Businesses are built on a complex network of interrelated processes. How well the business meets its goals and objectives depends on how effectively these processes are managed. That’s why it’s important for managers and citizen developers alike to understand the different types of business processes, and the unique role each plays in overall business success.
Below is a breakdown of three primary business process categories: core, support, and long-tail. We’ll pay special attention to the long-tail process category since processes of this type are especially relevant for citizen developer initiatives.
The core processes of the business are those responsible for creating value for customers and generating revenue for the organization. Core processes are sometimes also referred to as “primary processes,” and they compose the main activities of the business. These include marketing, sales, production, distribution, and customer service. Those in this category tend to be some of the most structured processes in the organization.
Core processes are customer-facing and typically managed with an ERP, CRM, or vertical SaaS.
If the core processes generate revenue and provide value to customers, the support processes are the activities that make the business possible. Support processes do not generate revenue or deliver value to customers in and of themselves. However, they do play a critical role in achieving both of those goals.
Support processes typically align with specific departments, such as HR/People Ops, Finance, and IT. Support processes serve internal rather than external customers. Support processes are usually managed with a department-specific SaaS platform like an HRIS.
A category of processes that deserves special attention in process management strategies is long-tail processes. If this term is new to you, you’re not alone. Long-tail processes tend to get eclipsed by better-known types of processes such as core and support processes.
Long-tail processes are the unique, ad hoc, or custom workflows that emerge in response to evolving business needs and increasing stack complexity. A long-tail process may also develop if there is a gap between systems, apps, departments, or workflows. If the gap has to be bridged with manual work or an informal workflow, the result is a long-tail process.
In contrast to core and support processes, long-tails are often unstructured processes, which means that their inputs, outputs, and steps may not be clearly defined. In some cases, different departments, teams, or locations may manage the same unstructured process in very different ways. This inconsistency makes it difficult to monitor and manage these processes. It also makes it harder for IT to enforce security and compliance requirements.
You can usually identify a long-tail process by the whether or not it has some (or all) of the following characteristics:
- Addresses a gap between workflows, systems, or apps
- Enables a core or support process currently managed with existing ERP or SaaS
- Requires a high degree of manual work
- Crosses boundaries with regard to departments and/or systems
- Managed with a combination of spreadsheets, email, and collaboration tools
- Falls low on the list of IT priorities
- Possesses a dynamic quality and adapts to business team needs
- Features a human-in-the-loop model
- Managed with a shadow IT solution
Long-tail process example
Several types of request management fall into the long-tail process category. Consider the range of employee requests that a People Ops team receives. These may require input or action from a variety of internal stakeholders, in different departments, none of whom rely on the same system or apps to complete the workflow.
More specifically, consider an incoming request for modifications to an employee’s workspace. The approval process may require input from HR, Facilities, IT, and Finance teams. Once the approval is obtained, the facilities team may use a spreadsheet and email to plan and track the progress of the request, only updating the original ticket upon completion. Each of these steps is done manually, and the original system of record is not updated.
The workflow this team creates to actually complete the work is a manual process that’s not visible to other stakeholders and not easily managed using any of the existing apps, systems, or databases.
More examples of long-tail processes
|Contract review||Vendor approval||New hire request|
|Contractor management||Budget requests for special projects||Fleet management|
Why do we call these processes “long-tails?”
We refer to these processes as “long-tail” because in a distribution model based on proximity to the business core — and therefore the ability to be automated using the existing tech stack — these processes fall further to the right.
In terms of the different types of business processes, we know that the core and support processes of the business tend to be modeled, monitored, and managed with an ERP or a vertical point solution. Long-tail processes are more numerous and varied and may be too complex or unstructured for ERPs and vertical SaaS.
Understanding this characteristic of long-tail processes is critical for implementing a low-code BPM strategy.
Managing long-tail processes
The challenge of managing long-tail processes is two-fold.
First, these types of processes tend to resist being managed, monitored, and automated with the components of the existing tech stack. Long-tail processes are unique and often feature hybrid workflows composed of human activity and task automation. Long-tails often rely on multiple systems and apps to produce their outcomes.
The second reason long-tails can be difficult to manage is that they tend to change often in response to customer feedback, competitor activity, or internal requirements. This tendency for long-tail processes to evolve can be a problem if every change needs to work its way through the IT backlog.
Citizen automation and long-tail processes
To solve these challenges, many businesses are turning to low-code automation software, which enables citizen developers to optimize and automate processes more quickly than within a traditional development framework. Low-code combines process optimization features with a visual user interface and broad integration capabilities, a synergy that gives citizen developers and business technologists more agency over their processes.
With low-code, business teams can build, modify, and automate their processes using a drag-and-drop interface. IT teams oversee the low-code software but aren’t burdened with having to handle every process change themselves.
Low-code automation reduces risk by standardizing processes and reducing shadow IT. At the same time, it allows business teams to stay agile and engaged. This fusion of security and ease of use makes low-code automation ideal for supporting citizen developer initiatives.
Other process types
In addition to the core, support, and long-tail processes, there are two other types of business processes: strategic and management processes. As with support processes, these strategic and management workflows don’t directly add customer value or generate revenue. Instead, they provide value to the business by setting direction, monitoring performance, and executing plans.
Strategic processes set the direction of the business and measure its overall performance against its goals. Strategic processes typically involve planning, coordinating, and budgeting. As the name implies, these are the processes that shape and execute the overall business strategy. Decision making is often an end result of a strategic process.
John Jeston and Johan Nelis, business management experts and authors of Business Process Management: Practical Guidelines to Successful Implementations, consider product development, marketing strategy, and nurturing partnerships good examples of strategic processes.
Management processes help the business by turning its strategy into reality. These processes oversee and direct resources to ensure core business processes are carried out efficiently and effectively.
Management processes are a subset of support processes that take place in departments such as Operations, Finance, and Human Resources. It’s important to note that not every process occurring in these departments falls into this category; only those related to administration, such as planning, monitoring, budgeting, and compliance.
Core and support processes are the most well-known types of business processes. They tend to be structured, clearly defined, and managed (and automated) with ERPs or point solutions.
Long-tail processes exist throughout the organization. They complement and enable the core and support processes by filling in the process gaps that inevitably emerge as businesses evolve and tech stacks become more complex. Because they often cross boundaries between departments and systems, long-tail processes aren’t as easily automated with ERPs or point solutions.
In order to manage and automate long-tail processes, more businesses are relying on the citizen developers and business technologists who are most familiar with them. Low-code automation tools pave the path for these citizen-led automation initiatives by fusing process automation capabilities with an easy-to-use, visual interface. As a result, business teams stay agile while IT teams retain visibility and control.