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Stories from SAP Centric EAM 2013 – What’s Sabotaging Your Business Software and How to Release the Power to Innovate

[ Insights from the SAP-Centric EAM 2013 Event – Huntington Beach March 2013 ( Part 4 of 12 ): This is part of a blog series brought to you by Norm Poynter and Paul Kurchina, designed to inspire and educate by sharing experiences with the SAP Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) Community. For the past nine years, the Eventful Group’s SAP-Centric North American Event ( Supported by SAP and ASUG ) has brought together the EAM community to network, share ideas and experiences, and explore solutions for Enterprise Asset Management.]


This post is based on Harold Hambrose’s presentation ” What’s Sabotaging Your Business Software and How You Can Release the Power to Innovate “

At the beginning of Harold Hambrose’s presentation at SAP-Centric Conference 2013, he led a great audience participation activity that proved a point (and broke the ice). Hambrose, CEO and founder of Electronic Ink, demonstrated peoples’ inherent tendency to follow instructions—up to a point. They stop when their comfort level is stretched! Everyone took Hambrose’s suggestions—until he asked the audience to put their left hand into the pants pocket of the person next to them. Now that’s a comfort level stretch!

This set the stage for Hambrose’s message: What we’ve been doing for the past 30 years when it comes to software design and interaction with humans just isn’t working anymore.

What resonated with me the most with this presentation was how IT goes about designing business processes and software using archaic methods and then achieves substandard results. Hambrose stressed that design is the answer to this problem. “It’s time to realize that design can be the means of understanding and transforming operations, the systems that support operations, and the customer experience,” said Hambrose.

Design is much more important for ROI than the business process maps that everyone hangs their hats on. The prevailing thought is “If we do a good business process model, we’ll get ROI for our software investment.” Well, one-dimensional process flows do nothing, said Hambrose. People just don’t think in flat, decision-trees anymore (and I think we can point to iPads and touch screen technology as a driver of this).

Hambrose talked about the effectiveness of storyboards—living pictures of how work and activities are accomplished. The simplification of complex processes flows into storyboards really demonstrate the actions of people and activities to achieve a result, as opposed to a rudimentary line diagram that meanders its way across swim lanes describing activities in dull and inaccurate ways.

Hambrose made another point that compounds the problem: people often lie when process mapping. He told the story of highly educated people in India who were looking to create efficiency but weren’t given the latitude to create it. It wasn’t until Hambrose’s team went in and listened to their ideas and paid attention to them that they were able to make a difference in their daily activities. If people can’t achieve those activities, they are going to feel constrained, not fulfilled.  The process flow (that they may or may not have told the truth about) might as well be tossed out the window.

Harold’s concepts are exactly what I think most of our software designs and business process designs need to consider. We need to get into visual aids and conversations. We need to put mechanisms in place for people to collaborate actively on and not statically one day in a workshop that is later forgotten.

We can do better at using software to make business decisions. We should make humans smarter and not assume that people need an easier interface so that they will do their work better. Studies have shown that the general IQ of the population is decreasing, and I believe the iPad and touch screen technologies are key drivers of this decrease. Nobody has to think anymore.

What was Hambrose’s call to action?  Balance the two-dimensional process diagrams of our past with a genuine appreciation for the human context of business.  Do this by observing and understand the human nature of activities and interactions and then by creating rich visual diagrams of our understanding.


And create software that makes us think a bit and yet keeps our relationship with completing the process steps engaged ……that’s our suggestion!

To learn more, watch the video of Harold Hambrose’s presentation.

To view other blogs in this series.

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