Specialise in: systems improvement
Globalisation, deglobalisation, e-commerce, rising competition, new markets, new products, shifting consumer bases, economies, regulations, evolving supply chains, necessity – just some of the many factors that push businesses to transform, modernise and improve.
Then there’s Covid-19, which prompted transformation virtually overnight. Organisations that rode the disruption better than others were ahead of the curve technologically, many having already embraced automation and remote working capabilities.
It proved that successful businesses follow a path of continuous improvement and transformation, as opposed to lurching, reactionary changes. The most agile and adaptable businesses might therefore maintain a systems improvement function.
‘The role provides you with the opportunity to be involved with people, purpose, process and profits – what I term the “4 Ps”,’ says Mahendra Ramjeawan FCCA, systems improvement manager at Demerara Distillers in Guyana.
‘You have the opportunity to drive change and get involved in general management, consulting, re-engineering business processes, turnaround strategies – the list goes on.’
The role requires a holistic, end-to-end view of a business’s internal operations, combined with a keen eye on influential external factors, such as market movements, trends, competition, new technology, regulations, and macroeconomics.
Through this lens you then need to critically assess the business and seek out the weak points where it could do better with a process change or technology adoption. Are there interdepartmental synergies that are not being exploited? Essentially, is the business delivering the best performance with the least effort, or could it work faster and more efficiently?
Then you make proposals. ‘It’s vital to find the strategic fit that will fulfil organisational objectives,’ says Ramjeawan. ‘Like any other major investment, this must deliver expected results. You’ll need to convince your superiors and get their buy in, and not necessarily everyone will be sold on your proposals; there is often competition for resources from other departments and projects.’
Strong interpersonal skills are critical, given the need to navigate situations delicately, as change often worries people. ‘There is always a group that feel affected, but you have to let them see the benefits of a change – that without it, we may ultimately be left behind and more desperate measures will have to be undertaken to stay in business,’ says Ramjeawan.
Experience with agile frameworks will be valued. These are workflow patterns that guide enterprises in scaling lean and agile processes. Within this, also valuable will be knowledge of IT frameworks and methodologies, such as the Information Technology Infrastructure Library and the software development life cycle.
As well as an analytical and critical mindset, curiosity is essential; you’ll have a desire to deep dive into every process, workflow and manner in which people complete tasks. You also need to transparently measure and report the results of any changes.
Such skills are bread and butter for finance professionals. ‘My finance background allows me to showcase why it makes financial sense to change,’ says Ramjeawan. ‘Often, people are apprehensive but, through numbers and analysis, the process is made so much easier.
‘Once people start feeling they’re part of something that will yield benefits, they’ll participate.’
Getting in and getting on
While it might not feature as a prerequisite in a systems improvement job description, the ACCA Qualification will be greatly valued for its practical and technical applications. It underscores an ability to evaluate proposals and projects, examine changes end-to-end, and analyse and communicate data.
Most roles will seek business experience, likely with management and leadership on the CV. This can be enhanced by qualifications such as MBAs, a route taken by Ramjeawan as it gave him greater understanding of functional areas and how they need to work together to fulfil to corporate objectives.
This specialism provides great operational business and organisational design experience, which can lead to more senior management positions up to the C-suite. It can also lead to larger or more specialist project management and transformation roles.
Author: Neil Johnson
This article was first published in Accounting and Business magazine July 2021