Going Green and Going Bananas
To go "Green" requires changes to how people work, interact and use technology. Columnist Ian Gotts, CEO and founder of Nimbus, argues there are both business and environmental benefits to BPM and cloud computing.
Having just moved to San Francisco to the Nimbus US HQ, it is pretty difficult to miss the ‘greening’ trend. Northern California is the green heartland. Yesterday I cycled past a Toyota Prius Hybrid with a bumper sticker "Tree hugging dirt worshipper." Everything and anything is recycled.
But there is a rising consciousness driven by companies wishing to be seen to be green. Oil companies changing themselves to energy companies. Car companies pushing more and more efficient cars, electric cars, and hybrid cars. IT companies are touting their green cloud credentials. Governments, not wanting to be outdone, are spending millions printing and distributing booklets telling people how to save the planet. Surely NOT printing and distributing them would help save trees and transport costs?
Green Bananas: Consistency is key to results
How much of this green activity really makes a tangible difference? It is just a cynical marketing ploy for companies or individuals clearing their conscience, whilst driving to the recycling dump in their 6.3 litre V8 SUV?
It is kids, with their beautifully innocent view of right and wrong, black and white, that make you think. Walking along the edge of the Bay on a very bright Sunday with our 2 children aged 9 and 12 we noticed one of the houses had very prominent solar panels. So the discussion got onto saving the planet, the recent Environmental Summits and how businesses consume natural resources; electricity, cars to get people to work and air travel.
Pretty deep stuff for a Sunday morning. And then the discussion got onto my company, Nimbus. "So Daddy, if we are all meant to be saving the planet, what does your company do to help?" It got me thinking – far beyond recycling and turning lights off. What do we do, what more could companies do, and what stops them?
Show me the green
The inevitable issue is that building a business case for green is often difficult. Planet vs profits. Short term tactical often wins over long term strategic. Does it have to be that way? Clearly some initiatives cost money and the tangible benefits are difficult to quantify. Equally, there are changes that can give a return in hours, days or weeks.
What is that true is that virtually every change requires some change in business operations. People need to work differently, interact with each other differently and use technology differently. And that means it needs to be communicated clearly and consistently to those affected. Which is why a consistent, company-wide BPM platform is a cornerstone to a green strategy.
There are lots of changes that companies can implement that make both financial and environmental sense, especially if you take a long term view, and I know that a lot of companies are starting to wake up to those benefits. We've made some changes at Nimbus, for instance, that could be considered "green" but also have important side benefits.
We've invested in web-conferencing and a VOIP phone system, for instance, to enable staff to work from wherever works best for them, but still feel connected. This has been helped massively by implementing Salesforce Chatter, the social media / micro-blogging platform. The early sceptics are now committed chatterers as they see the benefits of increased collaboration. We now use web-conferencing far more and fly less than we ever did. I gladly gave back my BA and Virgin Gold Cards.
The knock on effect of reduced expenses is a welcome by-product, plus less wear and tear on our staff. In fact, now we are getting good at web-conferencing, we are more effective in some cases than face to face meetings.
And it's not just technology where companies can make a difference. In the United Kingdom, for instance, a government sponsored Cycle to Work Scheme gives employees a tax break on buying a new bike while companies fund the cost of the bike over 12 months. In addition to participating in the scheme, our office installed showers and now the courtyard is full of bikes. And with decent weather fast approaching more and more may be tempted to dump the car in favour of a healthier start and end to the working day. Something we encourage and lead from the top. That has continued with my move to the US. I cycle to work, have ZipCar membership (wheels when you need them) and use public transport– much to the incredulilty of those in Silicon Valley wedded to their cars.
We use Salesforce.com which is a Cloud-based app for all our sales, marketing, operations, HR, procurement, asset management and finance operations. That means we are not running on-premise software on servers in data centers in our offices around the world. Recently we participated in a study sponsored by them to establish the impact of using cloud computing. I was staggered by the results. 91% of computing power is saved by using a cloud solution. But when you think about this, the economics make sense. If each of salesforce.com’s clients were running their software in-house they would require at least 1 server each. In fact in our case we would have required at least a small server farm of 10 servers. Because of salesforce.com’s multi-tenant model they can run all the clients on a server farm of large, highly efficient servers.
But it's far more than a just a warm feeling of being green. The cloud approach gives a level of business continuity and resilience to our systems which would be unaffordable. Our ability to scale rapidly to the increasing demand we are seeing is far easier. We can now open up new offices in new cities and countries far faster and more cost effectively. No longer are we limited by the time to install and configure servers and systems. There is a strong business case for the green cloud.
By far the largest impact companies can have is when the start to apply BPM analysis techniques to drive out waste, identify risk, and look at how technology can help them change to be more effective. This may be driven by a green agenda, but it is surely a key part of corporate strategy. And there is a clear business case for doing it.
Currently it is estimated that 20% of a person’s working live is wasted looking for the right information – document, policy, system – and being confident it is correct. If we simply fixed that we could do more with less. Free up people work more creatively. Expand without requiring new staff travelling into new offices using new computers.
So driving improved business performance can not only drive a business saving, unleash creativity in the organization, engage the workforce, but also be greener.
So where do bananas come in? Have you ever seen a single banana in a bunch which is larger or riper than the rest? No. Nature is telling us something here. All the bananas ripen at the same speed. So they are all kept consistent. Energy is expended equally across all the bananas to grow and ripen them.
We need to take a holistic approach to BPM and process improvement, so that all the initiatives dovetail. We need to make sure that the end to end processes flow smoothly. There is no point streamlining the quote process if there is a bottleneck in reviewing proposals or order management cannot deal with the increased workload, or finance is unable to raise invoices.
A top down process mapping approach will enable all the improvement initiatives to be kept in step. A BPM Center of Excellence can play a critical role as the business architect; coaching, supporting, coordinating. Just as critical is that those changes in business operation need to be cascaded down the organisation so that everyone understands what they need to do (differently), has the tools to do it, and can see metrics which reinforce behaviour.
And with cloud based BPM technologies it is easy to start a project which can have a rapid return. It may not necessarily be the core process, but there are huge savings to be had by focusing on support processes. For example, the on-boarding process which is typically very poor, yet critical for getting new joiners motivated and effective in the new role at a time when they are vulnerable. Get this first project right and you can build a case for a wide more strategic approach.
BPM can reinforce, support and nurture green initiatives, which are still only delicate green shoots in many organisations. It can make the intangible tangible. The tactical, strategic. A greener planet, financially viable.