Process engineering may not sound very sexy, but it’s a critical part of improving how we live and work – a vital lever for making people happier.
I discovered its true power in the early stages of my career, when family members had cancer scares. At that time, in the Netherlands, it took on average more than four weeks to get a cancer diagnosis from the time people presented with symptoms. While my family and I endured many sleepless nights, my professional brain was working furiously. Surely the process could be streamlined to get those with cancer into life-saving treatments more quickly – plus it would prevent weeks of unnecessary worry for those who didn’t have cancer (and their loved ones)!
Inspire2Live, a platform of patient advocates was surprised but delighted when a young process engineer offered her skills pro bono. When they realised the potential for improvement, we ended up with a national ‘Fast Track Cancer Diagnosis’ program. About a year later, approximately 95% of the patients at participating hospitals in the Netherlands could get their diagnosis confirmed within 48 hours.
A few years later, when our colleague, Garmt, was diagnosed with ALS, he came to me with a heart breaking problem. He was desperate to take part in clinical trials to help find a cure. He knew it would be too late for him, but he wanted to give meaning to his last months of life. A frequent challenge with ALS trials is that, as the patients don’t have a long life expectancy, researchers, foundations and pharmaceutical companies struggle to connect with them in time. Together with other Accenture volunteers and a couple of ALS specialists, we built a digital platform that could empower ALS patients to control their data and accelerate their connection to researchers, foundations and big pharma to make it faster accessible to participate in trials. The platform became the first international research initiative uniting patients, top researchers and foundations to find effective treatment for ALS – and is still running.
In 2015, I was struck by a curious inefficiency: Europe had an influx of refugees, bringing with them many different talents, while multinationals like Accenture were hiring people from abroad because they didn’t have insight into the refugee talent that had recently arrived nearby. Many talented refugees had a large desire to find a job and research shows work is an accelerator for successful integration into a different society. So I started working with and hiring refugee talents and had an excellent experience doing so. Refugees were among the highest performers and most loyal employees, bringing in new, innovative perspectives. But it wasn’t enough. If only we could bring an efficient system to connect refugee talent with other employers, we could reduce the gap in labour supply and demand significantly.
So, together with 20 of our large clients, I started the Refugee Talent Hub – a digital skills matching platform powered by algorithms. While refugees wait for their job match, the platform empowers them with resources and activities to increase their employability. Today, the platform is backed by ~100 companies, as well as educational institutions and government – and has placed more than 2,000 refugee talents in long-term employment.
Since moving to Australia in 2017, I’ve continued to apply process engineering wherever I see a need, both in commercial engagements as well as where we can serve our communities better. For example, the team under my leadership used process engineering to help an Australian Telco to create a better customer and employee experience while significantly improving profitability and obeying rules and regulations.
I do bring work home. On New Year’s Day in 2020 as the country burned, I was thinking of how Operational Excellence could be helpful in the response. I sent a text to the CEO of the Australian Red Cross (ARC): “How can we help?”
Within days a movement started. One of the big challenges ARC faced was rapidly scaling its volunteer response – standing up volunteer capability as demand arose. ARC was struggling with compliance checks, visibility of grassroots needs and the enormity of the response. I led a Bushfire Response Team, using different parts of Accenture to help ARC scale up rapidly to do its vital work on the frontline of the disaster.
This included a process engineering project to identify improvement opportunities in the volunteer journey, co-create concepts and test ideas with volunteers – dramatically speeding up the mobilisation process. As a result ARC was able to assist those most impacted by the terrible devastation via their 110 evacuation centres across the country.
These are all examples of using technology and process engineering to solve a pressing human need. But they also serve as a blueprint for fixing less urgent, but still important, pain points in our work and lives – in the process, unlocking transformational value in organisational operations.
Accenture Research shows that companies who rethink how work gets done across technology, processes and people are not just twice as efficient, but three times more profitable than their peers. In fact, if all companies practiced these strategies, our research estimates it would add $5.4 trillion in global profitability.
Even more importantly, it would transform working lives. Changing how work gets done has effects that ripple across everyone in the company. If people are frustrated by a time-wasting, non-intuitive process, they dread coming to work. If processes are easy. If customers are happy because they get a consistently great experience. If co-workers are empowered to collaborate to achieve common goals, everyone has a better day.
And, when everyone has a better day, our workplaces, homes and communities are happier and more resilient.
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