Business processes must come before technology

Focus on enhancing business processes, and do not get side-tracked by technology, advised Ronnie Wee, president of the AITC (Association of IT Consultants) that was set up by Singapore's National Computer Board (NCB) and local IT consulting firms to help small-and-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to computerise.

He spoke at the SME Forum, a conference organised by Computerworld's sister publication SME IT Guide last week. The managing director of consulting company Planet Technology, spoke on the topic, Making IT Work for Your Business.

"Businesses need to identify their business processes, streamline them, then see what technologies are available, to make it work for their businesses," he said. "IT is just a tool."

For SMEs to move towards higher productivity and efficiencies, Wee suggested five stages in the gradual progression from automating localised systems, moving to business process reengineering, and eventually be digitally linked to the supply chain, that includes their suppliers and customers.

"Different SMEs are at different stages along the line to IT-enabled transformation. Some have no network or infrastructure, others have applications that do not talk to each other," said Wee.

The five phases in the movement towards a company that is IT-enabled are:

-- Localised systems. Where there is a deployment of localised systems, such as inventory control system, order entry system, CAD systems.

-- Internal integration. Where separate islands of technology are replaced with a seamless platform that integrates all activities within the business, allowing information sharing between business units.

-- Business process reengineering (BPR). A fundamental rethinking and radical redesign of business processes, that would involve a shift in the responsibilities and scope of work for individuals and organisational units. There is also a dramatic improvement in critical measures of performance, such as cost, quality, service, productivity and efficiency.

-- Business Network Reconfiguration (BNR). The company is linked electronically to other organisations in the supply chain. There are four levels of business network redesign: transaction processing, inventory management, process linkage, and knowledge leverage.

-- Business scope redefinition. There is a focus on core competencies and elements of the value chain are outsourced.

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