Benchmarking (Encyclopedia of Business and Finance)
Benchmarking is a process of comparing an organization's or company's performance to that of other organizations or companies using objective and subjective criteria. The process compares programs and strategic positions of competitors or exemplary organizations to those in the company reviewing its status for use as reference points in the formation of organization decisions and objectives. Comparing how an organization or company performs a specific activity with the methods of a competitor or some other organization doing the same thing is a way to identify the best practice and to learn how to lower costs, reduce defects, increase quality, or improve outcomes linked to organization or company excellence.
Organizations and companies use benchmarking to determine where inputs, processes, outputs, systems, and functions are significantly different from those of competitors or others. The common question is, What is the best practice for a particular activity or process? Data obtained are then used by the organization or company to introduce change into its activities in an attempt to achieve the best practice standard if theirs is not best. Comparison with competitors and exemplary organizations is helpful in determining whether the organization's or company's capabilities or processes are strengths or weaknesses. Significant favorable input, process, and output benchmark variances become the basis for strategies, objectives, and goals. Often, a general idea that improvement is possible is the reason for undertaking benchmarking. Benchmarking, then, means looking for and finding organizations or companies that are doing something in the best possible way and learning how they do it in order to emulate them. Organizations or companies often attempt to benchmark against the best in the world rather than the best in their particular industry.
A problem with benchmarking is it may restrict the focus to what is already being done. By emulating current exemplary processes, benchmarking is a catch-up managerial tool or technique rather than a way for the organization or company to gain managerial dominance or marketing share. Benchmarking can foster new ideas or processes when management uses noncompetitive organizations or companies outside its own industry as the basis of benchmarking. What if new ideas are not generated? It is possible that no one in some other organization or company has had a great idea that is applicable to the input, process, or outcome that the organization is attempting to improve or change by benchmarking.
Benchmarking is not a competitive analysis. Benchmarking is the basis for change. It is about learning. The organization performing the benchmark analysis uses the information found in the process to establish priorities and target process improvements that can change business or manufacturing practices. Benchmarking commonly takes one of four forms.
Generic benchmarking investigates activities that are or can be used in most businesses. This type of benchmarking makes the broadest use of data collection. One difficulty is in understanding how processes translate across industries. Yet generic benchmarking can often result in an organization's drastically altering its ideas about its performance capability and in the reengineering of business processes.
Functional benchmarking looks at similar practices and processes in organizations or companies in other industries. This type of benchmarking is an opportunity for breakthrough improvements by analyzing high-performance processes across a variety of industries and organizations.
Competitive benchmarking compares the organization's processes to those of direct competitors. In competitive benchmarking, a consultant or other third party rather than the organization itself collects and analyzes the data because of its proprietary nature.
Internal benchmarking compares processes or practices within the organization or company over time in light of established goals. Advantages of internal benchmarking include the ease of data collection and the definition of areas for future external investigations. The primary disadvantage of internal benchmarking is a lower probability that it will yield significant process improvement breakthroughs.
Each form of benchmarking has advantages and disadvantages, and some are simpler to conduct that others. Each benchmarking approach can be important for process analysis and improvement. Breakthrough improvements are generally attributed to the functional and generic types of benchmarking.
Eight steps are typically employed in the benchmarking process.
- Identify processes, activities, or factors to benchmark and their primary characteristics.
- Determine what form is to be used: generic, functional, competitive, or internal.
- Determine who or what the benchmark target is: company, organization, industry, or process.
- Determine specific benchmark values by collecting and analyzing information from surveys, interviews, industry information, direct contacts, business or trade publications, technical journals, and other sources of information.
- Determine the best practice for each benchmarked item.
- Evaluate the process to which benchmarks apply and establish objectives and improvement goals.
- Implement plans and monitor results.
- Recalibrate internal base benchmarks.
A recurring problem that must be addressed during the eight steps is the determination of criteria to ensure that inaccuracies or inconsistencies do not occur that will make any comparison meaningless.
The eight steps of the benchmarking process can be summarized as an improvement analysis. That is, the organization investigates another organization to find out what it does and how it is done. During the investigation, what goes right and what goes wrong is determined. This information is then used for the improvement of activities or processes. When the activities and processes of the organization making the investigation are equal to or better than the measurements found during the investigation, no change is warranted because the investigating organization has the better practice.
