04/07/2011

The office process redesign language

dogbone66060600021.jpgOffice Process Redesign Language (OPRL) is a language for describing administrative processes in offices. OPRL addresses the problem of how to organize (or reorganize) an office using e-technology1 to the best advantage of the office, with the goal to deliver the required services for the organization to which it belongs. OPRL prescribes an approach to guide office process redesign, emphasizing incremental change and participation. The task of organizing an office involves the definition of: the services to be delivered by the office; the roles and responsibilities of the staff; the procedures to be followed; and the technological support. This task cannot be achieved without dialogue and agreement among the stakeholders of the office process. The purpose of OPRL is to provide support for those involved in office process redesign (managers, office staff, professional analysts and consultants), and to reorganize and implement office systems to improve service delivery and enhance the office-work environment.


In this book we define an office process to be a collection of (office) activities that adds value to information input to the process by transforming it into information output from the process. The office process consists of three elements: the information processing activities and their sequence; the organization of people around these activities (their roles & responsibilities); and the technological infrastructure. OPRL embraces the complete concept of an office process. An office process has an identifiable measurable service objective for the organization as a whole. Performance criteria may be attributed to measure the added value of the new processes and the staff satisfaction with the new organization.

OPRL is a modeling language for describing office processes in a comprehensive way and addresses the following

• OPRL covers descriptions and specifications of office work ranging from the abstract level to the descriptive level and through to the applications level.
• OPRL, at its most detailed level, is a specification language for automatic generation of Information Technology (IT) support applications for the office.
• OPRL covers a full range of information processing concepts [Actions; Information; Flow; and Technology] and office organization concepts [People].
• OPRL is designed to be used by non-technical office managers and staff.
• OPRL is embedded in a methodological framework that guides the approach to office process redesign. The methodological approach emphasizes incremental change and participation.
• OPRL is supported by Computer Aided Software Engineering (CASE) tools that allow OPRL diagrams to be prepared. At application level these OPRL specifications support automatic generation of the e-office application.

Aim of OPRL

Offices are places of work where knowledge workers add value to information services in the same way as industrial workers add value to products and farmers add value to agricultural produce. In the information age, worldclass private and public organizations deliver value by leveraging their office process capability.

When people working in offices in the private or public sector wish to organize or re-organize their office work they need a way of describing this office work and its procedures so that they can communicate; they need to use a systematic approach to reorganization; and they need to be able to generate the technological support easily. OPRL provides a common language for office process redesign, a systematic approach to reorganization, and a means to generate technological support.

Office process redesign may be viewed as a sub-domain of business process redesign3. The adaptability of an IT solution to meet new requirements is one of the current problems in Business Process Management (BPM). Managers want to change office processes flexibly and quickly to meet new business demands or seize new opportunities. They are often hampered by the hard coded nature of IT processes which have been implemented. Managers want to see a very short ‘office process redesign’ development cycle. Current IT solutions are perceived as inadaptable and the development of new IT solutions time constrained. OPRL is a communications and applications-generation tool that focuses both on the adaptability of the organizational environment and on the adaptable re-generation of the IT solution.

Today, in the fast moving business world, with the use of networked computers on every office desk and access to Internet services, there is a need for flexible work practices capable of tracking any new business requirements. This means that there is a need to reorganize office procedures more frequently. To redesign an office process, it is essential for people to communicate about the following points: the purpose of the office process; how to reorganize their tasks and responsibilities; and about how to use modern office equipment to implement these new procedures.

OPRL is used in every phase of re-organization. OPRL is used to support managers and staff to clarify what service the office must deliver to the wider organization; i.e. the purpose of the office process. It is used to design how an office is to be organized (or reorganized); and at a more detailed level it describes what tasks have to be undertaken to deliver the required services. Finally OPRL can be used to specify and quite flexibly generate the software application, the e-procedures, to support the office work, taking advantage office networks, communications technology linked in to Internet services.

OPRL is an adaptable language supporting office process reorganization. It consists of a set of graphical symbols with rules governing their use. The symbols and rules are explained in detail in this book. The objective of the graphical representations is to help those people involved in office redesign to describe and discuss their office process situations. OPRL is not only a representation technique it is also an approach to office process redesign.
The OPRL approach is based on a limited number of principles that must be present in the project governance of office design to ensure success. One important principle emphasized by OPRL is participation, suggesting that those involved in the office work (managers, staff and analysts) must be involved in the redesign. A participative approach usually implies a formative approach to reorganization and so OPRL sustains an incremental change approach to reorganization. The second important principle is pragmatism. The activity of office process redesign must aim to resolve a known and quantified problem or seize a well defined and quantified business opportunity. OPRL encourages stakeholders to focus on the business problem; to reorganize the office and use the technology, not for its own sake, but to deliver the required service.

