RST Software
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Magdalena Jackiewicz
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Business process reengineering (BPR) – increasing profits through process efficiency

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In the intricate ecosystem of an organization, various components must seamlessly synchronize to achieve optimal performance. Business processes act as the vital cogs and mechanisms that transform inputs into valuable outputs, serving as the lifeblood of the organization's mission. However, as time marches forward, these processes often accumulate inefficiencies, redundancies, and wasteful elements that hinder productivity.

Fortunately, there exists a potent solution: Business Process Reengineering (BPR). This transformative approach involves a radical reconceptualization and redesign of existing processes to yield remarkable improvements in efficiency and effectiveness. In this comprehensive guide, we'll delve into the essential aspects of BPR that every decision-maker should grasp, from understanding the core concept to discerning when and how to execute it.

If you're curious about whether Business Process Reengineering is the missing piece your enterprise needs for enhanced productivity and competitiveness, read on to discover the answer.

What is business process reengineering (BPR)?

Business process reengineering (BPR) is the fundamental rethinking and radical redesign of business processes to achieve significant, breakthrough improvements in quality, output, cost, service, and speed.

Unlike incremental process enhancements, BPR seeks a dramatic leap in performance. It starts with a blank canvas, questioning long-held assumptions about how work should be done. Every activity is examined to see if it adds customer value. Automation and outsourcing also come into play where it is beneficial.

First championed by Michael Hammer and James Champy in a seminal “Reengineering the Corporation – A Manifesto for Business Revolution”, New York Times bestseller book published for the first time in 1993, BPR aims to create entirely new processes optimized for changing business realities.

Unlike incremental process enhancements focused on streamlining existing ways of working, BPR requires a clean-slate approach not constrained by current paradigms. It entails:

  • questioning every assumption,
  • eliminating redundant steps,
  • leveraging technology innovations, and
  • inventing completely new processes that enable quantum leaps in performance.

When executed successfully with sustained management commitment, BPR initiatives can fundamentally transform enterprises, making them more responsive, innovative and capable of succeeding in rapidly shifting business environments.

Business process reengineering (BPR) vs business process improvement (BPI)

While BPR and BPI sound similar, they have distinctly different approaches and outcomes. Business process improvement tweaks existing processes while business process reengineering often replaces them entirely. The notable differences between them include:

  • BPR pursues transformational change while BPI focuses on incremental enhancements. For example, BPR may replace an entire claims processing system while BPI would optimize the existing workflow,
  • BPR questions current processes and systems. BPI accepts them as-is. For instance, BPR may evaluate outsourcing fulfillment but BPI works within the present model,
  • BPR completely reimagines whole processes. BPI optimizes individual components in isolation. So BPR develops an end-to-end digital customer journey while BPI just updates the website,

In essence, business process reengineering represents disruptive, transformative change, while business process improvement produces gradual, incremental improvements within prevailing constraints. In short, the business process reengineering requires fundamental organizational changes, BPI does not.

Business process reengineering vs business process redesign

Usually, business process redesign is used interchangeably with business process reengineering. Also known by some other names like process innovation or redesigning business processes, the core idea remains the same – whether viewed as a novel breakthrough or a sophisticated remix of traditional approaches, BPR emphasises on dramatic process transformation.

Benefits of business process reengineering

What is the primary purpose of business process reengineering? Simply, well-executed business process reengineering delivers eye-popping improvements including:

  • Increased productivity – optimized processes enable staff to handle more workload efficiently,
  • Enhanced flexibility – new digitally-powered processes rapidly adapt to changing needs,
  • Reduced costs – eliminating redundant tasks and leveraging business process automation cuts expenses, business process reengineering decreases costs related to personnel and financial expenditure by 69% and 81% respectively, and allows overhead cost savings up to 75%,
  • Faster delivery – streamlined processes enable compressed delivery timelines, quicker completion of work, and enable cycle time reductions of 74%,
  • Increased revenue – faster and higher quality output drives sales and profitability,
  • Competitive advantage – innovative processes differentiate from rivals,
  • Future-proofing – technology-powered new workflows sustain changes.

