Business processes should evolve as the business climate changes by keeping an eye out for emerging trends and finding opportunities to pull ahead of the competition.

As the year rapidly comes to a close, it seems an opportune time to discuss systems and process trends. I find that those clients that pay attention to trends and find opportunities to leverage them often surpass their competition.

I’m working with a diverse portfolio of manufacturers and distributors ranging from $6 million dollar, family-owned businesses to $100 million dollar facilities of multi-billion dollar, global companies. When I see trends that cross company-size, geography, position etc., I take note. If you can apply the “right” best practice to the “right” situation at the “right” time with the “right” people, you can dramatically increase the value of the business.

Several of the latest process and systems trends that pop to mind include:

  1. The value of common sense processes: A few months ago, I wrote an article on uncommon common sense, and I have to say that my most successful clients by a long shot are those that employ common sense best practice processes. This does NOT necessarily mean they are lean gurus, Six Sigma black belts, systems gurus or even Harvard grads. Instead, my best clients involve their people, listen for ideas, leverage collaborative relationships and utilize what makes sense.For example, I’ve had several clients with unsung heroes working in their midst. One planner could turn straw into gold in terms of optimizing operations, inventory levels and service levels but was largely overlooked because she didn’t “talk the talk”. Another client had a data ninja who was a superstar in developing common sense best practices in leveraging data for management decision-making but he was not fully appreciated. Another had a transportation wizard hidden in the background because he didn’t “talk the talk”. In each of these situations and countless more, I have helped my clients achieve significant goals by finding these already-existing stars and asking for common sense processes that will be effective.
  2. Simple process visuals: Again, I often find my clients and contacts getting carried away with the latest and greatest processing mapping techniques. Of course, these can often times be useful; however, what really brings results is simplified process mapping and process visuals. In essence, break the process into manageable chunks and steps. Make it understandable to the masses. You’ll be surprised what you find when you simplify and clarify. For example, one of my clients told me earlier today about a great success she had in operations efficiency by shortening the production line so that she could “see” the process gaps. Simplicity works.
  3. Excellence in project management: Undoubtedly, those clients who are expert in project management succeed. The best plan with poor execution will fail whereas a medicore plan with exceptional execution will likely succeed. I don’t see this as a conflict with lean concepts. To me, Kaizen events just bring the right parties together to focus time to understand processes, review gaps, brainstorm improvements and implement whatever is achievable within the Kaizen window. Actually we could go back to point one – uncommon common sense! As one lean guru told me, the ideal Kaizen is set up to be a chunk which can be fully completed during the event. With that said, the same types of project management skills are needed – period.
  4. Business intelligence: The value of rapidly sifting through mounds of data, finding the right data and analyzing the data so that information is available for strategy setting and decision-making is becoming cornerstone to success. Those clients with a data ninja should hang on to him/her for dear life! It is not as easy as it looks to achieve; however, there are tools available to make it more achievable.Many ERP systems have business intelligence type tools with drill down capabilities. If you have an ancient system, there are always options available to add-on or simply utilizing Microsoft Access can be sufficient. One of the data ninjas I worked with in my career prior to consulting was a MASTER wizard with Microsoft Access and data. This article reminds me of several fun people I’ve worked with over the years….one of my first clients was a huge trade association that wanted to select the right business intelligence software to support their business and customer base. There is power in leveraging data!
  5. e-commerce: E-commerce has become an assumption. In almost every ERP and systems selection project I partner with clients to complete, e-commerce is an expectation. If it is not an immediate requirement, it is a “must-have” in terms of business growth. Manufacturers and distributors are having to either compete with Amazon or are having to live up to Amazon-like expectations whether or not Amazon will ever become a competitor. According to my research study on the Amazon Effect, building out technology infrastructure including tools such as e-commerce is key to meeting customers’ expectations.
  6. Leverage smart technology: In essence, everyone should NOT use the same technology. Since I help clients identify and leverage systems and technology to support their business growth and to elevate business performance, I often run across a common theme when it comes to leveraging technology – a race to the fads! Instead of worrying about keeping up with your neighbor or competitor and use the same latest and greatest technology or system they use, take a step back and determine what would help your company achieve its strategy or strengthen its competitive advantage. You’ll spend a whole LOT less yet you’ll be FAR more effective.Pay attention to trends for opportunities to grow your business, become more efficient, increase margins and the like. I’m launching a new service, the Profit Chain Accelerator Program to identify and leverage these types of opportunities. Email me for more information.