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Best practices in modelling: Why we should stop reinventing the wheel

Best practices in modelling: Why we should stop reinventing the wheel

The complexity companies are confronted with is constantly increasing. On one hand, new channels and opportunities create new ecosystems, while on the other hand, existing processes and systems must continue to be taken into account. Enterprise modeling helps to maintain an overview and focus on what is important – the customers.

Enterprise modelling — the simplified representation of, for example, an organization’s process and data structures — is at the heart of professional service providers. For example, it allows the completion of certification processes to be simplified, continuous quality management, and also provides an excellent foundation for digitalization and automation, for instance through robotic process automation (RPA). Nevertheless, the approach is not yet met with acceptance in all companies. Modelling expert Jörg Becker, a professor at the University of Münster, and Karsten Kraume, a customer experience and digital expert at Bertelsmann, talk about the potential and possible practical applications of scientific findings about enterprise modelling.

Mr. Kraume, on one hand it is important that service providers standardize. On the other hand, they want to retain a certain degree of freedom. In your opinion, what are the main challenges at the moment?

Karsten Kraume: Customer relationship management (CRM) is becoming increasingly complex. New digital channels are appearing frequently. Also, more and more data is available and the requirements to handle this data appropriately are increasing. New ecosystems are emerging, and we must also continue considering the existing systems and processes at the same time, which doesn’t necessarily encourage standardization. It is important to stay on top of things and refocus, so that the customer is also at the center of all future activities. Design thinking and abstraction through modelling — both areas of our research in cooperation with the European Center for Information Systems (ERCIS) at the University of Münster — can help with this.

Mr. Becker, what exactly is modelling?

Jörg Becker: The modelling approach stems from to Stachowiak’s 1973 model theory. According this theory, a model has three fundamental properties: First of all, it should be the mapping of an original. It should also simplify, for example by cutting any irrelevant aspects from the original. Finally, it should be pragmatic. This means that the model has a specific purpose. Models are of central importance for information systems since they facilitate bridging the gap between business and information technology. Both have different perspectives on the same issues. Modeling allows them to view the world from a specific perspective — ideally one that helps them to better understand a particular, possibly complex context.

Karsten Kraume: We also observe this more and more in practice. For example, if we take the customer journey which is determined mainly through marketing and has less to do with technology. The idea behind the concept is to empathize with the customer and show how they experience a particular product or service. That is why we use design thinking principles to offer our clients customer journey design as a solution. This is how we ensure customer centricity. Here, technical details are also taken into account in the background. The more accurately that requirements, processes, and systems are documented the better.

Mr. Becker, what should be considered when choosing a suitable model?

Jörg Becker: For one thing, consulting the research is recommended in order to find a suitable model for a specific application. Moreover, it is important to choose an appropriate modelling language in order to also be able to express the relevant facts. However mistakes can occur here, as just speaking a language doesn’t mean that the correct things are said. That’s why it makes sense to determine a point of reference. Is it about the problem that I’m trying to solve with the help of modelling, or about something that other scientists or practitioners have already solved one way or another in the past? Am I able to abstract from the problem and build on preexisting solutions to solve it? Reference models simplify the search for solutions by making best practices available for particular areas.

What exactly do you mean when you say ‘reference model’?

Jörg Becker: A reference model is a model that was developed so that its components can be reused in a particular area. In practice, these areas often relate to particular industries, such as the retail sector for example. The practical use of a model is then the greatest when it is exactly customized for a particular business. Here however, a reference model is not involved as the scope is too narrow. It is for this reason that it is so important to find the ‘sweet spot’ between the extent of the abstraction and the practical usage. Of course, each company has its own characteristics, and therefore every reference model must be customized for application in its own company.

That sounds like a complicated endeavor, and modelling is often criticized for providing companies too little added value. What is your opinion on this?

Jörg Becker: Modelling is not an end in itself. Interestingly, added value in practice was a central idea during the development of reference modelling. The point is that a reference model avoids us having to reinvent the wheel. In practice it provides added value and at the same time ensures that development costs are reduced through the reuse of preexisting model components. The transfer of model components to the company is definitely less costly than a greenfield approach, and reduces errors at the same time.

That sounds very interesting. So is there a reference model for Arvato CRM Solutions’ business?

Karsten Kraume: We recognized the potential of reference models and we therefore decided to develop a reference model for the processes of a BPO provider in the CRM area in partnership with the ERCIS. The project is based on our efforts to synchronize selected processes across countries and sectors. Therefore we developed our model so that, with its help, the process management could be controlled in 20 countries for around 100 clients from a total of six sectors. The pragmatic focus of the organization is especially important here. In this way we can ensure that colleagues in sales, solution design, and operations can communicate with each other as efficiently as possible, which is a challenge for all large organizations.

Why did you decide to model the process perspective?

Jörg Becker: The process view acts as link between the organizational structure and the data. You can allocate organizational units or data such as client, product, or transaction information to individual steps in a process and in doing so orient the sequential order of activities in the organization. If a business needs to be improved, it is not enough take a look at the organizational structure or the data — it is usually the processes that have the greatest potential for optimization.

Mr. Kraume, how does Arvato CRM Solutions benefit from this reference model and how is the organization being prepared for this approach?

Karsten Kraume: It is extremely useful to have the reference model, and thereby a standard. It is in this way that best practices can be developed. Where the specific context requires, it is also possible to deviate from the standard in order to satisfy the customer’s needs on-site. As a leading BPO provider we serve a broad range of customers from different sectors and we ensure the transfer of knowledge across functions, countries, and sectors with the help of the reference model.  Our experts at various locations cooperate closely with each other to achieve this.

What impact does that have on the end customer and your client?

Our clients appreciate that we are active on various channels in different countries and sectors. Along with operative excellence in customer experience management, we bring best practices from one sector to another. In addition to reference processes, this also involves reference systems and platforms. This allows us to react more quickly and innovatively, and ensures our competitiveness.

Mr. Becker, why is business process outsourcing (BPO) in CRM so interesting for reference modelling?

As a practice-oriented research institute, we at ERCIS investigate topics which provide real added value in practice. Business process outsourcing is a growing market which can take many forms such as supply chain management, human resources or IT and, alongside customer relationship management, has a worldwide yearly turnover of 70 billion euros. These can be considered as special forms of a BPO reference model, since the services offered vary, however the essential activities like sales remain more or less the same. That is why we developed the idea of creating a reference model for Arvato CRM Solutions. While this reference model possibly already existed in the heads of the employees beforehand, our contribution is to be able to convincingly present it on the basis of years of research.

Mr. Kraume, Mr. Becker, thank you very much for your time.

Prof. Dr. Dr. Dr.h.c Dr.h.c Jörg Becker is the Managing Director of the Department of Information Systems and Information Management at the University of Münster (WWU), and Academic Director of the European Research Center for Information Systems (ERCIS). He is also the Spokesperson of the WWU Centre for Europe and editor of various journals. His fields of research include information management, information modelling, retail information systems (IS), e-government, and business intelligence.

Karsten Kraume.

Karsten Kraume is a digital transformation expert in the service sector. He is a member of the ERCIS Advisory Board as well as other research programs such as RISE Business Process Management (BPM) and RISE Social Media Analytics (SMA).

Author: Editorial team Future. Customer.
Image: © Andrey Popov – AdobeStock

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