These striking benefits underscore why organizations invest in business process reengineering programs to transform process efficiency. Other benefits like improved innovation and heightened regulatory resilience also accrue. Perhaps even most importantly, successfully reengineering lifts an organization’s sights to what is truly possible. It replaces bounded thinking with an expansive mindset that refuses to accept the status quo.

Limitations of business process reengineering

While BPR enables breakthrough improvements, organizations must be cognizant of common limitations. Attempting business process reengineering without proper planning invites pitfalls like:

  • High failure rates – per some estimates, nearly 70% of BPR projects fail to achieve goals. Lack of sustained leadership commitment, unrealistic targets and poor change management are key pitfalls,
  • Disruption – the radical changes drive significant business disruption across operations, requiring unexpected adjustments,
  • Job losses – the workforce reductions from optimized workflows can impact morale. Change management is vital for successful BPR,
  • Technology reliance – overdependence on technology without redesigning workflows reduces benefits,
  • Lack of standards – few universal BPR frameworks exist, causing improvised approaches,
  • Resistance – employees accustomed to legacy ways often resist the far-reaching changes.

The radical nature of business process re-engineering also increases risks. Reengineering mishaps can rapidly cascade while extensive interdependencies complicate mid-course corrections.

While potentially severe, downside dangers are manageable with meticulous planning, clear communications, careful implementation, and buy-in at all levels. Perhaps the greatest risk lies in sticking with comfortable but outdated processes.

When should you consider business process reengineering?

Business process reengineering emerges as a powerful strategy when traditional methods fall short in addressing the complexities of the modern business environment. Understanding the right moment for implementing BPR is crucial for its success. Compliance, customer expectations, and technology disruption are the major ones. Let’s have a closer look at prime opportunities for business process reengineering:

  •  Antiquated, inefficient processes that frustrate employees and customers.

For example, a company using a decades-old inventory management system causing delays and errors. BPR would involve implementing an automated system, enhancing accuracy and speed, ultimately improving both employee satisfaction and customer service.

  • Existing systems significantly lag modern demands.

A retail chain unable to handle online orders efficiently. Business process reengineering can overhaul the order management system to integrate seamlessly with e-commerce platforms, meeting current market demands.

  • Changing customer expectations requires realigning workflows to new demands.

For instance, by reengineering processes to include AI-based customer service tools, the company can meet the expectations of swift and efficient service and significantly shorten customer response time.

  • Mergers requires integration of different processes/tools/cultures.

BPR would involve creating a unified platform for two merging banks with different account management systems, simplifying processes for employees and customers alike.

  • Cost pressures require expenses reduction through optimizing workflows.

A manufacturing firm with high production costs could introduce lean manufacturing techniques, cutting waste and reducing costs in business process reengineering.

  • Lagging profitability asks for boosts in productivity, revenues, and margins.

Example – a software company with declining sales. Through BPR, it could streamline its development and go-to-market processes, enhancing productivity and profitability.

  • Compliance requirements.

A pharmaceutical company facing new health regulations. Business process reengineering can restructure processes to ensure compliance while maintaining efficiency.

  • Major technology disruption.

Business process reengineering prepares operations for next-generation digital capabilities, such as AI implementation for risk assessment in an insurance company. BPR would involve redesigning processes to integrate AI tools effectively.

  • Growth (or contraction) rendering current methods inadequate.

A rapidly expanding e-commerce store outgrowing its logistics capabilities. BPR could reshape the logistics process to scale up effectively.

  • Strategic inflection point that requires fundamental reinvention for the future when new technologies allow radically improved approaches.

An automotive manufacturer at the cusp of adopting electric vehicle technology. Business process reengineering would enable a total overhaul of manufacturing processes to adapt to this new technology.

  • When facing intense competition the organization seeks competitive differentiation through breakthrough innovations, or oppositely, competitors are innovating faster with superior processes.

A mobile phone manufacturer losing market share to more innovative competitors. BPR can redefine product development and marketing strategies to regain competitive edge.

While exhausting, challenging and resource-intensive, business process reengineering becomes indispensable when incremental improvements are insufficient. The effort involved in reengineering is far outweighed by the risks of stagnation and failure to compete in a rapidly transforming business environment.

