Analyzing Process ImprovementsSupported by IT

This section will explain how the business analyst analyzes and

documents the process and identifies the benefits of applying an IT

solution. Keep in mind that the analysis requires both IT and functional

expertise and that both groups work together to identify ways that IT can

help improve processes.

Document the As‐Is (Current) Process

The first step is to understand how a process is conducted currently; this

is often referred to as the “as‐is” process. There are a few approaches

that the business analyst can take:

• observe the process;

• conduct interviews with the stakeholders (executives, managers, end

users, or even customers) and the people performing the process; or

• bring together representatives of the process stakeholders to

collectively define the current process, mapping out the process for

all to see.

The analyst begins with asking the stakeholders about the input, the

process, and the output. The input consists of all the resources

Learning Resource

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(knowledge, skills, materials, information) needed for the process to occur.

The output is the result of the process. The process takes the input and

transforms it into the output.

Before dealing with a business, consider an example of something that

anyone can relate to—making lunch for a child to take to school. The

inputs consist of the bread, peanut butter, jelly, fruit, dessert, and the

packaging materials (food wrap and paper bag). The process is the

assembling of the bread, peanut butter, and jelly into a sandwich and

combining it with the fruit and dessert in the lunch bag. The output will

be a peanut‐butter‐and‐jelly sandwich, an apple, and cookies for dessert,

all in a small paper bag to be placed in the child's backpack.

• The supplier is the supermarket.

• The inputs are peanut butter, grape jelly, white bread, a piece of

fruit, a small pack of cookies, food wrap, a small paper bag, and a


• The process is collecting all of these items, selecting bread slices,

spreading on the peanut butter and jelly, putting the bread together,

slicing the sandwich, wrapping it in the food wrap, and placing the

wrapped sandwich, fruit, and cookies into the small paper bag.

• The output is the packed lunch in the paper bag, ready to be placed

in the child's backpack.

• The feedback at this point is that the supply of peanut butter is low

and more should be purchased. The child (the customer) eats lunch

and when he gets home, he provides additional feedback when he

says that lunch was great, but his sandwich needed more jelly.

This simple example illustrates the three main components of a process

(input, process, and output), the high‐level steps in completing the

process (in this case, of making a school lunch), and the importance of


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Once listed, the steps in the process are then put into the sequence in

which they occur, even though the interviews and other sources of

information may not clearly indicate the order in which the steps are

performed. The analyst documents the current process as it is actually


In the school lunch example, the inputs, process, and output of packing a

child's lunch have been defined, but how is the process carried out? In

this scenario, Mom and Dad plan a short vacation away from the kids, and

Grandma comes to visit. When asked to define the process, Dad omits

several pieces of information that are in his head. Assuming Dad is

primarily responsible for making school lunches, he knows where all the

necessary supplies are kept, the fact that his son prefers apples and his

daughter prefers bananas, and that beverages are provided at school.

Grandma has been left a list of what is to go into the lunch, yet important

information is missing: Where is the peanut butter kept? What kind of

fruit should be included? How do they prefer their sandwiches to be cut:

cut the crust off or leave it on? What about drinks?

So, Grandma does her best, and this is what the analyst observes and

how he documents the as‐is process that Grandma uses:

• She reviews the list.

• She goes to the cupboard and gets out a loaf of bread.

• She goes to the refrigerator and gets out the jelly.

• She opens several cupboards to find and retrieve the peanut butter.

• She takes out two slices of bread and makes one peanut butter and

jelly sandwich.

• She goes to another cupboard and gets the wrap.

• She wraps the sandwich.

• She goes back to that cupboard and gets the paper lunch bag.

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• She puts the sandwich in the bag.

• She assembles the second peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

• She wraps the second sandwich and puts it in its bag.

• She goes to the refrigerator and gets two apples.

• She washes the apples, dries them, and puts them in the bag.

• She goes back to the cupboard where the bread was stored and gets

the cookies.

• She wraps two cookies and puts them into each lunch bag.

