Q&A: Advice for BPM Neophytes

Tips on where to start on BPM from analyst Connie Moore.

In a recent Intelligent Enterprise poll on business process management (BPM), 36% of 1,700 respondents said they were actively considering the technology while 24% were already piloting, rolling out, in production or upgrading. BPM analyst Connie Moore of Forrester Research details who's adopting and adds her advice on where to begin.

Do you think BPM is well understood?

There's a lot of confusion about the term. When we do surveys about BPM and we define it as software that supports cross-functional processes that involve people and systems, the top buyers are oil and gas, utility, chemical, retail and consumer packaged goods companies. Yet when I look at the base of clients placing inquiries about BPM, it's from government, banks, insurance and financial services. The latter have been doing process automation since the early '90s and still use the term "workflow." The former are newer to the concept, but both groups are talking about the same thing.

What do people expect from BPM?

It helps clarify things to think about the various individuals BPM affects. Users see it as something that's managing their work. Managers see it as a way to monitor their service-level agreements and commitments and manage their workforces. Developers see BPM as a way to reduce development time. Process owners see it as a way to commit to Six Sigma or other improvement initiatives. BPM touches many parts of the organization, and that's why it's described in many different ways.

What's driving adoption?

BPM is about efficiency and productivity, streamlining processes, reducing cycle time, getting work done faster, getting work done with fewer resources and freeing up people to do value-added work as opposed to mundane work. Compliance is another driver.

As the U.S. economy started moving out of recession last year, there was a marked shift in priorities toward growth initiatives; we started seeing CEOs and CIOs focusing on getting products to market faster and turning new ideas into products and services more quickly. That's a new priority driving BPM adoption.

Where should firms begin these projects?

Start with a process that's causing a lot of pain. Management and user "pushback" diminishes because everyone realizes that something has to change. You'll get more support, more resources and more corporate commitment, and you can use your first success to sell the next project.

Customer-facing processes often cause pain because they typically have multiple steps and hand-offs; it can be very hard to track what's going on. Processes that go beyond functional departments can also be good candidates for initial projects because there's often fuzziness about who owns the process as it cuts across departments.

To begin, look for projects that affect the company's revenue, are high cost or are associated with customer satisfaction. Processes that transcend company boundaries, involve extensive integration or constantly change involve much higher risk. Start with the highest-reward, lowest-risk process and then expand as you move up the learning curve.

What are the biggest stumbling blocks once the process mapping begins?

A lot of people get stuck on modeling and don't move on. The best practice is incremental improvement, so shoot for three-month phases; take your process, improve it, deploy it, use it, make changes to improve it and then deploy it again. By the time companies have gone through this iterative improvement process three or four times, their process is optimized. By the time they're gone through it six or seven times, it will be truly streamlined and efficient.