Process modeling, process improvement, workflow design and quality management all sound like big, complicated things that larger companies do. Analyzing and re-engineering processes and developing highly structured workflows is often work performed within an enterprise; heavy and complicated and expensive work that’s required to keep large or distributed organizations operating as a single unit. But structure isn’t just for big business operations; it’s a big deal for small business, too.
The truth is that modeling business processes and workflows isn’t necessarily difficult or expensive, and the benefits to be gained apply as directly to small businesses as they do to large enterprises – perhaps even more because smaller businesses can change their trajectory early on, before things are too fully entrenched. Ongoing, the development of workflows to guide process activities and the regular evaluation and testing of the outcomes may reveal wondrous opportunities to increase performance and profits. It’s all about drawing that picture of what you want the business to be, and then finding the best way to make it be like that.
While business owners and managers may be familiar with projecting financial performance under different scenarios, how often do they look at the actual processes supporting business operations and “project” performance based on changes to processes, worker activities or operational workflows? It just isn’t something you hear much about in the small business world. When I reached out to Ben Boomer of ParkPro to have a discussion about this type of stuff, I had no idea that the conversation would turn into a real example of how one single software solution could be the foundation for incredibly beneficial change in the organization, the business performance, and the satisfaction of workers and customers alike. The software is from the Dutch company Exact, and the product is Synergy Enterprise.
ParkPro has been operating for just about 40 years, providing an array of services and solutions ranging from auto gates and access controls to parking revenue management and camera solutions, and even anti-terrorism solutions. Their deliverables are mostly project-based and there is a very large installation and maintenance services aspect to the business. What all this means is that there are a lot of moving parts, lots of scheduling, projects and recurring activities, and lots of possible product and service combinations. There’s also a lot of inertia behind the processes and methods that have been standard business practice for a long time.
“Making any change to how the business operates is akin to changing tires on a moving vehicle” says Boomer. “You still have to get the work done and move forward”. With Synergy Enterprise, ParkPro’s system is agile enough to allow them to use the software and at the same time configure and tweak it to meet the needs of the business and not the other way around. He suggests that this is the problem with systems that lack of the flexibility of Synergy Enterprise; businesses must adjust to the way the software works rather than making the software really work for the business. Ben discussed an example and the good advice he received from Jeff Sachs when the company wanted to implement barcodes and thought they could use whatever came in a “canned” solution. Jeff’s suggestion was that “if the process doesn’t work, then this will simply make it not work… faster”.
Greater efficiency and performance are always important, but what it also comes down to is configuring accountability into the system. The very act of formalizing the processes and the workflow forces ParkPro to think about and define the processes as they really are. The system that helps them set up work requests and structure activities also helps establish accountability along the way. This has allowed the company to benefit in ways they couldn’t even imagine.
Synergy allows them to make copies of their system where they can pose questions and model the answers and outcomes. “Do we really need to do this step, or is it just because it’s written down?” he asks. “We can pose questions and then find efficiencies in answering those questions”. Just as with financial modeling and forecasting, workflow modeling informs on the potential result of the adjustment, allowing businesses to make better decisions and avoid missteps.
The ability to adapt Synergy Enterprise to the requirements of the business has been central to the company’s success in creating new efficiencies and improving overall performance, and the effects are felt throughout the company. Boomer says that the changes they’ve made in their processes and the workflows which connect them has even resulted in restructuring the organization and management hierarchy to be more reflective of how things are in Synergy because its more efficient.
Reliant upon the “open” nature of Synergy Enterprise and its ability to flex with the needs of the company, Ben knows the solution will continue to support beneficial change in the operation. In Ben’s own words, “Synergy allows us to project our future dreams and know the software can keep up”.