• She goes to the refrigerator and looks to see if there are any drinks

that look like they should be packed in the lunch bags; she finds


• She hands one lunch bag to Bill and one to Maria as they set out for


• Grandma puts all the supplies away and cleans up the kitchen.

Look for Problem Areas—Process Analysis

The next step is to analyze how the process operates in order to

determine possible improvements by eliminating inefficiencies and

duplication of effort. Before the business analyst makes any assumptions

about where the problem areas are, he will talk with the people involved

in the process and ask them about the issues they see. These interviews

are documented for future reference.

Returning to the school lunch example, the analyst asks the children and

Grandma about how things went:

• Billy said he does not like crusts on his sandwich.

• Maria said she does not like apples and always has a banana instead.

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• Both said that the apple had squished their sandwich, which "never

happens when Dad packs my lunch."

• Grandma says that it took her way too long to prepare the lunches

and that she felt like she was running back and forth the whole time.

She asks how she could improve this process. Not only does she

want to be more efficient, but she wants to prepare each child's

lunch the way each likes it.

Of course, in observing the process, the analyst saw that she really was

very inefficient in preparing lunch. After reviewing the documented list of

steps, the analyst came up with the following improved (streamlined)


• Gather all ingredients and supplies

◦ Bread, peanut butter, and cookies from food cupboard

◦ Jelly and fruit from refrigerator

◦ Food wrap and paper bag from supplies cupboard

• Make two sandwiches at once

◦ Lay out bread

◦ Spread jelly on two slices

◦ Spread peanut butter on two slices

◦ Assemble sandwiches

◦ Cut crust off of one

◦ Wrap sandwiches

• Put fruit in bags first (to prevent them from mashing the sandwich)

◦ Wash and dry apple

◦ Put banana in one bag, apple in the other

• Prepare and pack cookies

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◦ Take out two cookies, wrap, and place in bag

◦ Repeat for other lunch bag

• Place wrapped sandwich into each bag, ensuring the crust‐less one

goes in with the apple

• Put everything away and clean up kitchen

The analyst’s suggestions also include that Dad should tell Grandma

where the supplies are located and how each child likes their lunch (crusts

cut off; what kind of fruit). In this case, she now knows all that and is

ready to make lunch the following day, using the steps in the streamlined


Now how would this relate to a workplace situation? Everyday employees

perform tasks and complete processes in their organizations that may be

duplicating the efforts of others, or they may be doing them very

inefficiently. Each employee may be performing as efficiently as possible,

but the order in which they are performing the tasks or how they interact

with each other may introduce significant inefficiencies. All steps in a

process need to be evaluated together to ensure the flow from start to

finish is as efficient as possible.

Improve the Process

Improving the process means that

• extra steps are combined or eliminated

• resources (including time and people) are more efficiently used

• quality of the information collected and used is improved

Prior to implementing an IT solution, the organization should first ensure

their processes are optimized.

Let us look at a business process example of creating an invoice, which

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consists of many more tasks or steps than the lunch example required.

The tasks involved in creating an invoice may include:

• locating a customer's record

• confirming that shipment was made

• calculating cost (price x quantity)

• adding appropriate shipping charges and possibly sales tax

• updating the customer's record and the accounts receivable ledger

• generating hard copy of the invoice to be mailed

Back in the old (not really so old) days, a clerk manually performed the

necessary calculations, inserted a preprinted invoice (typically a multipart

form) into a typewriter and entered the information. Then the original

invoice was mailed to the customer, a copy went to the accounts

receivable department to update the ledger, and another copy was filed in

the customer's file folder. This typical manual process provides numerous

opportunities for human error along the way. It is also an ideal situation in

which to use technology to improve the efficiency of the process.

Certainly, having an electronic system that enables all of the parties

involved to receive updated information simultaneously would expedite

the process. The current process is cumbersome and inefficient, however,

and automating it would mean only that the invoice is now inefficiently

created more quickly.

This is where business‐process reengineering (BPR) comes into play.

