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Today, the word "vendor" or "customer" in many companies can still bring up a less than enthusiastic response from internal staff, who are under pressure to work with both of these organizations. With vendors, downward pressure on spend and rigorous procurement processes can promote a less than cordial relationship. With customers, the pressure to provide quality, cost, and service demands can be stressful to internal staff. Adding to this dysfunction are internal operating silos—between sales, operations, human resources, and finance. Many times, silos are reinforced by people, processes, and systems.

As the process guy, I have to ask:
  • If an organization depends on its suppliers to provide raw materials or critical supporting services, how is an adversarial relationship beneficial?
  • If an organization needs to generate revenue from its customers, how is an unenthusiastic relationship beneficial?
So, how do we “tear down these walls?”
From a process perspective, the first step is to think of the organization as a “supply chain" or one process, including demand, marketing, development, sales, vendor, accounts payable, human resources, operations, customer, and accounts receivable. Supply chain thinking requires:
  • Definition, coordination, integration, measurement, and continuous improvement of horizontal processes that cut across departments and groups and extend outside of the organization to vendors and customers
  • A cultural shift from individual-centric thinking, where there are villains (that cause process problems and heroes (that fix process problems), to a process-centric organization that identifies what is causing the problem in the process and how a process can be modified to fix a problem
  • Recognition of management and staff who meet overall value chain process goals (versus meeting siloed department or group goals)
  • Identification of technologies that will support supply chain or process-centric thinking, such as paperless technologies to develop customer and vendor portals, allowing for input, access, collaboration, and search for needed information, or automated workflows to move and measure information through the value chain process, for example.
So, what is the next step?

Develop an action plan to talk to customers and vendors. Identify their perspective of your organization and its product/services. Conduct a value stream map analysis to determine what price, delivery, and quality they require. Compare this to what your organization is providing today, and identify gaps and needed actions.

Develop a plan to inventory processes, and identify those that are part of your value chain and that are in need of improvement. Document, measure, analyze, improve, and control processes.

Examine current technologies in place (shared drives, email, paper, etc.) to see how well they support value chain automation and explore if paperless technologies, such as electronic content management and workflow, can be of benefit.

George Dunn is the founder and president of CRE8 Independent Consultants and is a worldwide recognized consultant, speaker, instructor, contributing editor and author on business process innovation and improvement, paperless technologies and complex computer system replacement planning. He has over 25 years of experience in the advanced technology and process improvement industry. Follow him on Twitter @CRE8consultants.

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