Taking BPM to the Next Level

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You've no doubt noticed increased interest in applying Business Process Management (BPM) technology to solve business problems. With success stories appearing in trade publications with growing frequency, an increasing number of technical and business people alike are asking how to take BPM applications to the next level. Are you ready to take BPM to the next level? Before immediately saying, "Of course," let's consider the rapidly evolving BPM landscape.

Just a year ago, we heard mostly about small-scale applications of BPM software to resolve departmental issues such as paying bills, tracking customer inquiries, or processing engineering change requests - all done faster and more accurately. Now, in the past few months, there are more frequent success stories of applications to large, complex, end-to-end business processes. Examples of end-to-end applications include the claims process in the insurance sector, client experience in the private banking sector and order to cash in the manufacturing sector.

Not surprisingly there are two principal methods of taking BPM from small-scale departmental applications to enterprise level applications. Let's call them the bubble-up and the enterprise-view approaches.

Many organizations will likely pursue the bubble up approach. This is where you take an existing application of BPM software, where the benefits are known or fairly well estimated, and you create scenarios around an expanded scope, with the corresponding cost/benefit analysis. There's a lot to be said for this approach - it builds on existing success, often requires buy-in from only two or three department heads, and is likely to improve business results.

But it may not get you the best bang for the buck because this bubble up approach is not based on an overall enterprise analysis of business performance. To optimize the application of BPM software, it's necessary to have a tight integration of business strategy and business process performance, and clarity around the size of the performance gap for the each of the enterprise-wide, end-to-end business processes. That means you need to be able to express your strategy in business process terms and define the gap between current performance and desired performance. That's the essence of the enterprise-view approach.

Can you do that? Before you glibly answer "Yes," take a minute and ask yourself the following. Does your leadership team have a shared understanding and definition of the entire set of Enterprise Business Processes? Have they determined the appropriate Business Process Measures? Is there clarity around the current performance of each end-to-end business process? Have they set targets for the level of desired performance? And - have Business Process Owners been assigned for the major or core processes?

Although you might say that's a pretty tall order, it's certainly the best way to achieve a number of outcomes crucial to the performance-oriented organization, including:

 

  • A more succinct expression of purpose and strategic direction
  • A shared understanding at the top team level of what needs to be improved by how much by when
  • An integrated view of cross-group linkages and interdependencies
  • A greater focus on the timeliness and quality of key customer-touching business process outputs to balance the traditional financial metrics.
  • Tighter alignment of strategy, structure, business process and technology
  • Arguably, the best return on your IT investment and top team agreement on where BPM applications are best applied, at what cost and for what results

 

The enterprise-view approach is not for everyone. Only the resolute will succeed, for leadership is the determining factor. If you're keen to promote this approach, be ready for a barrage of the typical excuses. Be ready when someone tries to dismiss the idea with, "Others have tried this, and it didn't work." You might respond, "But they didn't try it this way!" When someone says, "We simply don't have the bandwidth to do this now," you might reply, "This is really important for us to maintain our edge, and here is what we can stop doing right now to free up resources."

What's really surprising is that it really doesn't take that much more effort to apply the enterprise view than the bubble-up approach. But, when it comes to the difference in the scope of performance improvement - WOW!

Don't forget that BPM technology is simply the means, while enterprise performance and competitive advantage is the end. If your company is currently booming, making money hand over fist, perhaps you can get by growing BPM with the bubble-up approach. On the other hand, if your company is still struggling in these uncertain times and is passionate about returning to sustainable profitable growth, you just might want to close the key performance gaps by applying the enterprise view of BPM. If that's the case, take a look at your P&L and current balance sheet, open up a word-processing document and make a compelling case for enterprise BPM. Do it well and your boss and even your boss's boss will no doubt want to hear all about what enterprise BPM can do for your firm.

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