Another view of benchmarking is as an organization gap analysis. The organization deter mines what it lacks in terms of what it knows and how it does things. The shortfalls that initiate the gap analysis can be activities and processes or they can be tactics and strategies. The organization must then determine what other organization is good at doing those things that can be improved or changed for the better. A very systematic investigation is made of the organization with the best practices to discover what is done, how it is done, how it is implemented, and how it fits into the organization's operations. The findings of the systematic investigation then become the basis of revision or modification for the organization doing the investigation.
Benchmarking efforts typically collect information on responsibilities, program design, operating facilities, technical know-how, brand images, levels or integration, managerial talent, and cost or financial performance. Financial or cost data are often the category of greatest concern because these are factors in the input, pro cessing, and output activities of the organization or company.
Benchmarking is frequently referred to as a "wake-up call." Organizations and companies benchmark for many reasons: They want to determine where they spend their time and how much value they add, or they are curious about how they stack up against others. Through the knowledge gained by benchmarking, organizations and companies redefine their roles, add more value, reduce costs, and improve performances.
The electronics industry has a unique style of benchmarking. Here benchmarking involves running a set of standard tests on a system to compare its performance with that of others. That is, it is a tool for measuring the power and performance of hardware and software systems and applications as well as the capacity of a system. There are four categories of benchmarking in the electronics industry:
- An application-based benchmark runs real applications or parts of applications either in full or modified versions.
- A synthetic benchmark emulates applications activity.
- A playback test uses logs of one type of system call (e.g., disk calls) and plays the calls back in isolation.
- An inspection test exercises a system or component to emulate an application activity.
The synthetic and playback benchmarks are used to get a rough idea of how a system or component performs. If application-based benchmarks are available that match the application, they are used to refine the evaluation. The inspection benchmarks are used to determine whether a system or component is functioning properly. These benchmarks use a well-defined testing methodology based on real-world use of a computer system. They measure performance in a deterministic and reproducible manner that allows the system administrator to judge the performance and capacity of the system. Benchmarks provide a means of determining tuning parameters, reliability, bottlenecks, and system capacity that can provide marketing and buying information.
Although benchmarking in the electronics industry is a testing mechanism or process, it, too, is a technique for learning, change, and process improvement. Benchmarking is an effective way to ensure continuous improvement or progress toward strategic goals and organizational priorities. A real benefit of benchmarking comes from the understanding of processes and practices that permit a transfer of best practices or performances into the organization. At its best, benchmarking stresses not only processes, quality, and output but also the importance of identifying and understanding the drivers of the activities.
Blinn, James D. (1998). "Benchmarking Can Help Control Cost of Risk." National Underwriter October: 24-25.
Camp, Robert C. (1989). Benchmarking: The Search for Industry Best Practices That Lead to Superior Performance. Milwaukee, WI: ASQC Quality Press.
Camp, Robert C. (1995). Business Process Benchmarking: Finding and Implementing Best Practices. Milwaukee, WI: ASQC Quality Press.
Camp, Robert C., ed. (1998). Global Cases in Benchmarking: Best Practices from Organizations Around the World. Milwaukee, WI: ASQC Quality Press.
George, Steven. (1992). The Baldrige Quality Ssystem: The Do-It-Yourself Way to Transform Your Business. New York: Wiley.
Hammer, Michael, and Champy, James. (1993). Reengineering the Corporation: A Manifesto for Business Revolution. New York: Harper Collins.
Hurwicz, Michael. (1998). "Behind the Benchmarks," Byte April: 75-81.
Benchmarking (Encyclopedia of Management)
Benchmarking is the process through which a company measures its products, services, and practices against its toughest competitors, or those companies recognized as leaders in its industry. Benchmarking is one of a manager's best tools for determining whether the company is performing particular functions and activities efficiently, whether its costs are in line with those of competitors, and whether its internal activities and business processes need improvement. The idea behind benchmarking is to measure internal processes against an external standard. It is a way of learning which companies are best at performing certain activities and functions and then imitatingr better still, improving onheir techniques.
