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Crossing the BPM Chasm

April 5, 2012 No Comments

Featured Article by E. Scott Menter, VP of Business Solutions for BP Logix

In the scheme of things, business process management (BPM) is still a newcomer. Sure, document processing, electronic forms, and other proto-BPM solutions have been around for a while. More recently, however, the synergistic coupling of these solutions, combining them with flexible workflow management and other useful features   has produced today’s sophisticated BPM products.   Even as BPM moves beyond early adopters into the mainstream market, however, many customers have just begun to scratch the surface of what is possible with today’s BPM solutions.

For many business users, the first foray into BPM consists of a project that might ‘almost’ be as easily accomplished using Outlook. That’s OK: it’s important to set easy goals at first, until you are comfortable with the quirks and behaviors of the solution you’ve chosen. But even with an early success under their belt, some organizations have trouble moving beyond the simple approve-and-forward workflow they created in their first round. That’s like buying a sports car and driving it to your neighbor’s house: it’s not a bad way to go – , but you certainly need to go farther than that to get your money’s worth and realize its true value.

Shifting into second gear entails some risk, of course. That approve-and-forward workflow was probably constructed by a programmer, or a business analyst with some technical skills, either as an experiment or, at best, a secondary assignment. Uncovering the true value of your BPM solution, however, will require a more substantial investment in analysis, implementation, and review.

That’s where companies are likely to hesitate. What before may have been a skunk-works effort to streamline a simple process now threatens to divert resources and focus from revenue-generating activities. The ROI of BPM efforts is notoriously hard to determine, making it difficult to justify taking time and attention from other projects. Defeated, business process improvement champions turn away from their hard-won BPM implementation and go back to whatever else it was they were doing.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Here are some tips to help you cross the BPM chasm in your company, enabling you to succeed in realizing the full benefits of your BPM solution over a broad array of business processes.

  1. “Slow and steady” is overrated.

Know what really happened when the hare raced the tortoise? The hare crossed the finish line, and everybody went home. Nobody ever heard from the tortoise again.

Quick wins are the way to proliferate BPM throughout your organization.  To begin with, then, beware the company-wide, top-down, seven-figure BPM implementation. Unlike ERP, CRM, and other three-letter technology boondoggles, BPM doesn’t necessarily benefit from scale and centralization. Look hard at the processes you need to automate, and size your solution appropriately. Sure, you want to be able to grow, but that doesn’t always mean bigger servers and bigger databases: usually it means fast deployment anywhere in the business.

Similarly, things will go a lot faster if you don’t need custom code for every process you deploy. There are plenty of BPM vendors offering (or at least claiming to offer) solutions that don’t require developers. Choose a product that can be configured to meet your needs by somebody without a computer science degree. Ask the vendor to demonstrate a sample process based on your requirements, and then show you how it was built, before you buy. If your unique needs do require some custom development, find out if the vendor can provide those services.

  1. Start with a winner.

As I suggested above, make sure your first project is an easy one—but also make sure it has visibility. Sometimes even simple approve-and-forward processes can have real impact. One of our customers tells us that the first day their new process was in place, a user called to complain that it had failed. When the customer checked the logs, he saw that the approval had been received and the process had completed correctly. “But,” the user objected, “this takes two weeks to get approved. I just submitted it this morning—it can’t be done yet.” This kind of happy surprise goes a long way towards smoothing the path for additional projects.

  1. Partner up.

Even the most configurable of solutions does require some assistance from your IT organization, and possibly from others as well. Make sure you have the right partners in place: somebody who can set up the connection between your BPM solution and your database, for example, or somebody to design and create electronic forms complying with your organization’s user interface standards.  In your initial foray into BPM, you may have been able to get away without formalizing these relationships, but in order to jump the chasm you’ll need to make sure somebody’s got your back. Sometimes the best bet is to engage your vendor’s professional services group to do the hands-on work for you (you’ll still need IT for those external data connections, though). But remember: you are the expert on your business and your process. The vendor’s solution will only be as complete as your own understanding of what you are trying to accomplish, and your ability to communicate that goal through documentation and discussion.

There are so many moving parts to a successful BPM implementation that victory can seem a long way off, even after the first battle is won. Crossing the BPM chasm—making it to that second, third, and fourth successful deployment—means choosing shrewdly and partnering wisely. On the other side of that gap you will reap the true benefits of BPM: reduced expenses, faster results, and greater focus on the bottom line.


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