BPM brings data to life, part 1July 15, 2011 No Comments
Written by: E. Scott Menter, VP of Business Solutions for BP Logix
The original, and often still primary, goal of Business Process Management (BPM) solutions is automation. Having already automated everything from assembly lines to telephone operators, we wanted to extend the benefits of automation to our key business processes. Automate your processes, the logic goes, and you can reduce errors, keep important information from falling through the cracks, and even save trees. And it’s true: automation eliminates “redos”, enforces deadlines, and reduces the need for paper. Indeed, in my experience, many companies can justify their BPM deployment expense on these benefits alone.
But there’s more to the BPM story. BPM not only makes our processes more reliable and less paper-intensive: it also makes the processes themselves better. Business processes enhanced with BPM are often faster, cheaper, easier, or just more user friendly. BPM helps eliminate unnecessary steps and identify bottlenecks, be they human or bureaucratic. BPM platforms enable organizations to link previously disparate processes, cutting down corporate silos.
The key to BPM’s ability to make these types of improvements to business processes lies in the way it deals with data. For our purposes, we’ll divide BPM-related data into three segments: corporate, user-supplied, and BPM-generated. Corporate data is that which exists in the vast stores of the organization’s databases, ERP, HRIS, compensation, and other systems. BPM improves processes by offering an easy mechanism for collecting corporate data from its many sources—across many custodians, accessed in a variety of ways—and making that data available to processes as needed, often in real time. Those responsible for maintaining the hygiene and integrity of corporate data repositories can control the way they are accessed, or even updated, by BPM systems, ensuring that neither data security, nor their jobs, are in danger.
User-supplied data is pretty much what it sounds like: data that resides in the minds of your employees, partners, and customers, which is used to inform and guide your business processes. For example, an employee submits a capital expenditure request, including information about what equipment is to be purchased, from which vendor, and at what cost. Or a customer submits a complaint, specifying which product is at fault and its mode of failure (“it doesn’t turn on”, or “the screen is blurry”, or “it ate my cat”). BPM improves these processes by leveraging electronic forms. E-forms enable the user to provide necessary information easily and quickly, without a human intermediary. Well-designed e-forms actually guide the user through the process, providing whatever information she requires, and accepting only those responses that are complete and correct.
More subtly, electronic forms can shape the choice architecture provided to a user, so that he is most likely to select appropriate responses. For example, default values may be selected that influence the user in a particular direction. Even the ordering of responses available on a drop-down (or, indeed, the use of a drop-down rather than a free-form text field) can be manipulated to drive the user towards a more favorable response. If you are accepting expense reports, for example, you may wish to include a checkbox the user clicks to verify that none of the enclosed expenses were incurred for personal benefit, with a link to the corporate travel policy. This type of reinforcement helps remind your employee that you take those sorts of matters seriously, perhaps giving her an opportunity to rethink submitting a claim for that three-margarita lunch with a colleague.
Next time I’ll talk about the third category, BPM-generated data. This is the area that is changing the fastest, with the potential to increase substantially the positive impact BPM can have on your business.
E. Scott Menter is the VP of Business Solutions for BP Logix, a provider of business process management (BPM) solutions to corporations, government agencies, and non-profit organizations. Scott is the former head of technology for WaMu Investments, a national retail brokerage. In addition to technology leadership positions he held in financial services and higher education, Scott spent over a decade leading his own identity management software firm. Scott invites you to contact him at Scott.Menter@bplogix.com or on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ESMatBPL.Fresh Ink