Business Process Optimization: How to Improve Workflows
A transformation is afoot in the world of Business Process Outsourcing (BPO).
A formalized BPO industry took shape many decades back with the primary objectives of saving labour cost while performing repetitive tasks, locating larger labor pools for outsourced tasks, creating efficiency and controls for the outsourced, mostly repetitive tasks.
As we probably know, in a competitive world, which is where businesses function, a business is never satisfied. It needs to keep doing more and more and more. It needs to find ways of enhancing revenues. It needs to find ways of reducing cost. It needs to keep finding competitive advantages to keep at bay pretenders snapping at its heels. It needs to find value propositions that enable it to stay relevant in the eyes of its client segment.
Business is littered with the corpses of corporations once considered unassailable in their chosen areas of operation but fell by the wayside as they were unable to effectively negotiate the changes demanded by the sheer passage of time, emerging technologies and customer preferences. Kodak and Nokia readily come to mind though no doubt there are many others.
BPO is no different. Like any business, it needs to stay relevant and competitive. It has had its share of challenges and has been reinventing itself over and over again. It has also brought into common consciousness processes and technologies that were either considered relevant only for manufacturing, or too academic for business applications.
One of the most significant contributions of BPOs has been towards business process optimization. With consistent performance leading to greater trust, and with the growth of consumer franchises greater and greater volumes being processed by BPO partners, they are now taking the lead in defining how business processes should be run for best outcomes.
The tail seems to be wagging the dog but the dog is happy.
So much so that NASSCOM, the industry association for IT and BPO in India, has even been suggesting that the industry should be referred to as Business Process Management (BPM) as it now goes beyond merely providing a data outsourcing solution and actively provides solutions for better management of business processes.
oWorkers has been supporting clients in its chosen areas of data services for over eight years. We have helped clients define, stabilize processes and even implement updated ones to better achieve business goals. We are GDPR compliant and ISO (27001:2013 & 9001:2015) certified.
What is business process optimization?
In layperson terms, it can be used to refer to any activity that leads to an improvement in one or more business processes.
Businesses being entities driven by the profit motive, everything inside them gets measured in monetary terms. Eventually, all improvement has to trickle down to the bottomline.
Revenue and Cost being the two main components of the bottomline, or profit, improvement should result either in doing the same thing at a lower cost or doing the same thing and realizing higher revenues. In general, though, improvement and optimization focus on the cost side by working on the various processes through which delivery of the company’s products and services is effected. On the revenue side, while optimization could have applications everywhere, in general, marketing and promotion strategies are leveraged to yield better, or different, results from what have hitherto been experienced.
The above notwithstanding, as the trickle-down to the bottomline effect of many changes might not be possible to isolate, businesses attempt to find surrogate variables through which improvement can be implemented and the impact measured. Some examples of areas which might be suitable for improvements and where it might be possible to measure the outcome, could be:
- Customer satisfaction score
- Customer response time
- Transaction wait time in queue
- Training duration
There is really no end to possible improvement areas. It depends to a great extent on the nature of the business. Also, it does not necessarily have to be a customer impacting area like transaction wait time in queue, which impacts the customer directly. Even internal processes like training, if we are able to enhance, will eventually, at a holistic level, impact all areas, including customers. For example, if the provider is able to reduce its training duration, it could lead to a cost saving with the possibility of the savings being shared with clients.
oWorkers has consistently been ranked among the top three providers of data based BPO services in the world. Our hands-on leadership team, with over twenty years of experience in the industry, leads our projects and improvement initiatives designed to add value to clients as well as our internal processes, using the latest techniques and processes.
The need for business process optimization
Let us look at a few examples of human endeavor from sport, often considered to be the pinnacle of physical human striving.
Sir Roger Bannister ran the mile, a distance of 1600 metres, in a time of under 4 minutes in May, 1954. The first human to do so. Many had tried earlier and failed. It was, then, considered the ultimate athletic achievement, one that could not be repeated.
By the eighties, just one generation later, Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe were already running the mile in under 3 minutes 50 seconds.
Do you know the current record? It is 3 minutes 43 seconds or thereabouts. 17 seconds shaved off a time once considered impossible. In just two generations.
According to data collected over the years from Grand Slam events, the average first service speed was under 170 kilometres per hour in the early nineties. Measured in 2008, the first serve speed had increased to over 180 kilometres per hour. Armed with better physical training, and improved equipment, youngsters are serving faster and faster. Of the twenty fastest serves recorded, apparently only one belongs to the period before 2000.
Wherever you look, swimming, mountain climbing, marathon running, sprinting, continuous improvement is evident.
Business is not immune to this facet of human endeavour.
Man’s effort at continuous improvement is as applicable to business as any other facet of life.
And it makes sense too.
After all, in a competitive world, everyone is striving. To do more. Faster. Higher. Better.
If you don’t make the same effort, your business will run the risk of obsolescence and fading away as clients keep looking for creating value for their own businesses.
Hence, continuous improvement is not a choice. It is a survival strategy.
With three centers across the most favored BPO destinations in the world, oWorkers provides services in over 22 languages commonly spoken across the world. With us as a partner, clients can focus on their core business and seek to bring about transformational change with the support of our teams who are trained on continuous improvement methodologies.
