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Ted Kemp
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Beyond BPM Tools

Process management is a practice that can be supported by tools not traditionally thought of as "BPM" software, and businesses owe it to themselves to investigate all their options before deciding on a BPM strategy.

Stand-alone business process management applications are increasingly popular -- their sales are expected to surpass $1 billion this year, according to International Data Corp. -- and they can reliably provide a solid return on investment. But process management is a practice that can be supported by tools not traditionally thought of as "BPM" software, and businesses owe it to themselves to investigate all their options before deciding on a BPM strategy.

A third of Business Intelligence Pipeline readers who responded to our latest poll say their organizations use stand-alone BPM tools to automate some of their workflows -- testament to the strong overlap between process management and business intelligence. But more readers, 44 percent, say they automate workflows using other tools that fall outside the realm of traditional BPM technology.

Workflow automation, the essence of BPM, is possible using a variety of applications, including tools designed for specific operations, such as human resources-related tools, customer relationship management software, supply chain management technologies and sales force automation applications. The big enterprise application software companies all dabble in process management to one agree or another.

Businesses can tackle process management through either stand-alone BPM applications or broader applications, but the technology choices facing users are broader even than those two general categories. Among BPM tools, for example, some are designed for specific industries, while others feature templates that make it possible for a variety of business verticals to use them.

So what should companies looking at process management technology consider when making a purchase? The first thing, as in with most types of technology, is cost. BPM licensing fees for large companies can run up to $1 million; smaller firms might squeak by at $150,000. Integration and configuration fees usually run beyond the cost of licensing fees.

The next consideration begins with a company's goals. Do you want to overhaul all your business processes for greater efficiency, or do you want to start with an especially problematic process and then possibly expand from there? If it's a specific process you want to fix -- workforce management, for example -- there are applications designed expressly for that purpose. But they won't lend themselves to other workflows as well as a more open-ended, stand-alone BPM tool will.

Remember that ERP suites usually won't manage your business processes as well as a stand-alone BPM tool, either. However, if your organization is already deeply invested in a specific ERP environment, you should strongly consider any modules it offers related to automating workflows.

When it comes to industry-specific templates, remember that while they'll often provide a good ROI, they have their limitations. Every company is unique, and as such, its processes might be more complex than a general template can manage. And your company's processes might be the very things that differentiate you from the competition.

For more on BPM strategies and tools, give the Business Intelligence Pipeline's BPM section and BPM product finder a look. You should also check out a story we ran earlier this year that asks, Which BPM Strategy Is Right For You?

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