The development of OPRL is motivated by the need for an orderly approach to reorganization; the need to communicate about an office redesign proposal and the need to generate e-office technological support seamlessly. It provides a systematic approach to reorganization based on a simple methodological framework, one that emphasizes an adaptable, pragmatic approach to sequencing tasks and user participation in a reorganization project [Sherwood-Smith and Chappelet 1993]. The diagrams used in OPRL are based on an ideographic language. This is intended to help people communicate easily and effectively about manual and computer-based procedures in private and public sector offices.
A language must be easy to use for its targeted audience, not a hurdle to communication. OPRL is designed to be used by all stakeholders: managers; office staff; and technical support staff. The terms used in the language are intuitive so that managers and practitioners in the field can immediately communicate with their staff using OPRL. The language encourages all stakeholders to take a systemic view of their processes in the reorganization exercise. OPRL promotes systems thinking and discussions about the office as a whole, without losing sight of relevant details at operational level.

Communication is based on preparing diagrams that are easy to understand, that can be discussed and that, once they have been agreed, partially formalize the design of the office processes. As for anyone learning a new language, it is not necessary to master the syntax and vocabulary perfectly before starting to speak OPRL. The formalism is flexible, so it can be applied in a wide variety of office process redesign situations. At its most precise and concrete level it is used to formalize the specification of computer-based processes, which can then be used to automatically generate a workflow application.

A language must be useful and effective in achieving its intended purpose. This means that the language must deal with current concepts of office work. OPRL helps the management to express service requirements at a general level; OPRL supports discussion of organization and procedures at office work level, so that the members of office staff who will finally work with the processes can contribute and are motivated to contribute to the achievement of the service objectives. OPRL supports the specification of the technological infrastructure for the e-procedures that underpin the delivery of services from the reorganized office.

Teamwork and Technology

It is of primary importance that the process of redesign should deliver the required outputs for the direct clients of the process, be they colleagues in other offices or outside customers.

• On the input side, the role of suppliers of information should be clearly expressed and their responsibilities understood.
• The future design of the office procedures, office work and office organization must be discussed and agreed by the managers, staff and IT specialists who are taking part.
• The goals of the office process, the service to be delivered, must be clearly expressed and understood. The stakeholders must identify with these goals for an effective service to be delivered.

OPRL supports the formalization of the office process goals, the future design and its supporting organization so that it can be discussed and agreed upon. This ensures that the process is efficient: that members of staff working with the process are satisfied with their new work organization; that the use of office equipment and of modern information and communication technology (ICT) equipment is understood; and that the equipment is used efficiently. OPRL supports communication about office processes in a non-technical way, so that ICT is no longer the focus of the problem, but rather a solution supporting the office objectives.

Teamwork and technology have been identified as the two key enablers in office process redesign, with a clear business goal as the overriding motivating theme. Leadership is a key ingredient, if not the most important ingredient, in achieving business success. To gain benefits for the organization from office process redesign, the leadership, at whatever level is appropriate for the project, must be able to express clearly what the new office processes must target in business terms. The leader must be able to motivate office staff to come to grips with how this can be achieved with new technology and must also be able to devise acceptable teamwork arrangements with which the office staff identify. The office staff must have the mind-set to deliver their part of the office process.

OPRL is the means (an orderly approach and a graphical language) that enables the management to assume the leadership role in office process redesign, to communicate, and to focus on the delivery of the business objective. OPRL helps office staff to understand and identify with the business goal and, in harmony with this objective, to redesign their teamwork (collaboration) to use ICT in an acceptably reorganized office. The reorganization of the office in such a way as to take advantage of technology does not depend on intrusive technical jargon: OPRL is designed to be simple to use at the level of office process redesign. The technological system cannot be ignored; technical support is needed to implement the technical infrastructure. OPRL allows technical staff to specify the technological support needed to deliver the work environment and organizational tools for the staff and to deliver the office process outputs needed by the business leadership.

In The Information Paradox, Thorp explains that huge investments are being made in ICT to improve business performance, but neither the information nor the technology investments are being converted into business value. The information paradox is almost certainly a subset of the wider paradox that, in general, investments in office processes do not easily translate into business value. OPRL can help change that situation. Leadership, communication and team participation can deliver the office process capability which, when enabled by an appropriately specified ICT infrastructure and surrounded by willing teamwork, will deliver business value…

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