BPM steps into the light

Business process management may not be a new discipline for measuring the impact of IT projects on the overall business, but BPM is gathering pace.

When the Institute of Chartered Accountants wanted to streamline its antiquated, in-house membership system, it began looking at CRM software to eliminate duplication associated with paper forms.

The institute's general manager of support services, Barry Morris, said the organization has always been focused around membership information, but has had to change due to government auditing requirements.

"The institute is now more customer focused so the CRM system has allowed us to get a complete picture of where new members come from, what they spend, and where they ultimately end up," Morris said, adding the business process change allows greater insight into the life and requirements of the institute's 43,000 members and 10,000 students. "We tailor our communications based on what information is appropriate and of particular interest."

After a "rigorous, all and sundry" evaluation of 12 CRM systems, including the "too high-powered" Seibel, the institute selected Onyx for its new membership system. As a result, "the biggest part" is the e-commerce functionality to allow payments and registrations of the institute's courses over the Web, thus reducing manual business processes.

Morris believes BPM is an area where there are "obvious benefits" from improved workflow processing but it needs to be tailored for the individual organization's needs.

"Don't think BPM [is an] off-the-shelf package you can get," he said. "There needs to be some flexibility to apply BPM to your own business." With the CRM system in place, the institute has now started a corporate performance management implementation in a phased approach which will deliver dashboards, scorecards, metrics, and ad hoc reporting.

"We've been doing balanced scorecarding, but not necessarily [with a] focus on major business drivers," Morris said, adding that graphical BPM can "paint a thousand words" and that tools from Cognos are now being used with Onyx.

"For us it's ensuring universal focus on major business drivers and getting information out to the whole organization as quickly as it's available," he said.

"We have a flat structure delivering services to wide group of members so the major business drivers [are that it] will help us focus on our core." With the CRM project taking about two years, Morris sees the BPM aspect as utilizing the benefits of storing all the knowledge and "capitalizing on that data".

"Having one version of the truth has been really helpful," he said.

Onyx managing director John Ward said pure-play BPM has been around for a long time, but has been uniting backend systems and was fixed, not dynamic. "People are now looking at it from a customer perspective [and] want to manage data and do something useful with it," Ward said, adding this can be labelled "customer process management", or CPM.

Ward recommends focusing on CPM because it provides a solid ROI.

"You can cost justify a CPM solution because of the effectiveness of handling complex processes, for example, improving a personal loan approval process from 24 hours to two," he said. Ownership is the key, he added.

"This is constantly a challenge for CIOs [because] it is a huge cultural change from manual to automated customer process," Ward said. "Start on pain points and try to find where the pain is and focus on the business."

Like Morris, Ward sees BPM as an immature market where a lot of customers are trying to find a way for it to benefit their business.

"There's no clear, dominant market player [but there are] definite trends that customers are driving for - process design and optimization," he said. "That's the part the business can own [as] it is a visual representation of processes [and has] the ability to drive processes."

Ward said BPM "makes CRM sense" and "no code" tools can significantly reduce time and effort when the business changes processes regularly.

Open source BPM

Like many of the more mature enterprise applications, BPM is attracting attention among open source startups like Pentaho, which offers a BPM package under the name of Workflow.

Pentaho Corporation CEO Richard Daley said while BPM is not a new space, it is getting more attention today because customers are forcing traditional packaged application vendors to open up to ease integration.

"Generally, integration costs will likely be lower with an open source BPM solution," Daley said.

"One of the challenges for closed source BPM vendors is that their products have been around for a few years. Most open source initiatives are being built from the ground up on the latest standards and technologies, which makes them far easier to integrate."

Daley believes although BPM was "somewhat slow to take off" one of the trends driving the growing interest is increasing integration with business intelligence. "This helps provide intelligence and improvement beyond just automation, and BI and BPM vendors have recognized the opportunity," he said.

"Pentaho's BI platform was architected with this customer requirement in mind, and can integrate with business processes via BPEL (Business Process Execution Language) and other standards, giving companies complete flexibility, and the ability to tie BI closely to their business processes."

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