Benchmarking focuses on company-to-company comparisons of how well basic functions and processes are performed. Among many possibilities, it may look at how materials are purchased, suppliers are paid, inventories are managed, employees are trained, or payrolls are processed; at how fast the company can get new products to market; at how the quality control function is performed; at how customer orders are filled and shipped; and at how maintenance is performed.
Benchmarking enables managers to determine what the best practice is, to prioritize opportunities for improvement, to enhance performance relative to customer expectations, and to leapfrog the traditional cycle of change. It also helps managers to understand the most accurate and efficient means of performing an activity, to learn how lower costs are actually achieved, and to take action to improve a company's cost competitiveness. As a result, benchmarking has been used in many companies as a tool for obtaining a competitive advantage.
Companies usually undertake benchmarking with a view towards the many improvements that it may offer. These benefits include reducing labor cost, streamlining the work flow through reengineered business processes and common administrative systems, improving data center operations through consolidation and downsizing, cooperative business and information technology planning, implementing new technology, outsourcing some assignments and functions, redesigning the development and support processes, and restructuring and reorganizing the information technology functions.
The goal of benchmarking is to identify the weaknesses within an organization and improve upon them, with the idea of becoming the "best of the best." The benchmarking process helps managers to find gaps in performance and turn them into opportunities for improvement. Benchmarking enables companies to identify the most successful strategies used by other companies of comparable size, type, or regional location, and then adopt relevant measures to make their own programs more efficient. Most companies apply benchmarking as part of a broad strategic process. For example, companies use benchmarking in order to find breakthrough ideas for improving processes, to support quality improvement programs, to motivate staffs to improve performance, and to satisfy management's need for competitive assessments.
Benchmarking targets roles, processes, and critical success factors. Roles are what define the job or function that a person fulfills. Processes are what consume a company's resources. Critical success factors are issues that company must address for success over the long-term in order to gain a competitive advantage. Benchmarking focuses on these things in order to point out inefficiencies and potential areas for improvement.
A company that decides to undertake a bench-marking initiative should consider the following questions: When? Why? Who? What? and How?
Benchmarking can be used at any time, but is usually performed in response to needs that arise within a company. According to C.J. McNair and Kathleen H.J. Leibfried in their book Benchmarking: A Tool for Continuous Improvement, some potential "triggers" for the benchmarking process include:
- quality programs
- cost reduction/budget process
- operations improvement efforts
- management change
- new operations/new ventures
- rethinking existing strategies
- competitive assaults/crises
This is the most important question in management's decision to begin the benchmarking process. McNair and Leibfried suggest several reasons why companies may embark upon benchmarking:
- to signal management's willingness to pursue a philosophy that embraces change in a proactive rather than reactive manner;
- to establish meaningful goals and performance measures that reflect an external/customer focus, foster "quantum leap" thinking, and focus on high-payoff opportunities;
- to create early awareness of competitive disadvantage; and
- to promote teamwork that is based on competitive need and is driven by concrete data analysis, not intuition or gut feeling.
Companies may decide to benchmark internally, against competitors, against industry performance, or against the "best of the best." Internal benchmarking is the analysis of existing practice within various departments or divisions of the organization, looking for best performance as well as identifying baseline activities and drivers. Competitive benchmarking looks at a company's direct competitors and evaluates how the company is doing in comparison. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of the competition is not only important in plotting a successful strategy, but it can also help prioritize areas of improvement as specific customer expectations are identified. Industry benchmarking is more trend-based and has a much broader scope. It can help establish performance baselines. The best-in-class form of benchmarking examines multiple industries in search of new, innovative practices. It not only provides a broad scope, but also it provides the best opportunities over that range.
Benchmarking can focus on roles, processes, or strategic issues. It can be used to establish the function or mission of an organization. It can also be used to examine existing practices while looking at the organization as a whole to identify practices that support major processes or critical objectives. When focusing on specific processes or activities, the depth of the analysis is a key issue. The analysis can take the form of vertical or horizontal benchmarking. Vertical benchmarking is where the focus is placed on specific departments or functions, while horizontal bench-marking is where the focus is placed on a specific process or activity. Concerning strategic issues, the objective is to identify factors that are of greatest importance to competitive advantage, to define measures of excellence that capture these issues, and to isolate companies that appear to be top performers in these areas.
