Executive Priorities 2014: Speed, agility, customer and transformation (transcript)

Move over process project, it’s time for an enterprise wide view of process, according to IBM’s Phil Spencer. Spencer, who is Global Leader of IBM’s Operations Strategy Centre of Competence, says that this wider view of process has become critical as new technology and changing customer expectations drives the need for greater flexibility and responsiveness.

"As customers gain more and more influence through digital, social media and so forth, it’s going to be very important for organizations to use analytics and very robust process management techniques in order to sense these changes and to adapt many of their processes to the changing business climate," he says.

In this PEX Network interview Spencer discusses the recent findings of IBM’s global CEO survey, how the digital and physical worlds are colliding in interesting ways, and what all this means for the role of a process professional.

Run process run!

Editor’s note: this is a transcript of a recent video interview. To watch the original interview, click here.

PEX Network: IBM recently did a survey of C-level executives to understand what’s going on at the heart of our businesses. What were some of the things that that survey revealed?

Phil Spencer: A lot of organizations have what they call landmark studies and IBM is no exception. But I truly think that this is a landmark study for the process professional, because what we found is that there is an increased sensitivity and interest in collaboration in the C-Suite. This is happening both within the C-Suite itself as well across divisions of the major processes of the enterprise.

For instance, as we look at end-to-end processes - something that process professionals have been focused on for a long time - we’re really going to see that there’s a warm reception in the C suite as we start to move towards enterprise processes.

There are a lot of concepts that came out of this study which were reinforced in our Corporate Leaders Board here at PEX. These are the concepts of transparency, collaboration and processes, including fact based process change and so forth.

PEX Network: So could you tell me a little bit more about some of the key findings to emerge from IBM’s recent C-Suite survey?

Phil Spencer: The landscape is shifting in exciting ways and this will have significant impact on value creation in organizations. But, as reported in the study, many organizations aren’t ready for some of these shifts yet as disruptive technologies become more and more prevalent.

The three fundamental findings, which I really think explain how the C suite is starting to see the world as it’s going to unfold over the next three to five years - is really around the idea of the interface between the digital and the physical enhancing the customer experience, and then looking at the primacy of the customer as a co-partner, in effect, helping to develop strategy. The C-Suite sees the customer’s role in developing strategy as very important.

PEX Network: So what impact, then, is this having on the role of process professionals? And how do process leaders need to respond to some of these shifting priorities?

Phil Spencer: I think process leaders are going to find a warm reception in the C suite, based on these findings. That reception is going to continue to become more and more open as a lot of these realities start to impact various businesses. So how does it change the role? I think that organizations are going to start moving from projects through to programmes - this is where most organizations are right now – and onto larger, more enterprise focused process improvement.

The boundaries are moving because of some of these new insights and these new elements that we’re seeing within organizations. As customers gain more and more influence through digital, social media and so forth, it’s going to be very important for organizations to use analytics and very robust process management techniques in order to sense these changes and to adapt many of their processes to the changing business climate.

PEX Network: Now I know that every company will be quite different and every organization is at a different stage in the process, but taking a general industry view what kind of features, or what kinds of things do you think the process excellence programme of the future will have in it?

Phil Spencer: I think there are really four things that are important as process professionals look ahead. Some of these have always been true, of course. Having sponsorship at the highest level, for instance, is critical. And again I think they’re going to get a better reception – if they aren’t already - as time goes forward in terms of sponsorship.

Secondly making certain that they’re able to build flexibility into their processes and using analytics and using sensing tools to understand where they need to be flexible and how.

And then really adding flexibility to their processes using analytics to understand all this data that’s going to be coming at them. One of the insights from the study was that this data is not only going to be coming from the more traditional sources, but it’s also going to be coming from the customers themselves, directly.

The emerging trend is that we require understanding of new relationships - everyone to everyone - using social, mobile and so forth. Understanding how to deal with these relationship using tools that will allow you to sense what’s happening and add flexibility to your enterprise processes is going to become critical.

Further, understanding what your portfolio processes are at the enterprise level, I think is going to be critical as well. Understanding your end and processes and how suppliers, competitors, customers, etc. - all of the traditional stakeholders - really interact within those processes.

It’s going to become more complicated, but for the companies that are actually able to do it, it’s really going to add to their value creation.

The final important point is that it’s about a blending of technology and process tools. It can’t be just about the process tools and it can’t be just about the technology. They’ve got to work together. And, in many instances, we’ve seen over the years that they don’t.

And there are various relationships between them in different organizations and in different initiatives around process improvement, but there’s really an imperative for them to start to work together more effectively across the organization and across all of the major processes in order to respond in a flexible way to the new demands and the constant reinvention of the business model.