final stage of his evolution, the business application user is fully “mature”. All his actions are intuitive and he knows his applications like the back of his hand. He is aware of his role and its impact on the processes and of the contribution of his (good) data to the success of his enterprise.
Is there anything still missing?
Autonomy, first of all. Applications change over time, as do procedures and actions. The user should ideally handle these changes himself, playing his part in the unceasing evolution and adapting to his mutating environment. It’s up to him to find the information he needs and keep his expertise up to scratch (just as he does for his own personal needs, by consulting Wikipedia for example).
Secondly, the user must be involved (which is in fact a prerequisite for autonomy). OK, but involved in what? In a user community, for example, in order to discuss good practices, news, and so on with other people.
The involved user creates a positive feedback loop with the designers and administrators of his software, who are also part of this community, by giving them information about his experience and any problems with the software.
The user has now reached the final stage of his evolution, participating in a “virtuous circle” which provides the foundation for continuing and durable progress.