Automated business process discovery solution helps optimize workflows

ESI used a service from Fujitsu to streamline its opportunity-to-order process with the goal of reducing on-hand inventory. The software and services combination, introduced last year, helped ESI gain insight into existing processes and inefficiencies.


When it comes to meeting the challenge of tight budgets, many manufacturers find themselves in a familiar situation: stuck between a rock and a hard place. On one side are inefficient business processes that often mean longer production cycles and higher personnel and materials costs. On the other side are the time, money and resources that must be dedicated to a typical business process discovery initiative. The result for many companies is paralysis, but ESI of Portland, Oregon, found a better solution.

ESI micro engineering machine

Founded in 1944, ESI is one of the world's leading suppliers of photonic systems for microengineering production applications. Faced with integrating new product lines, locations and customer bases, the company knew it had analyze its business processes to ensure it could move forward without jeopardizing customers' production cycles-or losing focus on its goal to drive down the cost of finished goods and inventory.

First up was a key business process tied to a customized SAP system that tracks the conversion of opportunities to orders. ESI wanted to get a better understanding of the existing processes, and uncover and correct inefficiencies.

Mapping out existing business processes has historically required time-consuming self assessments and costly consultants leading lengthy workshops with the various task owners. According to a spokesman, ESI was not satisfied with this traditional approach to uncovering "as is" processes. The problem was that discussing how task owners believe their piece of the process works and then mapping this vision to reality often fails to reveal the exceptions to the process and the frequency at which they occur. It also falls short of providing insight into process bottlenecks, because the information is typically disjointed and based on anecdotal evidence.

Looking for a more efficient and accurate approach, ESI found the Automatic Process Discovery solution from Fujitsu. This software/service combination, which is said to be both front-end and middleware agnostic, overcomes the limitations of the workshop approach. It traces system interactions in an organization's application data store to build a true picture of business process patterns. This reduces the time and cost associated with this process discovery step, and reportedly provides greater insight by including every transaction in its assessment (instead of just a small sample).

Software tool helps visualize customer cases

Customers like ESI provide Fujitsu with existing database logs for the business process they want to analyze. A Fujitsu software tool runs through the data and helps customers visualize their business processes while identifying potential areas for improvement. The service lets organizations visualize thousands of customer cases and combine usage frequency and cost analytics to produce concrete evidence of where a company needs to make improvements.

ESI opted for the Fujitsu APD solution because, even if it were possible to achieve the same results through the workshop approach, it would have been costly and taken too long, according to a spokesman. The relatively low-cost APD solution offered quick visibility into ESI's existing opportunity-to-order process, with a complete efficiency analysis based on facts. ESI also could use the service to analyze the trends around processes followed by different divisions within the company, and track the changes in processes from year to year.

ESI obtained a blueprint detailing the typical opportunity-to-order process path and the exceptions to the norm. This was combined with relevant performance metrics rendered using IT system logs. ESI considered the project a success, because the level of detail represented in the process flows allowed for selective inspection of individual steps, pinpointed areas for further optimization, and brought to light additional details that could help the company drive down costs. Specifically, the APD service:

• Uncovered repeated steps, process loopbacks, and several alternate flows, and provided ESI with metrics and measures to help the company identify how much each deviation from the standard process was costing the organization. It also uncovered previously invisible costs the company was incurring as a result of reacting to changes in orders.
• Revealed an opportunity to compress the time between the receipt of an order and its shipment, and thereby improve customer satisfaction.
• Provided visibility into the number of opportunities that were getting converted into quotes, getting converted into orders, getting cancelled, and staying open for long periods of time.
• Uncovered the need to make sure manufacturing instructions were stopped once an opportunity was registered as "lost."
• Provided visual evidence of multiple configuration changes to orders throughout the process, which was potentially lowering productivity and increasing the cost of delivery.
• Identified the costliest process flows to help ESI get a better understanding of how to manage its operational costs.
• Discovered that official procedures for capturing certain attributes of the sales order were not being followed consistently.

Using the service, ESI identified 22 new process improvement opportunities, 17 of which are directly attributed to the use of APD. ESI has gained more intimate knowledge of its processes, which will allow for tactical fixes within its current SAP environment, and better decision making as a new SAP environment is built.

ESI shared its experience at this year's Gartner BPM Summit , held in Orlando, Fla., in October.

- Edited by Renee M. Robbins, managing editor, MBT

See also:
Graban: Apologizing Does NOT Get to the Root Cause

photo: ESI micro engineering.jpg
caption: ESI's portfolio of micro-engineering solutions enhances manufacturing processes around the globe.



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