Post-it notes, Notepads, calling a colleague, stretching above cubical wall and yelling “Hey, have you received the PO yet? Can I invoice?” have become a part of our day to day work. How many times you have to ‘run around’ to get an order processed? Umpteen phone calls, emails, contract reviews etc. All this is normal; we need to do this to get the work done. Right? But do we actually know how much time is spent on these activities? What will be the impact on efficiency if these are eliminated?

When I ask a business-operations person what their ordering process is I get a response something like this – “We enter a purchase request. It gets reviewed by manager, or by a VP if the amount is more than $10,000. Then there’s a legal review of contract. Once the request is approved, the contract is signed and PO is issued.” A clean process we all agree. But what actually happens in quite different. There are dozens phone calls, emails, notes taking, redlining etc. that happen in between entering a purchase request and the issuance of a purchase order. But do we capture all that work? Not likely.

These activities are done ‘outside’ your systems of record. These may be SFA, CRM or ERP systems. These activities are a part of what we call ‘a shadow process’. They are performed to fill in the white spaces left by the processes that are locked in hard coded applications. Such activities are rarely documented, never measured, never optimized. And this creates problems.

The problem is that these shadow processes cause lack of visibility and measurability. Since these are manual tasks they are often less efficient and consistent. Moreover, since they aren’t visible you cannot improve them. Another issue is of audit-ability. If these activities are not recorded there is no evidence that they happened. This can expose an organization to compliance fines or sanction and increase the audit costs.

Visibility of the end-to-end process is critical to business improvement. End-to-end means that single process orchestrate all the systems, activities and sub processes that are needed to execute the process. This improvement is possible only if the process designed and the process in execution is the same. This means that the shadow processes have to be eliminated. Collaboration is important to our work. I am not discouraging this. But collaboration can happen within the context of process and should be recorded with the particular instance of the process. When an agent is completing an order and needs some information from a colleague, she can initiate collaboration in form of chat session or discussion thread from within the order entry form. That way all the collaboration is recorded within the process.

With such a setup we can exactly determine how long the refund process takes, what activities could be redundant, how much resource is needed during peak season vs. off-season. Such information is needed to optimize and improve the processes and resources.

Visibility and process management has to be at the business level. If IT manages the process this is how the conversation between a customer and the business will go:

Customer:”Hello, I haven’t received my order, can you please check?”

Agent: “Sure. May I have your order number?”

Customer: “b23472c47”

Agent: “I’ve checked and it’s completed in the ordering system.”

Customer: “But I haven’t received it.”

Agent: “There aren’t any system errors – the order was processed fine.”

Customer: “When should expect to receive it?”

Agent: “I can restart the server and see if it gets pushed to provisioning system. It is an overnight batch process. Call us in two days if you don’t receive your order.”

A really poor customer service experience.

Analyzing the operations for such shadow processes and eliminating the process whitespaces is the first step towards process efficiency. KANA SEM allows business users (not IT) to describe their processes via a visual designer, which is then deployed as an application. KANA customers can capture all the events and data changes and can monitor, at any point in time, the progress of a process. If there are any delays, alerts or resource changes, business users can quickly take an action to rectify the situation. When there is a real-time visibility into your processes, business managers can take real-time actions to adjust the process whenever the need arises. So no more chasing POs or unhappy customers…

(Ajay Khanna is Senior Director, Product Marketing, KANA)