Benchmarking uses different sources of information, including published material, trade meetings, and conversations with industry experts, consultants, customers, and marketing representatives. The emergence of Internet technology has facilitated the bench-marking process. The Internet offers access to a number of databases-like Power-MARQ from the nonprofit American Productivity and Quality Center-containing performance indicators for thousands of different companies. The Internet also enables companies to conduct electronic surveys to collect bench-marking data. How a company benchmarks may depend on available resources, deadlines, and the number of alternative sources of information.
TYPES OF BENCHMARKING
There are a number of different types of bench-marking, which are driven by different motivating factors and thus involve different comparisons. Some of the major types of benchmarking are as follows: Metric benchmarking is the use of quantitative measures as reference points for comparisons. Best-practice benchmarking focuses on identifying outstanding techniques. Information technology benchmarking includes data processing, systems analysis, programming, end-user support, and networks. Infrastructure benchmarking includes data centers, networks, data/information, end-user support, and distribution remote centers. Application benchmarking includes system analysis, development and maintenance programming, and functionality. Strategy benchmarking includes skills assessment, information technology strategy, business-technology alignment, and delineation of roles and responsibilities.
There are many motivators that drive the different types of benchmarking. Application benchmarking and infrastructure benchmarking, for example, use such motivators as cost, quality, competition, and goal setting. An advantage of benchmarking is that it facilitates the process of change, clearly laying out the types of solutions external organizations have used and providing a global perspective on how part of the company affects the whole. It further helps focus improvement in the areas where actual gains can be made, which translates into value added to the company as well as its employees.
There are several keys to successful benchmarking. Management commitment is one that companies frequently name. Since management from top to bottom is responsible for the continued operation and evaluation of the company, it is imperative that management be committed as a team to using and implementing benchmarking strategies. A strong network of personal contacts as well as having an open mind to ideas is other keys. In order to implement benchmarking at all stages, there must be a well-trained team of people in order for the process to work accurately and efficiently. Based on the information gathered by a well-trained team, there must also be an effort toward continuous improvement. Other keys include a benchmarking process that has historical success, sufficient time and staff, and complete understanding of the processes to be benchmarked.
In almost any type of program that a company researches or intends to implement, there must be goals and objectives set for that specific program. Benchmarking is no different. Successful companies determine goals and objectives, focus on them, keep them simple, and follow through on them. As in any program, it is always imperative to gather accurate and consistent information. The data should be understood and able to be defined as well as measured. The data must be able to be interpreted in order to make comparisons with other organizations. Lastly, keys to successful benchmarking include a thorough follow-through process and assistance from consultants with experience in designing and establishing such programs.
THE FUTURE OF BENCHMARKING
Although early work in benchmarking focused on the manufacturing sector, it is now considered a management tool that can be applied to virtually any business. It has become commonplace for companies to use in order to compete in and lead their respective industries. It has helped many reduce costs, increase productivity, improve quality, and strengthen customer service.
In his book Benchmarking the Information Technology Function, Charles B. Greene noted that companies are increasingly interested in benchmarking for a number of activities, including:
- cost of supporting business driver (transaction costs, or cost per order)
- systems development activities, including maintenance, backlogs, development productivity and project management
- end-user support
- data centers/communication networks
- skills management
- business strategy alignment
- technology management
- customer/user satisfaction
According to a 2003 Bain and Company survey quoted in Financial Executive, benchmarking received the second-highest usage score (84 percent) among more than two dozen management tools used by senior executives around the world. The survey also reported that users tend to be highly satisfied (rated 3.96 on a 5-point scale) with the results benchmarking provides to their companies.
Engle, Paul. "World-Class Benchmarking." Industrial Engineer August 2004.
Greene, Charles B. Benchmarking the Information Technology Function. New York: The Conference Board, 1993.
Mard, Michael J., et al. Driving Your Company's Value: Strategic Benchmarking for Value. New Jersey: John Wiley, 2004.
McNair, C.J., and Kathleen H.J. Leibfried. Benchmarking: A Tool for Continuous Improvement. Harper Business, 1992.
Powers, Vicki. "Boosting Business Performance through Benchmarking." Financial Executive (November 2004).
