“Companies that can augment their business analysis with sound systems thinking will optimise their internal processes, reduce inefficiencies and boost their bottom line,” says Alexander Mehlhorn, CEO of software development company Framework One. “But while a real business need for this exists, the process can be riddled with complexities that are best navigated by employing the services of a knowledgeable expert.”
Mehlhorn, who specialises in applying systems thinking to business process automation solutions for clients in the ICT and financial services sectors, says there is an important distinction to be made between a business process and a systems process.
“A business process will typically require an action; for example, providing a copy of your ID book or proof of employment when applying for a loan. A systems process will attempt to automate this action by, say, tapping into a central database of customer financial data instead of forcing a customer to carry the documents with him.”
This eases the strain on the customer on the outside and the consultant inside the company, with a resulting increase in productivity and customer satisfaction.
Mehlhorn sees a huge opportunity for applying systems thinking to the loans business in South Africa. “In the UK, most of the loan application process is automated, but in SA it’s very much a bricks-and-mortar affair. This means people standing in queues, submitting multiple documents that can be cumbersome to source, and a generous investment in time – all of which impacts the bottom line, as customers abandon the process midway due to time constraints.”
A typical loan application process in South Africa involves filling out a comprehensive application form, supplying a copy of a customer’s ID book, bank statements, proof of address and a payslip. “If you introduce systems thinking to the application process, you may find that you can get proof of address and employment from the applicant’s credit record. South Africa has a world class system of credit information, which was necessitated by the introduction of the National Credit Act. A clever systems thinker will tap into this central repository of data to reduce the administrative burden on customers.”
Taking it a step further, personal information such as sex, age and date of birth can be automatically added to the application form if the system is set up for it. Mehlhorn says this has the potential of reducing a 50-question application form that takes an hour to complete to a ten-question form that takes mere minutes.
“This doesn’t mean that you don’t need staff anymore – in fact, your staff will most likely need to be upskilled to provide the necessary checks and ensure the data provided by the system is accurate,” explains Mehlhorn. “This is particularly relevant in South Africa, where the nature of the labour market is such that talk of automation is often met with fierce resistance due to the perceived implications on employment.”
Another key obstacle to companies implementing systems thinking is cost. Developing and implementing a business process automation solution that is built on sound strategic systems thinking is often an expensive exercise, mainly due to the specialist skills required.
“Finding a business analyst that understands your particular business requirements while also having strong systems thinking abilities is a rare, often expensive skill, and the reserve of larger companies. Smaller organisations will do well to team up with an experienced partner that can give them the benefits of an in-house resource without the high costs,” Mehlhorn finishes.