Don’t Go Back To The Office Without Fixing Your Process Debt

Don_t Go Back to the Office - IMA

Ike Kavas, Forbes Councils Member

Forbes Technology Council

Founder, CEO and Chief Productivity Officer at Ephesoft. Passionate tech Innovator focused on context-driven productivity.

If Covid-19 has taught us anything, it’s that we can adapt. We can adapt to working from home, ordering our groceries online and standing six feet apart. The same is true for businesses, as we’ve seen many adapt to new protocols, new technology and new workforce issues almost overnight.

So it’s odd that in other ways, many companies are slow to implement changes that can transform their business into a more efficient and productive operation, ultimately offering a higher value proposition.

The area that is most in need of this change is in process debt, or the baggage that results when we use a quick, easy-to-implement process to address a problem in the short term rather than enable a long-term, more efficient process. Like any interim solution, process debt may have some benefits, but as Gartner, Inc. has pointed out (subscription required), it’s a “suboptimal activity or process that might have some benefits, but generates a sustained negative impact on cycle time, error rates, quality, consistency, complexity or customer experience.” To further this point, a global automation study by Unit 4 revealed that office workers “spend 69 days on admin annually that could be spent on primary job duties,” costing businesses over $5 trillion a year.

As employees begin to return to the office, there is a great opportunity for companies to begin to modernize their processes and get out of debt. Businesses that don’t could find themselves at a serious disadvantage. Normally, companies are disrupted about every 15 years. I believe that any company that goes back to the office without fixing its process debt will be disrupted by a startup in less than five years.

Eliminating Process Debt

Process debt happens when shortcuts and quick fixes become the norm and no one bothers to implement a more efficient way of getting things done. Eventually, this eats into an employee’s productivity because he or she is performing the same “shortcut” over and over again when a permanent and much more efficient process could have been implemented the first time around. These shortcuts build up “debt” and affects the whole organization by slowing things down. This is not much different than continuing to pay interest on credit card debt without paying down the principal.

How can companies reduce or eliminate their process debt? The first is by redesigning your core system for bigger tasks. The second is by moving to low-code or no-code technology solutions.

Core System Redesign

Core business systems that are large scale and depend on humans to operate are already outdated, but many companies still depend on them. It’s why so many companies have a large accumulation of process debt. These core systems have to be redesigned from scratch and move to a platform powered by AI, productivity enhancements and user experience. Otherwise, that debt is only going to grow and create greater productivity loss.

Let’s use an example of a company that needs a redesign. An insurance company has been in business for 40 years, starting as a small organization and growing into a national company. Along the way, it acquired 10 other companies. As this happened, its core business grew over time, but it also had separate systems in play for the subsidiaries it acquired. This created a very complex system — 10 separate operating systems meant that the executive team’s reporting took additional time because it had to put 10 separate reports into Excel, compile them and process them. With one system for all the subsidiaries, that reporting could be done almost instantaneously. Powered by AI, the new system would make decision-making and productivity higher among users, reducing or eliminating the process debt that was making the company so inefficient.

Low/No-Code Technology

While redesigning core systems is vital to addressing process debt, it doesn’t make sense for every department within a company to do so. The insurance company, for example, doesn’t need to overhaul its process debt in accounts payable or employee onboarding through its core system. For these adjacent systems, low-code and no-code technology can empower employees to simplify their processes with little effort.

Low-code software can be fully customized with very little programming to build an application in a few days or, sometimes, in a few hours. No-code goes a step further, enabling just about any employee — even if they don’t have any programming experience — to develop a tailor-made application.

Let’s say you work in marketing when a customer calls to report a change of address. A marketing employee doesn’t handle those kinds of requests, so that employee has to log in to each individual system the company uses to determine which system to use and how to find a change of address form. Low-code/no-code would allow the employee to create a system or robot that can go to these individual systems and immediately find the information needed. It’s a simple thing an employee can do and one that doesn’t need a project manager or a multimillion-dollar core upgrade.

Consider low-code and no-code software as complementary to the core system redesign. You need to fix the process debt in these adjacent areas, but you do not need a massive effort to do so. While the company executives and project managers are busy implementing the core systems, they don’t need to worry about the smaller systems because their employees can easily automate those processes themselves.

When eliminating process debt, companies must choose their battles and determine what needs a core system overhaul and what can be done via low-code/no-code software. Regardless, if companies return to the office post-Covid-19 without completely making their processes digital, they could lose the opportunity to bring the company into the 21st century. New startups will be completely automated, and even though these companies might be small, they’re growing fast and will inevitably disrupt the companies that continue to be weighed down by inefficient processes.

Covid-19 has taught companies to quickly adapt. Now they need to modernize their processes and get out of debt.