Tirbutt, Edmund. "Brimming with Confidence: Benchmarking Your Perks against Your Rivals' Can Provide HR with Added Reassurance." Employee Benefits (November 2004).
Benchmarking (Encyclopedia of Small Business)
Benchmarking is the practice of identifying, understanding, and adapting the successful business practices and processes used by other companies (or even other departments within the same company) to increase your own business success. It is a business strategy that is used by manufacturers and service-oriented companies alike. While it may involve learning from one's competitors, benchmarking is more focused and narrowly defined than competitive analysis. Competitive analysis can be used in conjunction with benchmarking to identify gaps and provide strategic direction; however, benchmarking itself measures specific performance gaps between a company and its competitors. When used effectively, benchmarking can be a valuable tool in increasing the health of any business. "It is not an unnecssary cost to be avoided," wrote James Dodd and Mark Turner in National Public Accountant, "but rather, a tool that when used properly can produce uantum leaps in company performance."
Benchmarking relies on the study of general business practices that are not industry specific (generic benchmarking), specific business or manufacturing functions (functional benchmarking), general industry characteristics (industry benchmarking), strategies in general (tactical benchmarking), or the numerical characteristics of specific products or processes (performance benchmarking). Benchmarking is most often implemented by examining other organizations within the same industry. "Most [small businesses] regard their businesses as too unique to warrant detailed comparison across industries, " stated Dodd and Turner. "They see no valid comparisons and, therefore, do not recognize any meaningful benefit from examining practices outside their own industries." But many analysts believe that companies can learn from the experiences of enterprises from a wide range of industries. After all, new lessons in business efficiency, innovation, and financial success can be found every day in all types of businesses.
In recent years, the benchmarking concept has also made an impact on the burgeoning world of ecommerce. Uncertainties still surround the utility, significance, and dimensions of benchmarking in the electronic business world. For example, some observers contend that the dot-com emphasis on speed to markethile an essential component of overall business successas led many businesses to give too little attention to examining revenue streams, site traffic, and other web site activity data that might anable them to improve their practices and processes. But analysts believe that as more dot-coms establish a presence on the Internet, benchmarking will grow in importance as a productive tool to measure web site activity as well as core business processes such as customer service and marketing. "Once those core processes have been determined," wrote Tamara Wieder in Computer world, companies need to figure out how much those processes are costing them. Then, based on that information, businesses can compare their cost structures to those of other companies and evaluate their own performance over time."
BARRIERS TO SUCCESSFUL BENCHMARKING
Business experts point to several factors that can hinder a company's efforts to institute meaningful benchmarking practices. These include:
Unexamined core business processes. The ultimate quality, price, or reliability of the end product or service that is made available to customers is predicated on many aspects of a company's operations, and these facets need to be taken into consideration when examining internal processes..
Inadequate people or technology resources. A business should make sure that it has the resources (in terms of workforce, technology, or funding) to both launch a thorough benchmarking program and implement its findings.
Unwillingness or inability to accept the legitimacy of business ideas or practices from outside sources. Many employees and organizations are resistant to change, because of general contentedness, fear of the unknown, perceived challenges to their abilities, etc. Resistance can be minimized, however, if owners and managers make it clear that benchmarking is not a fault-finding exercise but rather an established program to help the company grow and prosper in a fast-changing business world.
Speed of in-house benchmarking processes. Effective benchmarking programs are given mandates to conduct their investigates in a timely manner, so that improvements can be implemented quickly.
Inadequate follow-up training. Benchmarking programs can uncover many areas in which companies can improve their performance. But if the company does not provide its work force with sufficient training to implement needed changes in a timely and effective fashion, then the initiative becomes a waste of time and resources.
Ackoff, Russell L. "The Trouble with Benchmarking." Across the Board. January 2000.
Bogan, Christopher E., and Michael J. English. Benchmarking for Best Practices: Winning through Innovative Adaptation. McGraw-Hill, 1994.
Damelio, Robert. The Basics of Benchmarking. Productivity Inc., 1995.
Dodd, James L., and Mark A. Turner. "Is Benchmarking Appropriate for Small Businesses?" National Public Accountant. August 2000.
Hoffman, Thomas. "Benchmarking." Computerworld. November 22, 1999.
"Main Obstacles to Benchmarking." Modern Materials Handling. February 29, 2000.
