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What is a swivel chair process?

Lari Numminen

March 7, 2023

A swivel chair is a spinny, revolving chair popular in many offices and workplaces. It's also a way to describe inefficient processes and opportunities for automation in business process management. In this brief article we go through what is a swivel chair in the context of a business.

What is a swivel chair process?

A swivel chair process describes any business workflow or task where you need to manually enter the same data into different systems. Eliminating swivel chair activity from your business processes reduces manual work, creates efficiencies and improves operational excellence.

Cost of swivel chair processes in business

The swivel chair metaphor comes from the office setting, where you could imagine physically turn from one activity to another in your swivel chair as you repeat manual tasks. Recent research by Workfellow estimates 10% of the time of an average business operations team is spent in swivel chair activities.

Reasons for swivel chair

Swivel chair processes are fairly common in the workplace but may be difficult to measure. Typically they involve legacy workflows or IT systems that require a high amount of manual data entry or tasks.

Often swivel chair activites form over time when people implement more activities into a workflow or assignment. It may be common practice in areas like financial reporting or customer service where you need to toggle between different types of business applications to complete repetitive tasks. For example, in many shared services functions maintaining customer records between various ERP and CRM systems may require manual copy-paste when integrations have not been built between different systems.

Why you should remove swivel chair from your processes

  • Eliminate human error - typically swivel chair activities involve manual copy-paste work where it's not uncommon to have human error.
  • Speed up lead time - swivel chair activity may slow down your processes or workflows, if you are dependent on manual intervention from an employee.
  • Reduce operational cost - while it may be difficult to measure, the cost of manual, repetitive work in swivel chair activities can quickly add up.
  • Process re-engineering - swivel chair activities are typically good points to improve operational excellence through a broader re-design of inefficient processes.

Swivel chair in automation / RPA

Swivel chair activities in business operations are often high-potential areas for robotic process automation. The core use case is that repetitive, manual tasks that involve digital systems can be automated, either through direct integrations between different business applications - or through RPA bots that complete digital tasks more efficiently and accurately than humans.

How to discover and remove swivel chair activity

For many companies, process discovery exercises highlight swivel chair processes. Increasingly, competitive enterprise are opting for automated process mining software that continuously identifies inefficient processes and wasted work across different tasks, processes and IT systems.

Other jargon busting articles

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What is process optimization?

What is process excellence?

What is root cause analysis?

For more, see BPM Glossary

Written by

Lari Numminen

Chief Marketing Fellow