Instead of taking the existing invoice‐creation process and automating it,

one looks at what is trying to be accomplished (the output):

• to inform the customer of his obligation to the firm

• to update the accounting records so that the firm is aware of a

customer debt, update the customer record to document the sale,

and get payment from the customer.

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Because the ultimate goal is to get payment from the customer. The

question now becomes, "How can this goal be accomplished more

accurately and efficiently?" rather than, "How can an existing process be


Automating the process will provide additional benefits to the company.

The system can be used to ensure the correct and immediate flow of the

work from one person to the next, improving communication, and

strengthening relationships among everyone involved in the process.

• Workflow relates to defining roles and process steps—who is

responsible for what—and how information, documents, and tasks

flow from one step to another in a defined process. Information

systems can define this flow of information and tasks, and can

include specific rules (who does what, how, and when) to provide

consistency and greater efficiency. An effective technology solution

can automate some of these steps, as well as route information and

provide specific timelines. A system could support the workflow in

the invoice example above such that when the clerk entered the

invoice into the system, the accounting department would receive a

notification, and an accountant could approve the invoice, which

would update the ledger. The customer support team would be

notified by the system that the invoice had been posted and that an

email had been sent to the customer providing them with the

invoice. The customer support team could then follow up with the

customer to ensure their satisfaction. Each person involved in the

invoice process would receive their notifications instantly and be

able to efficiently conduct their part of the process. The system

provides a consistent structure for the invoice process to be

performed the same efficient way each time, and all participants can

be certain that they have played their role as expected.

• Using the automated system and the workflow capability improves

internal and external communication as well. Each person with a

role in the invoice process automatically and instantly receives

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notification of a new invoice; there is no time delay from when the

invoice is created until the accountant is notified. Since the

accountant is able to update the ledger very soon after the invoice is

posted, the company’s accounts receivable and cash flow situation

are kept very current, improving communication throughout the

company of the current financial status. The automated sending of

the invoice in a timely way to the customer provides an improvement

in external communication. And, the customer support team has

access to real‐time information and is kept informed of events

involving the customer, and is therefore able to communicate in a

timely way with the customer.

• Automated systems can also improve relationships both within the

company, and, importantly, with customers and suppliers. Using a

workflow system to communicate among employees can have a

positive effect on morale since they are not dependent on the other

employees to let them know when an invoice is created. Each person

is able to perform their steps in the invoice process and carry out

their responsibilities. When the system automatically sends an

invoice to the customer and the customer support team is able to

follow up, the relationship with the customer is strengthened. From

the customer’s viewpoint, the company is functioning as one entity,

and the customer support person knows exactly what is going on,

can access the internal files and records, and provide efficient and

effective customer assistance.

As the business process is improved, the additional capabilities that an

automated system can provide should be considered and included. These

capabilities may allow the organization to further optimize their processes

and are important considerations in determining whether a system

solution is required, or whether simply improving some manual processes

will meet the need.

The business analyst will document the improved, optimized ("to‐be")

process for use in determining whether a system solution is required, and

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to begin defining requirements for a solution.

Implement or Change the System

The "to‐be" process should be defined before seeking a technology

solution. Otherwise, it is possible to implement a technology solution that

only succeeds in performing a bad process faster rather than actually

gaining the improvements desired to help achieve the organization’s

strategy. If a technology solution is needed to support the to‐be process,

there are some questions that should be answered, such as:

• What is the work to be done?

• What are the tasks or steps?

• How is the system going to help with the tasks?

• What can the system do to help work get done?

If the process currently involves use of a system, then an evaluation

should be done to determine whether to modify the system to include

the optimized process, or build or buy a new system. If a new system is

required and the determination is made to purchase it, then the business

analyst will identify areas where the system can help improve the

business process(es), providing a competitive advantage to the

organization. The analyst then documents how the processes will change

and how that will benefit the organization.

Document the New Process

The new, improved process is documented so that employees know how

to perform their parts of the process and so that IT support personnel can

use the document as they make system changes that may be needed.

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