Business process management has become an integral aspect of all major corporations. Improving business efficiency through standardizing repetitive functions with a high degree of objectivity is, in particular, a key aspect of this process. Managing intellectual property assets also involves process engineering at various functional levels of an organization.
The broad categories of processing include management, operational andsupporting processes. Management processes typically refer to processes that govern the operation of a system, such as corporate governance and strategic management. Operational processes refer to practices that constitute a company’s core business and create the primary value stream. Typical operational processes include purchasing, manufacturing, marketing and sales. Supporting processes refer to those processes which support the core processes. Examples include accounting, recruitment and technical support.
Out of these, operational processes are major cost centres and revenue generators. A substantial degree of process engineering involves dealing with the operational aspects of a company, which provide clients with a plethora of services, or offer a rich product-line. In the context of IP-driven companies, robust processes are used for functions like patentability assessment, portfolio maintenance, patent licensing, and infringement searches. However, the global recession continues to limit the implementation of existing processes and demands that systems be re-aligned towards new business strategies. These limitations come in the form of constrained operational budgets and changes in the demand-supply curve.
To combat such limitations, companies must seriously rethink and radically redesign their business processes. The objective is to achieve dramatic improvements in critical performance metrics, such as cost, quality, service and turnaround time.
The re-engineering can begin with an audit to determine which of the numerous processes are cost-intensive and critical. Each block in every process can be evaluated to ascertain its time, cost, and associated implementation complexity (if not already done). Next, the total costs can be calculated and mapped onto the allocated budget for the relevant activity. Companies can then decide which blocks in the process can be modified.
The process can subsequently be revisited in order to explore the possibilities of combining one or more blocks together. Combining blocks would entail aggregating one or more activities so that they are performed by a single resource rather than multiple resources. This will often lead to slight modifications in the job descriptions of employees responsible for the block. Following this, companies can distinguish processes and blocks that can be outsourced from those that can be strictly carried out internally. The criteria for these considerations can range from the cost of resources, budget allocations, inefficiencies, turnaround time, quality, the need for further investments, the advantages of outsourcing, and a company’s mission and vision in the light of the ongoing recession.
Outsourcing deserves special mention in the re-engineering process. Outsourcing to offshore locations offers a huge cost advantage, with comparable turnaround time and quality standards. Processes, sub-processes, and blocks that are considered low-end activities with reduced implementation complexities and lower risks are those that may be outsourced successfully. On the flip side, activities with higher implementation complexity should be handled internally. Other factors that require consideration when making outsourcing decisions include legal requirements, export control laws, internal company policies and confidentiality.
Process re-engineering should be executed by a team of experts well-versed with the operational aspects of a company’s business process and who understand the premise of this re-alignment with changes in corporate strategies. Following an audit, a consolidated report can be prepared, capturing suggestions and recommendations to modify the business process.
The senior management can then review the audit report and begin the implementation phase. This would involve a pilot run for a specified time period to test the production units for the modified processes, sub-processes or blocks. During the pilot run, companies may discover inconsistencies which can then be ironed out through further process modification. Once the pilot test has been completed, the new processes can be integrated into the overall matrix of processes. It must be noted that some or all the processes will have a cross-functional element that mandates a collaborative approach in process re-engineering. A more detailed analysis may be required for such processes.
The effectiveness of process re-engineering also depends heavily on the level of abstraction of a given process and the expertise of the re-engineering team. Process re-engineering is recommended not only during times of recession, but also during the normal course of business in order to optimally manage intellectual property assets.
TS Sharat is a senior patent engineer and leads the intellectual property support services unit at Clairvolex Knowledge Processes, a Delhi-based legal outsourcing firm.
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