Five Business Process Management (BPM) initiatives can yield huge benefits streamlined processes, improved customer service, more effective compliance and risk management, and improved responsiveness in changing business conditions but only if they're well executed.
Many aspects of an effective enterprise BPM deployment strategy are unrelated to the solution or even to the process being implemented. They're best practices that apply no matter what software you're using and regardless of the department in which you're deploying it. Here are five steps you should take as you move forward with your BPM strategy.
1. Prioritize potential BPM projects.
Many organizations make the mistake of not closely tying the BPM application to the most important strategic goals of the department and larger business. A BPM focus on "process efficiency" should be explicitly tied to larger, strategic goals, such as providing more effective customer service.
Key stakeholders in the IT organization and from each business unit should agree on priorities, selecting opportunities that will not only provide direct benefits to single departments but to multiple departments or the organization as a whole. The best way to reach agreement is to conduct prioritization sessions with all stakeholders and an objective facilitator such as an executive sponsor or outside consultant.
2. Identify a pilot BPM project.
Once potential BPM projects have been prioritized, a specific project for a single department should be selected as a formal test case. A successful pilot project will demonstrate the success of BPM and will help justify expanding the strategy enterprisewide. Thus, the pilot area selected should directly support the most immediate strategic goal of the organization whether that's to enhance customer service, to introduce new products more rapidly or to reduce process time to gain competitive advantage.
In one case, a large county government chose the child abuse reporting process as a pilot project because it would most clearly benefit the goal of providing demonstrable public service in a critical area. In another case, a mortgage processor focused on mortgage loan origination as a pilot project to address the competitive strategy of shortening the time to origination. An auto-manufacturer focused on streamlining its widely distributed accounts payable processes, which supported the business goal of providing best-in-class services across the organization.
These pilots were chosen not because they necessarily demonstrated a quick ROI, but because they were critical to the business strategies of the larger organizations.
3. Set up affinity groups.
Many organizations take great care in selecting the right pilot projects and in ensuring their success, yet the same care and effort too seldom goes into the roll-out to other departments and processes. It's a mistake to wait until the pilot project is completed to begin planning for the next deployment.
Organizations need a well-designed, phased deployment plan that takes into account the prioritized BPM projects as well as natural affinity groups departments that share processes, documents/files and data. Examples include departments that share common administrative functions, such as finance and accounting, sales and marketing, or customer service. These departments or operational units may be able to reuse the same process components, thereby realizing cross-departmental process efficiencies and reducing the costs of implementation, support and training. As the lead department within an affinity group implements a BPM application, it can mentor the next department that implements a similar application. This approach encourages sharing of process automation know-how across the group.
As part of this approach, organizations should consider the readiness and resources of each department within an affinity group to identify those most likely to succeed in the initial implementation. Evaluate factors such as level of automation, computer skills and workload in each department within an affinity group.
4. Make required organizational changes.
A successful enterprise BPM strategy may require changes in reporting relationships and responsibilities, and it's important to make those changes up front. For example, BPM strategies can impact multiple systems and applications, including ERP systems, financial applications, content management systems and integration services. BPM strategies also demand changes in the way people do things and how they use their systems, even if the core processes aren't fundamentally altered.
In assessing organizational changes, it helps to centralize BPM expertise, which is usually dispersed throughout the organization and in different areas of IT. Some organizations do this by establishing a "BPM Center of Excellence" that serves as an expert focus group for evaluating, researching and implementing BPM technologies. Representatives can include the IT and system integrator staff involved in the pilot and subsequent BPM implementations.
If the affinity group approach has been adopted, IT support, BPM system administrator staff and key business users from the departments can also participate, sharing experiences and best practices.
5. Develop a communication strategy.
Once it has been reviewed and agreed upon by the executive sponsors and key project stakeholders, the enterprise BPM strategy, the analysis on which the strategy is based and the full deployment plan must be communicated to the executive management team, the department/operational unit heads, IT management and all participants in the "current state" assessment. This should be handled in a series of presentations targeted to each constituency's priorities and needs.
Unfortunately, many organizations either ignore this step or don't communicate the strategy broadly or clearly enough. A communication strategy is an important part of any technology strategy project, but it is even more critical for BPM, which has a major impact on systems, processes and multiple levels of staff.
The BPM Center of Excellence might take charge of communications, which should continue beyond the initial pilot. Another best practice is to form a BPM strategy steering committee, comprised of the original project stakeholders, that meets on a monthly or quarterly basis to review the strategy and communicate updates to the rest of the organization.
Following these steps will help you avoid the biggest pitfall in enterprisewide BPM deployments, which is excluding key business areas from the planning process. Deployment planning is not just the job of the project manager and immediate BPM project team. Identifying the initial pilot and subsequent roll-outs requires input from the departments and operational units, especially since the plan depends upon choosing process automation applications that will have the greatest impact on your organization's strategic goals. It's also critical to gain consensus and support from groups that will not see an implementation of the BPM strategy in their area until much later in the project.
There's no getting around the fact that developing an enterprise BPM strategy is a complex undertaking involving many steps and individuals, but the results are well worth the effort. Taking these five steps will help you set appropriate priorities that are aligned with strategic objectives, and they will pave the way for ongoing, enterprise BPM successes long after the pilot phase.
Bill Chambers and Christine O'Connor are analysts with Doculabs, a technology research and consulting firm. Write them at [email protected].