Innovation is an underappreciated word in the world of business. Small and medium enterprises are only considered innovators when they bring something new to the market. This parochial appreciation for the meaning of innovation often means SMEs overlook opportunities to innovate. For whilst ‘innovate’ means to introduce something new, it also means to make changes in the established: to find better ways of doing things.
Programs such as the National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA) and political rhetoric has seen an Americanisation of the Australian business climate towards big money and bright “new” ideas. A climate where incremental improvements and advancements are eschewed in favour of future tech and leaps of faith.
The meaning of innovation has mutated to mean multi-billion dollar valued ideas and game-changing product launches. What other form of innovation should be getting the attention of Australia’s businesses? Business process improvement (BPI).
Whilst not as exciting as creating the next Uber or Slack, BPI can have significant, lasting effects on an organisation that is open to change.
BPI can take many forms and perhaps is therefore truer to the essence of the word. A new content management system or simple adjustments to an existing one can be an innovation: making better what stood before. It could also be the decision to outsource, or remove product lines to redirect funds elsewhere.
The driving force behind business process improvement is the same as the force behind other “game changing” innovations: to add value and eliminate that which does not. What makes BPI worth so much to the Australian economy is its accessibility. Any SME, from the family-run corner store to a nationwide industrial product manufacturer, can improve some aspect of their business operations and BPI is the most accessible, and logical, form of innovation.
There are a host of benefits to BPI that Australian businesses can see returns on almost immediately.
Removing superfluous steps in a process can improve a business’s bottom line by reducing costs, and the time and effort required to bring a product to market.
Automation can present some trying teething pains but businesses that grin and bear it whilst it is implemented correctly avoid future headaches and see swift returns.
Communication is vital to the success of all businesses but it can be time-consuming and inefficient. Implementing simple improvements to this process can generate immense savings and improved efficiency. Simple, yet effective, solutions like an office-wide chat program can facilitate rapid communication. The top benefits of instant communication are a reduction in time spent composing emails (and therefore managing a crammed inbox) and project delay and wait-time.
When all employees are on the same page, and managers can physically view business processes, major changes can happen easily. Eliminating duplicated tasks and finding ways to facilitate more rapid results are shining examples of basic business process improvement.
Streamlined business processes allow for a greater degree of control over all operations. Being able to rapidly assess non-compliance or poorly managed aspects of operations can quickly produce great returns.
Carving out unnecessary processes and freeing up employee time can allow a business to handle greater operating capacity. If your employees are able to complete their tasks efficiently, they’ll be more capable of handling additional workload.
Business process improvements work best if the short-term costs are accepted in the face of long-term gains. The continued development and maturation of cloud apps and other software enables small businesses and SMEs to partake in effective process improvements. Also, due to the proliferation of such software improving their affordability, process improvement is no longer the solitary domain of cash rich companies.
That is not to say improvements are not without cost. New software costs money and can require training. New processes can experience pushback from those reluctant to change. However, if the change is necessary, and well implemented, it can have an immense payoff for years to come. With globalisation on the increase and the markets more competitive than ever this kind of innovation should not be overlooked.