A colleague has the dubious honour of being the risk consultant in our department.  He’s responsible for making sure we have controls in place to mitigate the likelihood of risks turning into adverse events.  It’s a fairly thankless task, necessarily bureaucratic. At regular intervals he reviews our processes to see if they can be simplified.

For the intranet, it means we have solid governance in place, and a manageable amount of paperwork around that governance.  But the refining and trimming of processes isn’t happening across the business – which means that, given the pace with which the digital agenda is shaping requirements, inflexible processes are starting to place a substantial brake on progress.

Brian Solis, in his 2014 foreword to Paul Miller and Elizabeth Marsh’s The Digital Renaissance of Work, highlights that companies can be ‘weighed down’ by the processes that support years-old IT investments. To me, it seems obvious that companies should adapt their processes to ensure they remain fit for purpose as the changes wrought by digital transformation take effect.

Yet Jane McConnell’s most recent update to The Organization in the Digital Age reports that “Process simplification has started in some organizations as they recognize the waste in time and efficiency of overly complicated processes”¹. (My emphasis).

Shouldn’t businesses already be well on the way to adapting their processes to cope with digital change?

Who are the guilty parties when it comes to processes? The culprits vary  – a legal department obligation here, an information security impact assessment there, procurement supplier vetting… the list goes on. In truth, there’s probably little digital teams can do to improve these processes other than to highlight where they are problematic and hope someone takes pity.

Where there is more scope for influence, however, and arguably where there should be a sympathetic ear, is with IT processes.  Many of my colleagues wouldn’t draw a distinction between ‘IT’ and ‘digital’  – and indeed, a consensus is building that compartmentalising digital is increasingly counterproductive:

– but let’s face it, while the distinction might be lost for many, those in IT and digital can be uncomfortable with each other’s way of working.

What I’d term ‘core’ IT is very process-driven. Broadly, it deals with business applications plus the architecture and networking infrastructure that makes them happen. Processes are an essential part of managing that estate effectively, and some of the processes will have been in place for years, perhaps not significantly changed from when they were established. People are needed to manage the processes, hence sizeable IT department organograms.

Digital, on the other hand, can look organisationally incoherent, not least where businesses have spun up digital teams to meet fast-changing external demands. We see digital services managed from marketing departments, customer-facing functions, communications teams, and HR.  These services are focused on end user activity and experiences, rather than the nuts and bolts that make them work, and their management and implementation might be light on process, however, it’s rare that they can happen in full isolation from IT department requirements.

This means that for digital teams who are used to working quickly and adapting what they do to meet emerging demands, being obliged to go through lengthy processes designed for a pre-digital age is an active barrier to work.

We all know that where processes create barriers, the temptation is to go round them. Indeed, if we can, we will, which means that if a process has become something to be circumvented, it is no longer resolving the issue it was first put in place to address.

As part of digital transformation, then, internal process simplification clearly needs to be more of a priority, and quickly, otherwise the demand to deliver effective digital services for customers and employees simply won’t be met.

¹From the executive summary to the 10th edition of The Organization in the Digital Age, by Jane McConnell.