Harmonization: How and When?
Many large companies struggle with the issue of multiple divisions, product lines, products, and geographies, which can also be exasperated by a strategy of acquisitions. This environment may also result in differing ERP systems and back-end systems to support the uniqueness. There is a high cost to supporting all this variety. How does a complex organization go about harmonizing processes, data, and policies to simplify the overall environment? Many years ago I worked in a large worldwide corporation that struggled with the goal of “appearing as one to the customer”, so this is not a new problem for companies. It’s not easy to move from an environment of uniqueness to an environment of commonality. Yet supporting today’s digital environment often requires harmonization, or a common or consistent approach to customers, processes, data, and policies.
When implementing a new system, it is often a wonderful time to try to drive commonality and simplification. Yet, how is that harmonization possible?
It starts with executive management and sponsorship establishing the strategy and the founding principle to harmonize and simplify the business environment where possible. Identify the business benefits in harmonization, why it is important to the success of the overall business, and communicate the business case for action. This may include centralizing support, lowering costs, and improving customer support, or to be easier to do business with. All parts of the business must buy-into the goal, particularly the subject-matter-experts from each business. This must be the guiding vision shared by all. Subject-matter-experts need to work together to identify commonalities and develop migration plans.
As detailed business processes, data, and policies are reviewed by subject matter experts, the goal for everyone should be to: Be as similar as can be, while as different as NEED to be. In other words, create a foundation of commonality, yet design for governed flexibility. This can be done by designing for the entire enterprise, yet have agile continuous business feedback and governance process with established guidelines for uniqueness.
When should this harmonization take place; before, during, or after the implementation of software? Redesigning business processes is a key success factor to implementation of software, yet how do you do that in a disparate environment? If you replicate the processes and policies you have today, you will end up what you have today. How do you select software when the needs are so different?
The answer is that harmonization needs to take place before, during, and after an implementation as a parallel effort. When selecting the new software, business requirements should be at a higher level to frame each process rather than specify the details of the process. Some low-hanging improvements will become evident in the requirements phase and may result in projects to clean up data or implement simple changes to policies or processes. Yet other improvements may require systems capabilities and workflow changes that are easier to implement as part of a new system implementation. Still other changes might be lower priority items that are easier to address after the new software is stable.
Our experience has shown us that organizations that successfully tackle harmonization reap tremendous benefits and goals. Although the process may be painful, many organizations have proven that it is definitely worth the effort in the long run giving them competitive advantages.