A software that helps to streamline processes ? Run away !

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Photo of various tools and instruments with WORKFLOW letters imprinted on a clear wrench surface

When I look at what B2B vendors say I notice deep changes. While the message has always been about operations efficiency, it’s now focusing more on the end user, on the employee experience. “Your employees will love it”. But the previous promise N°1 has not disappeared (and for an obvious reason) : process efficiency. “We help you to streamline your processes”.

Best practice vs Best practices

Any major vendor (and even smaller ones) have an asset : the best practices observed in their client’s projects. That’s a key element of their value proposition : we know the best practices, our solution is optimized to implement them and we’ll help to do it.

Knowing that there are two possible approaches. Having a “catalogue” of best practices and work with the client to find the one that fits his need the best or impose the “one best way” on the client.

The second option seems to be the most popular today. On the client’s side it helps to spend less time on studies, benchmark, reflexions on he best approaches and reinventing the wheel. No choice, no option, trust in the vendor who has learned with hundreds of clients. On the vendor’s side it makes development and evolutions more simple and helps to avoid intricate projects that used to be popular in the past but are not welcome anymore because of complex and time consuming settings and end users that are allergic to complication. Let’s also notice that the Saas approach is not the best one for deep customization.

The painful lesson of ERP project

In “Does IT Matter“, Nicholas Carr pointed at something that’s still relevant today. ERPs, when they were very popular ans seen as a panacea by organizations expecting spectacular improvement in performance, had absolutely no impact on competitiveness. All business implemented the same products, set up by the same consulting companies, based on the same best practices. As a result :

• those who made a successful implementation saw impressive improvements in terms of efficiency (I’m not mentioning those who experienced impressive failures in terms of costs and delays).

• with everyone starting to operated in the same way, no one managed to build a competitive advantage based on processes. Most of times the result was between levelling (and not always up) and status quo.

So, actually, if the purpose is to achieve something like that, the “one best way” is preferable : the same result is achieved in less time, with less money and with less risks regarding deployment.

Can you built a competitive advantage on your internal practices ?

That is the implicit acknowledgment that adopting the same HR, supply chain etc processes than your competitors is not an issue. So it means that businesses don’t think they can differentiate or build a competitive advantage based on an in-house process. Or, maybe, that doing like others is seen as a safer way than trying to make a difference with the risk of being wrong and losing.

I can’t believe that a business can’t differentiate from competitors based on its internal practices. More, and even if very few have chosen this approach, some large businesses chose to develop custom software to avoid being forced to adopt the same practices as their competitor’s. If a lot has been said about the last Delta’s IT outage, this may not make us forget that it’s admitted in the industry that the airline’s Passenger Service System is a source of competitive advantage versus competitors using solutions from the market that standardize their practices and don’t offer them the same liberty to act and adapt.

Streamline, not standardize

Behind the promise of streamlining processes, it’s more a standardization of practices that is at work. Less risk but less innovation and few hope to build a competitive advantage based on processes.

The end the only thing that’s really streamlined is the vendor’s developments.

Choosing the “one best way” is a reassuring approach. But the door must be left open to improve or hack it to be innovative and to implement differentiating practices. But not all vendors make it possible and businesses must be aware of that.

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