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DISTINGUISHING THREE FORMS OF CHANGE

To address the above, change leaders need to "divide and conquer." It is not merely naive to believe that all change efforts require the same treatment. It is also unproductive.

 

It is useful to classify change efforts into three distinct forms. First, there are elemental changes. In this form of change, one element of a process or system is exchanged for another. This may be a small or large element, and it may be tangible (e.g., a piece of equipment) or intangible (e.g., a change in work ethic). Importantly, elemental change does not alter the form or structure of a process, it merely changes an element within a process.

 

Process change is the second form. It is this form of change that is addressed most commonly by Continuous Quality Improvement and by Business Process Redesign efforts. Of course, process change also occurs outside of such programs. Any time we add, delete, or other­wise rearrange the flow of a process (e.g., adding additional paths in a decision flowchart), we create process change. Process change may be relatively minor, such as implementing an online system for vacation scheduling, or it may literally change how we do business. One of many available examples of the latter is evident to anyone who has purchased a book via Amazon.com.

 

Beneath the elements and the processes of an organization, there exists an infrastructure. This infrastructure enables the organization's resources (especially its people) to conduct business: to design prod­ucts, acquire materials, transform materials into finished goods, record transactions, and so forth. The third distinct form, and the most pro­found or deep change, is infrastructural change.

 

It is important to distinguish between the infrastructure and the pro­cesses of the organization. The infrastructure provides the logical and physical framework upon which the processes are built. Process changes take place without altering infrastructure. As an example, in improv­ing a materials receiving process, we might create a group of certified suppliers, as well as a method for awarding and maintaining certifica­tion. Creating this class of certified suppliers results in a process change at the receiving dock, but the infrastructure (in this case comprising the tools, physical plant, and information systems) remains the same. Alternatively, a decision to begin outsourcing subassemblies, i.e., in­corporating external agencies within the value chain, could be viewed as a change in the infrastructure itself. This is an infrastructural change because it not only changes the relationships between elements of the supply chain system, but it actually adds a new element to the set.

 

As a service-oriented example, the creation ofAmazon.com funda­mentally changed how print and recorded media are purchased. This profound change was made possible through a very significant infrastructural change. Creating the Internet, in fact, provided a new alternative infrastructure not only to support e-commerce, but also to provide a new means of communication for a wide variety of purposes. The Internet is, by its nature, an infrastructure for any communication-based process.

Across all organization types, the organization's infrastructure en­ables three core tasks to be achieved:

      information handling—storage, retrieval, summary, and manipula­
tion of data

      problem-solving—using information creatively to meet challenges

      transformation—creating products from raw materials and other re­
sources.

All the organization's process are subsequently built upon the en­abling capabilities of its infrastructure, and they all involve, to varying degrees, the above three core tasks.
 

Two points are important concerning infrastructural change. First, there is a "leveraging" effect. By changing the infrastructure, many simultaneous process improvements can be enabled. Second, while infrastructural changes have traditionally occurred quite infrequently over time, infrastructural change is now becoming much more com­mon and more frequent, primarily due to technological advances.

To Be Continued


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