Simplification: A Critical Game Changer in the Future of Business

by David Fowler, Senior Marketing Director, SAP Services

Nowadays, constant change is the norm. Companies must be agile and quick enough to respond to shifting economics, customer demands, technology, and even resource availability. As processes and technologies are refined and introduced to address these changes, complexity emerges. And as complexity increases, so does the risk of losing agility, adaptability, scalability, and cost-effectiveness – but more important, everyone loses the freedom to innovate when it’s needed.

I had the pleasure of participating in a panel discussion with two brilliant experts on this topic – Susanne Passante, vice president of Business Integration Services for Day & Zimmerman, and Matt Healey, principal analyst for Technology Business Research (TBR). In “Future of Business: Changing the Game Through Simplification” from Coffee Break with Game-Changers, a special edition series of SAP Radio, we shared our insights on why companies need simplification.

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler

Susanne Passante kicked off the discussion by noting her excitement about the idea of simplification: “I am enthralled by this topic because it’s a philosophical debate that’s fascinating in my point of view. We call it simplification, but many times we’re just rearranging deck chairs or removing layers. And I am not sure if resources are hitting the mark in most cases.” 

Simplification implies that the tools, information, and processes everyday people use to do their jobs become “simple as possible.” Passante shared, “This enables employees to focus less on administration and information gathering and more on the actual job they were hired to do. There’s more reliance on strategic thinking, analysis, modeling, and what-if scenarios – leading to creativity, diversity, design thinking, and innovation.”

According to Passante, there could be profound organizational implications if we succeed in making complex business technology “simple as possible.” With simple technology, the middle manager who coordinates the work and information flow between employees and colleagues would no longer be needed. This causes the entire organization to flatten and become simpler – making accountability clear and how things work even clearer.

Never confuse a clear view with a short distance

Matt Healey picked up the conversation by reflecting on what it takes to simplify. “Just because you know what a simpler future looks like, it doesn’t mean that it’s around the corner. This can be a very long journey, even if you have a clear view of the end goal,” he commented. 

If companies want to simplify the business and IT, they need to understand how they got to this point. If this is not fully understood, companies run the risk of building solutions that will only grow into problems in the future. For many companies, IT systems in the past were limited in processing power, software functionality, and technical literacy. IT can help simplify complexity by solving these problems. 

However, as systems become more disorderly, managers implement processes to control them – leading to increased complexity. To keep things simple, management must make sure that disorder doesn’t begin in the first place, whether it’s misplaced fear, ego, or not knowing better.

“I’ve seen simpler systems that have fewer steps, but more control points pushed down to the ground. If you push some decision-making responsibility down the organizational chain and trust the people underneath to make some decisions, then some of these processes won’t become so complicated. As a result, you allow experimentation and simplification,” advised Healey.

The most important things in life aren’t THINGS

To round out the conversation, I provided my perspective on how gaining simplicity is all about people. It’s easy to bring in new processes, but the people who are executing these processes will ultimately find the simplest method to accomplish what is required. In consulting circles, this is known as “making the informal process the formal process” because it typically supports a more intuitive way to get the same results. In some companies, this type of activity often gets stifled and corrected back into a more complex process. But if the organization is progressive, this type of innovation is usually rewarded.

Simplification takes people working together at all levels to move in a new direction. Oftentimes, executives and corporate visionaries will plot an exciting new course to simplify their enterprise. The momentum is often short-lived because internal teams resist or make excuses why they can’t change – while thinking that if they wait long enough, the initiative will pass and the “normal way” of doing business will resume. Organizations that have this “impermeable layer of resistance” are at a huge competitive disadvantage, and their agility is severely limited when simplifying and adapting to market trends.

 

In my opinion, there are three basic human needs that often drive continued resistance: 

  1. The need to feel needed – If someone is an expert and a change nullifies that expertise, their sense of need is diminished.
  2. The power in knowledge and or information – Changes for the sake of simplification can challenge people’s power base.
  3. Sense of entrepreneurship – In organizations that highly empower their workers, simplification can reduce a person’s sense of entrepreneurship because the change is often focused on how people work together more simply. 

The key to overcoming this resistance is knowing your employees on a personal level and providing tradeoffs that will feed people’s basic needs. For example, showing how change will increase the need for a person and their expertise. Rewarding people that historically hold information for building and mentoring others with their knowledge. Finally, getting your in-house entrepreneurs into the planning process up front and coordinate empowerment across teams – helping to ensure that simple ideas, that overlap once launched, don’t create a more complex situation.

By taking an incremental approach that respects people, leverages technology, and revisits processes that have changed to a form that seem natural to business users, leaders can chip away this layer of resistance and allow simplification to happen – it just takes time, hard work, and consistency. Simplicity is good, but making everything simple is hard.

Listen to a replay of this edition of the Future of Business with Game Changers series, presented by SAP Radio. 

Want to learn more about the future of business? Check out this year’s forums at SAPPHIRE NOW.

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