Milligan, Brian. "Gain the Benchmarking Advantage Today." Purchasing. October 7, 1999.
Smith, Brett C. "A New Approach to Benchmarking." Automotive Manufacturing and Production. January 1999.
Wieder, Tamara. "E-Commerce Benchmarking." Computer-world. August 7, 2000.
SEE ALSO: Best Practices
Benchmarking (Encyclopedia of Business)
Benchmarking is the practice of identifying another business that is the best, or one of the better practitioners, in its class and learning as much as possible from it. The term was popularized in the 1980s by Xerox Corporation's Robert C. Camp, who wrote the first major book on the subject, Benchmarking: The Search for Industry Best Practices that Lead to Superior Performance.
Benchmarking is a business strategy that is used primarily by manufacturers, although it is applicable to other business activities as well. While it may involve learning from one's competitors, benchmarking is more focused and narrowly defined than competitive analysis. Competitive analysis can be used in conjunction with benchmarking to identify gaps and provide strategic direction; benchmarking itself, however, measures specific performance gaps between a company and its competitors.
Benchmarking is used when there is a clearly defined gap between a company and its competitors that must be overcome in order to remain competitive. For example, the Xerox Corporation benchmarked Japanese manufacturers that were able to sell a copier for the same amount it cost Xerox to build one. Benchmarking may focus on products, manufacturing processes, management practices, and/or overall corporate direction. It is often focused on learning from one's direct competitors. Benchmarking can also lead to improved performance by studying specific business or manufacturing functions (functional benchmarking), general industry characteristics (industry benchmarking), strategies in general (tactical benchmarking), the numerical characteristics of specific products or processes (performance benchmarking), or general business practices that are not industry specific (generic benchmarking). As a result of its benchmarking in Japan, Xerox eventually developed a completely new copying process by creatively improving on the concepts it had learned from its chief competitors.
Benchmarking involves some measure of cooperation between two companies that become benchmarking partners. Xerox has pioneered benchmarking and often serves as a benchmarking partner for other companies interested in learning from it. After a company chooses a competitor to study, information is exchanged between the two companies through a series of on-site visits by teams representing each partner. These cross-functional benchmarking teams contain representatives from different functional areas of each company, including management. At the on-site visits, teams representing the two partners determine such issues as the focus for discussion, proprietary issues, the agenda, and who the participants will be.
Once the period of study and information exchange is completed, the benchmarking team issues an action plan and presents it to management for approval. The study and plan provide evidence that a top company is doing things in a better way and that the benchmarking company can implement similar changes to become more competitive. The action plan sets objectives and provides a road map for achieving those goals. It also spells out the necessary capital investment.
In 1991, when benchmarking was still relatively new to most companies, the American Productivity and Quality Center (APQC) along with 86 companies established the International Benchmarking Clearinghouse to help managers find and adapt best practices. Member organizations include hundreds of companies, government agencies, healthcare providers, and educational institutions. Members discover and learn about best practices through networking, benchmarking studies, systematic knowledge transfer, and the sharing of outstanding practices. The APQC conducts best-practice research and makes its findings available to members. Among the areas in which it has studied best practices are assessment, budgeting and finance, competitive intelligence, customer satisfaction, facility management, leadership development, information technology, knowledge management, marketing and sales, measurements, new product development, strategic planning, and supply chain management.
Another membership organization that provides benchmarking resources for its members is the Benchmarking Exchange. Members can access an electronic communication and information system that was designed especially for use by individuals and organizations involved in benchmarking and process improvement. Through the Benchmarking Exchange users can conduct literature searches, obtain help from other member organizations, form a consortium with other members, exchange benchmarking questionnaires and agendas, and talk with organizations that have already benchmarked the same area.
Industry Week magazine has created a useful benchmarking database that is available on CD-ROM. Called IW's Benchmarking Tool Kit, it contains performance metrics on the manufacturing practices and performance results from 2,800 manufacturing facilities. Among the manufacturing areas benchmarked on this database are empowered work teams, supplier rationalization, quick changeover techniques, just-in-time/continuous flow production, cellular manufacturing, strategic outsourcing, and total quality management.
SEE ALSO: Competition
[David P Bianco]
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