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Process Consulting Marked By Changing Customer Needs

Process Consulting: From technical reengineering to comprehensive solutions

The term and (self-)concept of "process consulting" have changed remarkably over the last 20 years. Traditionally process consulting work includes a broad range of activities aiming at improving efficiency and effectiveness along the whole value chain of organizations. Therefore, process consulting is still a relevant concept to consulting work, although the methodologies and solutions related to process consulting and client expectations towards "modern" process consulting have developed further. In this article you will find answers to questions like what process consulting was and is today, what process consulting has to offer to be of value for clients and how process consulting has developed from technical reengineering to a consulting approach which delivers comprehensive solutions to clients.


Process consulting: term with varied uses

Process consulting is one of the core disciplines of traditional management consulting and provides assistance with defining, adapting and optimizing the core and support processes of client organizations. The management topics addressed by process consulting include a company's potentials which can be exploited by faster, better, more economic and higher-quality workflows within client organizations. Process consulting is often equated with «business process reengineering» or «business process redesign». However, process consulting does not only deal with «operational excellence», «lean management» or «performance improvement», but is also used to describe consulting work related to change initiatives within organizations to execute strategies and in this case means methodological and process support applying change management tactics to drive strategy implementation. Process consulting often is combined with organizational consulting services to help clients establish process-oriented organizational structures or with IT consulting services to help clients derive systems requirements in order to deploy IT to support new processes.

The «upgrading» of process consulting over the time

Process consulting has evolved from a "technically" oriented discipline (the term «business process reengineering» first introduced in the 1990s by Hammer/ Champy and Davenport/ Short expresses this idea quite clearly), involving the radical redesign of core business processes to achieve dramatic improvements in productivity, cycle times and quality and thus addressing and focussing on the "hard facts", to a wider approach to organization development for which the way clients organize their company or organization to optimize the pursuit of strategic objectives is an important part. This is being reflected by terms such as «end-to-end» process consulting, «value chain»-optimization or «customer centricity», which claim to induce a comprehensive transformation of a company, with all aspects of a transformation project including cultural change. In addition, today IT systems are seen as critical elements of process implementations because new technologies have created a wide array of further opportunities to support processes in organizations (e.g. digitalization or workflow-technologies). And furthermore, process consulting increasingly addresses the "soft aspects" of process optimization projects such as enablement of employees, people development, recruiting, employee assessment, etc.) applying methodologies and tools borrowed from change management consulting, HR consulting and coaching. 



Process consulting is equal to strategy execution

Process consulting is increasingly seen as critical interface between a company's strategy and its organizational structure. The processes are therefore the expression of a company's strategy. It's no longer a case of "structure follows strategy", the saying now goes "process follows strategy, structure follows process". First the strategy is defined, then the processes which have to be established to execute the strategy and then the organizational structure ensues. Consulting companies hence offer consulting services subsumed under the term «strategic process consulting», which include the analysis and assessment of «business ideas» and assistance with the successful implementation of these ideas. Although business process consulting seeks to examine and identify the efficiency and effectiveness of a company's processes and hence focusses on operational issues, these are derived from the overarching strategic objectives and guidelines. 

What expectations do clients have towards «modern» process consulting?

Consulting companies have to deal with more savvy and sophisticated clients which are becoming proficient in the methodologies and tools related to process consulting or process analysis, process design and process optimization, respectively. For these topics and issues client organizations hardly use external process consultants anymore. Furthermore, the potential to realize additional improvements through traditional process consulting is limited after a large number efficiency and cost improvement or operational excellence programs which clients have (successfully) accomplished in the past with the help of process consultants. These factors, together with two other trends – the stronger alignment of business processes to strategy and the further integration of IT solutions to support business processes beyond the traditional use of information technology – have changed the requirements of clients and the (self-)concept of process consulting dramatically. Nowadays, process consulting has to apply innovative methods and tools (e.g. «design thinking», «collaborative intelligence» and «predictive analytics» in in the analysis phase of process consulting projects, «agiles project management» or «predictive service models» in the process design and implementation phase), offer individualized and tailored "consulting service packages" for the single and distinct transformation steps and activities, give access to (cross-industry) best practice solutions and deliver quick and cost-efficient prototypes of technical solutions and applications (e.g. mobile apps, e-commerce platforms, portal solutions). Future and "modern" process consulting therefore combines an understanding of strategy and business processes coupled with a broad experience in training (change and enabling) and Technology implementation in order to help clients solve specific business problems.

From process consulting to «solutions & services»

Recent growth in the fields of automatic optimisation and open source technology will continue to revolutionize industrial processes and will require process consulting to apply innovative approaches which are able to leverage top emerging mainstream technologies such as 3D printing, machine-to-machine (M2M) communication, composite materials and wearable technologies. With the use of these technologies along a process- and transformation roadmap process consulting will be able to deliver comprehensive and integrated «solutions & services» thus helping clients innovate and create new business opportunities. Such solutions are always individual applications tailored to a client's organization and specific processes, but can generally be subsumed under the terms platform solutions (e.g. social and collaboration platforms, cloud solutions/ software as a service or mobile solutions. More and more, process consulting is also combined with offerings in the field of «managed services», e.g. application management for software solutions, or «professional managed services», e.g. business process outtasking or outsourcing («BPO»). Process consultants operate hence as «full-service providers» with a mix of process, functional and technology services and collaborate with clients in the role of innovation- and transformation up to service- or outsourcing partners.