Based in Ithaca, New York, Dr Camp works with government agencies, non-profit organisations, educational institutions and many large domestic and international manufacturing and service firms. He has written three books – Benchmarking: The Search for Industry Best Practices that Lead to Superior Performance, Business Process Benchmarking: Finding and Implementing Best Practices and Global Cases in Benchmarking: Best Practices from Organisations Around the World along with dozens of articles on the subject. His first and best-selling book on benchmarking has been translated into 14 languages.
Vivek Dev (from domain-b.com) spoke to Dr Camp on various aspects of benchmarking during his recent visit to Mumbai.
1- Tell us about your personal experience with benchmarking. How were you initiated into the process?
I started with benchmarking when I was at Xerox Corporation. At the time, benchmarking was a fairly new improvement process and I was asked by my manager to implement it in the logistics function.
2- Why should companies benchmark? What does benchmarking achieve?
Benchmarking is an experience where you can learn from others who have solved a problem you are trying to solve. As they have gone through the experience and implemented improvement processes, this learning can be used as the basis for improving one's organisation through internal, competitive, functional or generic benchmarking.
Any organisation can improve provided it is willing to improve. One can almost be assured that the organisation will get value out of the benchmarking exercise.
3- How should a benchmarking investigation be carried?
There is a defined process for carrying out benchmarking. First, you decide what to benchmark, and then decide whom you benchmark against. Next, you gather the information, conduct the analysis, and define the process(es) for best practices search. The benchmarking process is best facilitated with help from a professional benchmarking expert who can act as a guide or mentor. Often, a knowledgeable librarian can offer valuable inputs for information search.
4- Identifying a candidate list for benchmarking is comparable to laying the foundation of an organisation. What factors are considered while putting together a candidate list?
Most of the time people in various functions have a pretty good idea of superior practices in other organisations, so that knowledge is already there in the organisation. People in particular functions, say, logistics, know from various sources, say, trade journals, peers, etc, on how things are done in other organisations. By putting together the knowledge thus available, a list can be prepared.
5- What is the significance of benchmarking in the operations and growth of an organisation? How does it positively impact organisations?
Benchmarking is a fairly fast way to improve and a very powerful way to justify funding. People have been known to achieve significant results with benchmarking in a short time.
6- Is benchmarking relevant across industries (marketing, manufacturing, administrative support, finance and personnel functions)? Can lessons learnt from one be applicable to another? Please give an example.
In certain processes, lessons can be learnt across industries. Typically, there are three types of functions in industry – management, support and operations. While management and support function processes have much in common across industries, the function process of operations is unique to industries. For example, support function processes such as in HR or IT can be benchmarked across industries.
7- What role does benchmarking play in innovation? Can you elaborate?
Benchmarking is a necessary ingredient in innovation. Firstly, it is necessary to benchmark the extent of the innovation focus through a search. Defining the standard or benchmark is in itself a creative process so innovation and benchmarking are concepts that are interlinked from the very start.
Secondly, combining the creative and innovative talents of the innovation team members with the insights gained through benchmarking is a powerful and often revealing experience and may markedly improve the result. Further, the actual process of people going through the exercise opens their minds and brings about new ideas and thinking.
Benchmarking is a critical tool for how you run your business. It is a strategic strength when practiced and a fatal weakness if not pursued.
8- The term best practices is widely used in every stream of business (particularly, insurance, banking and mutual funds) and not-for-profit-enterprises. Does this have any connection with benchmarking?
It is the essence of benchmarking. Benchmarking is a process of finding and implementing best practices. It is the desired output of the benchmarking process. It is only through an understanding of best practices that the way to improvement is revealed.
The process of identifying, understanding and adapting superior practices from organisations locally and worldwide, within and outside the industry, helps an organisation improve its performance and achieve priority business results.
9- What would you say is the value proposition of benchmarking?
I would say 'quick learning to improve'. The important aspect here is 'quick learning'.
10- When and why did you establish the GBN? Does it have a presence in India?
The objective of the GBN, established in 1994, is to have benchmarking competency centres around the globe so that assistance with benchmarking is available locally, and so it can be adapted to local conditions. In India, the GBN is represented by the BestPrax Club, Mumbai, founded by Suresh Lulla.
11- If Indian organisations have to leapfrog into the global arena, can the GBN help in finding benchmarking partners?
The experience of the GBN member organisations would substantiate that finding. Every gathering of those interested in benchmarking, including the recent GBN Roadshow and Executive Briefing, should be used as an opportunity to establish potential partners.
12- With your wealth of experience, how do you visualise India 2020?
A sage person once said, ''I hesitate to make predictions especially when it involves the future!'' I would leave the details of 2020 to the economists and others more knowledgeable of the particulars in India. I would trust however that India would continue to pursue its competitiveness through ''best practice'' benchmarking.
About Dr Robert Camp: Principal, Best Practices Institute, talks on the various aspects of benchmarking in an interview with Vivek Dev
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