Common use cases of business process reengineering

Business process reengineering can touch virtually every business activity. Its flexibility allows customization to an organization’s unique needs and priorities. Frequent  business process reengineering examples include:

  • Supply chain management – identifying and eliminating redundant steps has streamlined material flows, inventory management and logistics resulting in substantial cost savings, faster cycle times, improved visibility and enhanced flexibility. This end-to-end optimization from suppliers to customers exemplifies reengineering’s systemwide perspective,
  • Manufacturing – extensive workflow digitization leveraging IoT sensors, robotics, 3D printing, machine learning and advanced analytics has led to assembly line innovations, near-lights out factories, just-in-time production and significant quality improvements. By questioning long-held assumptions about plant operations, manufacturers have discovered game-changing efficiencies,
  • Field services – scheduling optimization, remote asset monitoring, AR-enabled repairs and predictive maintenance has boosted technician productivity, first-time fix rates, customer satisfaction and service revenues. Here, reengineering seamlessly blends emerging technologies with redesigned processes for customer delight,
  • Moving from paper-based to digital workflows – this transition aims to increase efficiency and accuracy by digitizing manual processes. Removing paper accelerates processes end-to-end, enabling parallel workflows previously impossible,
  • Introducing self-service options – this involves providing customers with digital tools to perform tasks themselves, which can enhance customer experience and reduce workload on staff. Allowing customers to self-serve on routine requests provides convenience while freeing up employees for judgment-intensive work,
  • Outsourcing peripheral functions – outsourcing involves delegating non-core business activities to external providers to focus on core competencies. As part of reengineering’s holistic view, it objectively assesses each activity’s strategic value and performance level determining whether to optimize, eliminate or outsource,
  • Upgrading core IT infrastructure – this involves modernizing the foundational technology systems that support an organization’s processes to enhance capabilities and performance. Periodic revamping of enterprise platforms and integration with emerging technologies ensures the technology foundation elevates, not constrains process innovation.
  • Changing organizational structure – this entails altering the company's hierarchy, reporting lines, or team configurations to improve efficiency, communication, or adapt to new business strategies. Optimized processes might clash with rigid org structures, requiring complementary organizational reengineering.

The common thread is reengineering’s boundless search for performance improvements independent of past assumptions. Every activity becomes fair game for change when pursuing transformational enhancements. Reengineering’s flexible applicability combined with emerging technologies’ ever-widening capabilities create endless possibilities for forward-looking organizations.

7 steps of business process reengineering

What does business process reengineering begin with? While the exact methodology can vary, most BPR initiatives encompass the following steps, each with its own crucial focus:

Step 1. Identify customer needs and non-value-adding activities

This step involves analyzing current processes to pinpoint inefficiencies and understanding customer requirements. By identifying and eliminating tasks that do not add value, companies can streamline their operations.

Step 2. Reimagine processes with a blank-sheet mindset

Rethink existing processes without the constraints of current practices. The idea is to imagine how the process would be designed if starting from scratch, focusing solely on efficiency and effectiveness.

Step 3. Benchmark competitors and best-in-class processes

Study the practices of leading competitors and other top-performing companies, even those in different industries, to identify best practices that can be adopted or adapted.

Step 4. Redesign end-to-end processes powered by technology

This involves reengineering the entire process from start to finish, leveraging technology to enhance efficiency, accuracy, and customer satisfaction.

Step 5. Implement redesigned processes in stages

Gradual implementation allows for the testing and adjustment of new processes in a controlled manner, minimizing disruptions to the business.

Step 6. Engage stakeholders early and often

Involving employees, customers, and other stakeholders in the reengineering process ensures that their insights and needs are considered, and it also helps in gaining their buy-in.

Step 7. Continuously improve redesigned processes

BPR is not a one-time event but an ongoing journey of refinement and improvement. Continuous monitoring and tweaking of processes ensure they remain efficient and effective.

Take the next step

Done right, business process reengineering resets what is possible – a springboard to becoming a truly future-ready enterprise. However, procrastinating only locks in escalating inefficiencies. The time for action is now.

Business process reengineering takes courage, but the cost of inaction is prohibitive. Transform processes before they transform your company – for the worse. The choice is clear – radically reboot, or become obsolete.

Challenge teams to justify each activity's value and necessity. Benchmark competitors discovering ingenious efficiencies. Talk to us about automating manual efforts and introducing radical process improvements.

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