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This article originally appeared in the Bentley Magazine.
Bentley students are going deep with business processes across a range of industries, through an undergraduate course launched in fall 2011. Business Processes and Systems is a business core requirement for juniors and seniors.
“A process is a standardized set of activities that accomplishes a specific task,” explains Dennis Anderson, an associate professor of information and process management who coordinates the course. “But the reality is, business is dynamic and processes that were exemplary yesterday may not be adequate today or tomorrow. Changes in technology, for example, require changes in underlying business processes if the company is to remain competitive.”
If It Ain’t Broke, Fix It Anyway
The truth is, successful companies never stop improving – even when things are running smoothly.
“One of our key topics is business process improvement,” says Anderson. “Students work toward streamlining outdated practices, enhancing efficiency, promoting compliance and standardization, and helping the business become more agile.”
Bentley teams have tackled process issues in industries such as waste management, accounting and technology. The work constitutes a capstone project for the course, to identify and make a process better with higher efficiency or lower cost.
“One of the challenges was to make an already-efficient process more efficient,” recalls Glen Shaw ’14, an Accountancy major whose team examined weight tracking at the Devens Recycling Center transfer station.
The company’s process involved trucks being weighed and the results recorded by a scale-house operator, both before and after the trash or recycling was unloaded. Operators issued a verification slip to help identify how much material is on site, when it should be transferred to another disposal treatment operation, and how much to bill clients for disposing of the material.
The team quickly discovered the tradeoffs involved in tweaking processes.
“We succeeded in suggestions to increase efficiency, but at the expense of increasing costs,” Shaw says of their recommendation to add another door for incoming trash, and to possibly hire a second scale-house operator.
A team that included Christopher Hernandez ’14 focused on a company acclaimed for customer satisfaction. The group analyzed the Genius Bar, an Apple Store service that troubleshoots technical issues for iPhone, iPod, iPad and Macintosh computers.
The goal: Improve speed in identifying customer needs and providing service.
“The most common problem we found was the simple failure to reset iPods and iPhones on the spot,” notes Hernandez, an Information Systems Audit and Control major. “The reset should take only few minutes but requires an appointment, which takes time away from other customers. Technicians also spent a lot of time on software updates, a process that customers could easily do at home.”
Models to Scale
The “systems” component of the course looks at business activity on a comprehensive scale.
“Many organizations have a narrow rather than systemic view of their processes,” explains Alina Chircu, associate professor and chair of information and process management. For example, a company might have various processes for taking customer orders, packing and shipping orders, and requesting and processing payment. “Managing each independently in its own departmental silo may lead to conflicting results. Instead, as parts of a larger system for order entry and billing, they should be managed together.”
If the course concepts run deep, so do the tools to tackle them. Students use SAP, the market-leading enterprise resource planning software system, to execute business processes as they typically occur in the workplace. They learn to model, analyze and simulate processes both by hand and with software.
ProcessModel software was an especially valuable tool for Economics–Finance major Jennifer Pashby ’14 and her teammates. They looked at glitches in accounting processes, something that many had already encountered during internships. Accounts payable issues became much more transparent after modeling.
“Entering the times for each step in the process made us realize that many steps were taking much longer than they should have,” Pashby says of the visual modeling tool, a favorite among health care agencies, financial institutions, and the U.S. military. “We thought there must be an easier way to complete them.”
Like other financial institutions, she says, their client relied on interns for processing invoices. In this particular case, one intern had more arduous tasks and the other, less time-consuming assignments. Bentley team members recommended training both interns on all aspects of invoice processing to restructure the workload.
“Every organization has basic procedures and rules that will define how it operates internally and interacts with the external environment,” says Anderson. “In the ebb and flow of business — and of life, for that matter — even the best processes need to evolve in order to survive.”