The most significant impact of the Industrial Revolution was how it transformed how people worked. Handwork gave way to the operation of machines – first in factories, but over the years, machine operation came to pervade services industries as well, from banking to transportation to government.

In the early twentieth century, Frederick Winslow Taylor’s Principles of Scientific Management followed, crystallizing the distinct roles of workers and management within this industrial context, focusing in particular on how to improve the means of production by making workers more efficient. 

This thinking led to the invention of the business process. Using machinery operation as the template, Scientific Management extended processes across the enterprise.

Today, we have a reasonably solid idea of what we mean by business processes. They consist of a sequence of steps representing tasks or actions, with a clear beginning and an end, which represents a business goal.

Such processes frequently have branches and error conditions, suggesting a flowchart as the best way to visually represent them.

As part of their day-to-day work, then, people must execute such processes as though each flowchart were a large hopscotch game, where everybody’s job is to hop from one square to another.

Shifting from Process-Centricity to People-Centricity

Every business process must have a business purpose – an organizational goal that lines up with the profit driver of every private sector company (or mission priority within the public sector).

This profit-centric alignment, however, is an Industrial Era holdover. In the Digital Era, organizations must be people-centric.

We no longer want to treat people as cogs in a wheel. We must free ourselves from our business process thinking. Instead, we start with the individual – and thus instead of processes, we must focus on journeys.

You may already be familiar with customer journeys: the representation of the sequence of interactions a person has with a company or brand. Customer journeys consist of a sequence of ‘moments,’ recognizing that when people use a device to interact with an organization, they do so when and where they choose – not when or where the company chooses.

In the Digital Era, we extend the notion of customer journeys to everyone – employees, partners, suppliers, anyone involved in an organization. Instead of the ‘customer journey’ terminology, therefore, let’s generalize the notion to the ‘digital journey.’

Such digital journeys are different from business processes in several fundamental ways. The person usually decides on the order of steps, or moments, rather than the organization laying them out beforehand.

Digital journeys may include how people purchase things, or how they behave at work. They also frequently have no clear end, and many not have a clear beginning, either.

Most importantly, each journey is unique to the individual. The focus is on the experience of that individual, and from the perspective of the business, the focus must be on engagement – with customers, partners, employees, and everyone else.

Throw Away the Flowchart

Since every journey is unique and each individual decides their own moments, a flowchart metaphor is a poor fit for a digital journey. Instead, characterize digital journeys as depending on constraints and dependencies.

A constraint is a limitation on the behavior within a journey that applies across the journey – but only takes effect when the conditions for the constraint are met.

A dependency is when one task or activity must take place before another can occur.

Here’s an example: let’s say your journey is through an airport (yes, digital journeys can be literal journeys!).

When you walk in, you might check in at a kiosk, get in line, or perhaps go to a store – it’s up to you. But you must still conform to certain constraints, for example, you must have a boarding pass to go through security, and you must pass through security to go to a gate.

There are dependencies as well: getting a boarding pass depends upon having a valid ticket, for example.

As long as people conform to the constraints and dependencies, then, they are welcome to do whatever they want in whatever order they choose.

Processes are subject to constraints and dependencies as well, but in the Digital Era, we must free the considerations of constraints and dependencies from the business process context, instead applying them to the unique priorities and behavior of each individual.

Our airport example makes this difference clear. In the Industrial Era, people had to check in at the airline ticket counter to get a boarding pass – steps in a business process.

In the Digital Era, however, people have many ways to obtain boarding passes at different times, both at home or in the airport. This flexibility is human-centric rather than process-centric, illustrating the need to focus on the digital journey instead of the process.

The Intellyx Take

In the Digital Era, expectations shift to a ‘digital journey first’ mentality. Digitally transformed companies realize that to put customers and employees first, they must treat them as individuals who wish to interact on their own terms.

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of this transition from the Industrial Era to the Digital Era is the shift from profit-centricity to human-centricity. After all, isn’t making money the true goal of any for-profit company?

The answer: in the Digital Era, the only way to achieve the profit goals of the enterprise is to successfully move to a human-centric model. Focusing on profits over people is counterproductive, uncompetitive, and in the long run, fatal.

The companies that will profit the most in the Digital Era are paradoxically the ones that don’t put profit at the center of their efforts.

Be warned: the technology connotation of ‘digital’ is nothing but a smokescreen. Digital journeys – and the Digital Era writ large – are about people. Get this right and profits will follow.

Copyright © Intellyx LLC. BP Logix is an Intellyx client. At the time of writing, none of the other organizations mentioned in this article are Intellyx clients. Intellyx retains full editorial control over the content of this paper. Image credit: photographymontrealFloyd Wilde, and Intellyx.

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