Tackling Process Silos in Business

By CIOReview | Thursday, April 13, 2017
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An efficient workflow plays a crucial role in the growth and development of an organization. A well-designed workflow not only features a minimum number of processes to fulfill business obligations, but also involves proper communication within and between all concerned departments. In smaller organizations having fewer departments, staff members could communicate manually with each other to streamline the workflow, unlike larger enterprises with staff spread across several locations, where it becomes cumbersome. The absence of communication or process links between any two departments, results in process silos—a condition where each department operates in isolation as disparate systems within the same organization.

The reason for the formation of silos could be many, ranging from compatibility between technical platforms used by different departments to the improper communication between staff members. A typical example of this could be a situation where multiple teams working on a project are kept in the dark about the deadlines and the overall objectives to be achieved, which leads to chaos. Process silos adversely impact the benefits that synergistic operation could bring to an organization. They hamper organizations from having a holistic view of their business workflow, presenting severe challenges during auditing. Further, silos within one department could potentially affect the performance of another. For example, if a product development department refuses to divulge details about the latest features in a product to the sales team, then the latter would be left with no choice but to communicate potentially incorrect information to clients. For this reason, business executives often describe silos as a bane.

Eliminating Silos

A strategic approach to eliminating silos could be modeling the intra and inter-departmental workflow such that the completion of one process immediately triggers the commencement of the next. Such a model enhances the accountability of each department besides ensuring the traceability of data used for completing each process. This provides end-to-end visibility of the entire workflow, helping organizations eliminate any possible silo or redundancy. As obtaining visibility manually is a tedious task, organizations have begun to automate the workflow. Automation maintains continuity in workflow, besides providing visibility into the data being used at a given instant of time for each process; this eliminates the possibilities of process and data silos. With software being the preferred approach for automation, the popularity of Business Process Automation software has reached new highs.

Business Process Automation

Business Process Automation (BPA) refers to the automatic scheduling of a predefined workflow or a specific function associated with it. The workflow is usually initiated by a triggering event using a certain data set. Once the first triggering event reaches a logical end, it prompts the next event in sequence using another data set, eventually providing a macro-level view of all the processes and data used at each stage of the workflow. This simplifies the tracking of silos if any, following which organizations can eliminate them. BPA software also optimizes workflow and reduces the scope for human error, improving efficiency. BPA software can be deployed either as a standalone module or as a part of a larger business management strategy. It can be configured to a wide range of activities within an enterprise including areas like human resources, sales operations and supply chain.

Importance of Metadata to Realize BPA

While BPA software can provide a vast range of benefits to an organization, it must be noted that automating workflow is not entirely straightforward. This is because companies for various reasons (such as cost affordability or hindrance to operations) tend to function with numerous legacy systems, which are not capable of supporting the integration of various applications. This makes achieving full scale automation challenging.

Despite the challenges, organizations have been able to find a way out, using the metadata associated with each system. Metadata is any data that offers basic information about other data or assets. To understand this better, we consider the example of a legacy asset management tool which can neither be integrated with BPA software nor replaced (due to its crucial nature). This presents a challenge, as activities pertaining to asset management cannot be automated despite having BPA installed. Suppose the renewal is pending for a software license, then BPA tools can use the metadata associated with it like the purchase order number or the date of purchase to trigger alerts to the concerned department to initiate the renewal process.

Conclusion

As organizations continue to expand, handling the processes becomes increasingly complex. Automating all the possible functions using the BPA software would help companies in scaling up their efficiency. While legacy systems continue to pose a problem, the ability of these tools to act upon metadata to automate the relevant process, should be leveraged in its full capacity to achieve business goals.