Today I was asked to comment on the ebiz forum with regards to a question that was raised, “What comes first: the process improvement methodology or the BPM software”. Now I was a little surprised to read this question as the answer seems so obvious…However, looking at it from a potential customer venturing into the unknown world of BPM I can see, and have seen, why so many may get this questions wrong…
Process is everything
If you are looking at your internal processes, then simply remember that processes are everything. The fact that you are choosing to review your process means you have in-fact started a process, the process of review. Sounds a little weird, but if you think of everything within your organisation as processes or process driven, then you will automatically put into place a process for improving your internal processes.
All too often people look at BPM and its benefits and go straight to a vendor and say “what could you do for us here…” This isn’t a bad question, it’s just that you have jumped the gun, often because of pressures to cut costs and raises efficiency by yesterday.
To put it simply, if you don’t have the process to improve processes, then there is no point in having a platform that is built around process.
Process of starting change
As regular readers of my blog posts will know, I always try to break things down and keep everything as simple as possible. So if you are looking to improve processes and process efficiency within your organisation, a good couple of points below will help you:
- Someone within your organisation has to take ownership, and deliver the necessary drive for process change within your organisation. Without such a person, you will always struggle to make change happen
- Identify what areas of the business you are looking to improve process efficiency within and to get agreed just what are your current processes (a good consultant will help you with this, and is something that is so often overlooked. In many many cases, the workforce carry out a different process to that understood by management levels)
- Get in place a process design / method for identifying process changes, and how to raise these changes from the ground up. (Again, a good consultant will help you with this)
- Identify process improvements in full detail, including areas for automation and integration
- Look at BPM vendors. Make your decision based on flexibility, potential scalability and integration. Never ever get sold based on a fancy demonstration.
Identify the requirement of change, and get a process in place of bringing it about. Never let a demonstration or a particular technology drive you into making decisions on process change, or how to bring about change. The final part of the puzzle is the actual tool to use to deliver new processes across your organisation (this is a very important part though, and below I have listed some points to remember when choosing that tool)…
Choosing the BPM platform
This is so important, get it right and you will reap the rewards that BPM can offer, get it wrong and you will find yourself increasingly frustrated.
Flexibility of BPM software is key, you need to know that you can change processes efficiently within the software. Obviously don’t expect to be able to just click a couple of icons and hey presto, your process is updated. This may be shown in a demonstration, but in an actual workable system this won’t be practical….Just ask yourself these questions: What happens to the items already in that process? What if that new step requires integration with another system? What if it requires a high level of automation?
Scalability is also an important factor. If you don’t have scope to scale the BPM software then you will struggle to tie together many processes and departments. This puts immediate limits on how effective BPM will be for your organisation. Also remember that scalability can include the number of process maps, but also the numbers of items within each process, or the number of users using the system, even the number of automated steps…
Integration with other systems really delivers great process efficiency. Many demonstration will show how “out of the box” steps and processes can integrate with applications. However, this looks great in a demonstration, but again in the real world, how useful is this level of integration. Often you need very complex integration rules and calculations, triggers etc. This means you need a system that utilises communication tools and provides development capabilities. If it provides this level of low level communication, then your BPM integration will only be limited by the level of integration your third party applications can provide. As a rule, ensure your BPM software delivers an extensive API (best if XML Web Service Based), and delivers the ability to write and create customer step processors, where developers can build interfaces and between the BPM software, third party software and the user.
Finally, one of the key things is assessing how you will work with the BPM vendor. It is so important to know that you get good quality support services, that the vendor is honest with you and if they don’t quite understand a requirement that they say so. All too often in the bid to win work, software vendors will nod their heads and say “yeap, that’s not a problem, it can do that…” without really understanding the requirement. With any BPM solution, you must have a good relationship between yourself and the vendor, one that is built on honesty, even if that means sometimes a slightly bumpy ride when agreeing on functionality and prices…