I’ve embarked on the first outdoor season in my new home and already spent a few twilights feverishly mowing the lawn.   Humored friends bemoan that I’m “too cheap” to hire someone.  It’s not about money, but using the experience to help determine the need.

The lure of convenience is enticing, but when I take time to study the process, the solution is not only informed, it’s sustainable.  The Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska stated in her Nobel Prize acceptance speech, “Whatever inspiration is, it’s born from a continuous ‘I don’t know.’”  I’ve always found it more rewarding to understand a problem rather than be handed the answer.

I’m fortunate to have a career that allows me to observe the mechanics of people, process and technology co-existing in different environments.  Watching how roles are assigned, delivery methods are selected and decisions are made, provides endless opportunities to learn.

At the core of business is an ongoing quest for the “holy grail” … solutions:  success through high efficiencies and low cost.  There is constant pressure to fix problems with very little time to figure out how.  So often, the biggest risk occurs in buying some “thing” to make improvements.

Operational managers become victims of convenience when considering business applications: “It does everything we need.”  The expectation is that the product loads to the network and – BAM – everything works better, right?  Wrong.  Unfortunately, this is a very common and costly business interpretation.

Technical solutions provide tremendous value, but can also open the door to bigger problems if not well-planned.  It’s important to assume a healthy respect towards the complexity of the investment.  This begins with extensive preparation to fully utilize its two key benefits.

The first and most common advantage is automating processes to improve efficiency.  Easy?  No.  While business delivery methods are common, companies have different cultures, rules and requirements.  The goal is to streamline the automation of manual processes with minimal business interruption.  Therefore, it’s important to understand and visualize how each detailed task is executed: by who or what group? how often? what other departments are involved? what external resources participate? what are the existing policies that need to be integrated?

This first advantage partners with the second which is critically important, but often overlooked:  capturing data.  In the rush to get an application installed, this key benefit gets pushed aside.  The consequence can be years of lost opportunities to measure and analyze business operations and create a zero-risk bias towards informed solutions (the holy grail).  The approach begins by understanding the process data, what needs to be reported and the associated naming conventions all carefully designed to capture and analyze consistent, measurable information.

This second benefit is the golden goose of business applications.  Data drives everything.  As Peter Drucker said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”  Before investing, take extensive inventory of business process and performance data to better understand what you don’t know.  The outcome will inspire a more informed and sustainable solution.