There is no standard template for doing something better. Change can come from anywhere. In the context of a business, any business process optimization is likely to follow the broad sequence of steps outlined below:
Identification of need
Well begun is half done, they say. No different for business. However, this is also the most difficult stage. How does one glance across the shopfloor and identify the one process that is most likely in need of some betterment? After all, the business has been using the same processes for some time. One cannot randomly pick up one for special treatment. The right start is important in getting the right results. Here are some methods companies have used for this identification:
Competitor benchmarking – This is a common activity for many businesses, at least businesses with scale. Periodically it makes an effort at comparing itself with its closest competitors in an effort to do just this, identifying areas where the competitor is performing better with the aim of understanding the reason so that it can play catch-up.
Are they employing fewer people for the same output?
Are they able to fulfil orders two days faster than your business?
Such variances, once identified, become the starting point of your efforts at business process optimization.
Trend analysis – Businesses, again, at least ones with scale, also make a periodic effort at establishing trends in their own performance over several periods of measurement.
Transport cost has gone from 6% of Direct Cost to 10%. Is there a problem?
We recruited twice the number of people we hired last year. But our revenue is the same. What is the issue?
Such variances, again, provide leads into the areas which could benefit with some deep dives and detailed analysis.
Common sense – By virtue of being in a business for long, leadership and management teams develop a sixth sense about it. They may not be able to always back it up with data at the start, but they can be trusted to have an inkling about the trouble spots in their processing facility. Very often these provide a quick start to an investigation which often leads to some change being implemented.
At the point where the initial ideas are being put together, the amount of information is limited and may only be available at a reasonably high level. The discussion at that stage is based on estimates, guesswork, hunches and possibilities.
That is as good a start as one can get, as it is impossible to have all information available upfront.
Based on the considered opinion of people involved in the discussion, the area needing work is identified which is the starting point of the next phase, that of initial information collection and study. This will serve to validate the initial hypotheses and will determine whether to go deeper into this particular area or drop it and look at other possibilities. The team may need to go through this phase a couple of time before the area is identified and agreed by all stakeholders.
Creating a project plan
From this point onwards there is no looking back. Quite often the initiative is launched in the form of a project with defined ownership and participation and in a format the success of failure of which could be measured.
This phase serves to define critical parameters like:
- What is the objective; what is the initiative trying to achieve
- Process or processes in scope and, by exclusion, the ones not in scope
- Resources available to the project team, including senior level sponsors
- Measurement method, including an external to the project resource for doing the measurement
As organizations seek to conduct their activities in a professional and transparent manner, measurement becomes important. This avoids later conflicts when credit for improvements is being sought and either rewarded or refuted. With clear measurements, the organization is better placed to know the real results.
Once data becomes available, the process of analysing it begins. It is quite possible that while analyzing we find that data is deficient in some aspects and hence a few cycles of data collection, or measurement, may be interspersed with the analysis phase. It is also possible that additional data is required to reach meaningful conclusions. Either ways, the Measure and Analyze phases are likely to run in parallel for a bit.
The Analyze phase should result in bringing out areas which are likely to benefit based on which the project team will agree on specific actions that are likely to result in business process optimization In the identified areas. Again, no clear process for arriving at the actions is available. A lot of t is based on discussions. There are some tools that are available that some teams find useful, like Fishbone Analysis, Pareto Analysis and old-fashioned Brainstorming.
The I for Improve is sometimes also used to denote Implementation.
The rubber now hits the road. The theoretical work that was being done by collecting data, analyzing it and making recommendations, now needs to be introduced into the ‘live’ system. After all, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
This can also be seen as a ‘test’ run that is supported by the might of the implementation team that is available to step in if things don’t go as planned.
One of the criticisms improvement initiatives in BPOs have faced is that while a project is in progress and the project team in place, progress is good. In most cases the project results in successful implementation of change. However, once the implementation in a Business As Usual (BAU) manner is done and it becomes a part of normal work, improvements achieved often slide back.
The other criticism is that while improving one parameter that was the goal of the project, some other parameters that were not being monitored, suffer.
The Control phase is meant to ensure that business process optimization achieved is for good and the situation does not revert back to where it had started from. In addition, all other relevant parameters stay either where they were or improve. In other words, the business does not lose on the roundabouts what it gained on the swings.
Note: From the third step onwards, this methodology merges with a methodology known as DMAIC, that stands for Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve and Control. DMAIC is a popular methodology commonly used either as a standalone or as a part of other methodologies like Lean and Six Sigma, to achieve lasting change.
The Quality team of oWorkers is conversant with a variety of quality systems that not only include Six Sigma, Lean and DMAIC, but also with ISO, Kaizen, COPC and TQM (Total Quality Management). They are constantly looking at possibilities of adding value through business process improvement, releasing value for oWorkers as well as clients.
With oWorkers, you get a partner who is an extended part of your organization, looking to bring about positive change both for you as well as for oWorkers.
Having strategically decided to work with employed staff and not freelancers, we take responsibility for their development and training, including training on quality systems to select staff. We are a preferred employer in all the locations we operate from, which gives us the flexibility of offering peaks in staffing to cater to seasonal or other volume spikes, of upto a hundred people in 48 hours.
We stay committed to bringing about positive change in all communities we work with. The work you outsource to oWorkers will enable us to introduce a few more people to the digital work, hopefully bringing about fundamental change to them and their families.