BPM beneficial, but don't overdo it

Business process management helps companies, but must address human-related challenges and not go overboard with approach, analysts warn.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

Technological advancements have beefed up business process management (BPM) tools and its benefits for companies, and this also means enterprises all the more must bear in mind that the biggest issues thwarting BPM efforts are human-related, including "greedily" going overboard with it, say analysts.

The paradigm that BPM is essentially about business process improvement in an organization has been around for decades and unchanged, said Elise Olding, research director, BPM group at Gartner.

What is different, however, is that the technology available today "enables companies to [carry out] the tenets of BPM, which are visibility, accountability and adaptability, much better", she said.

While there remain unstructured work processes that are not cookie-cutter, such as salespersons building client relationships, today's BPM software suites allow companies to monitor and change most work metrics as it happens in real-time. In the past, staff may get a report only at the end of the week about what happened the days before, Olding noted.

Given the business environments are constantly changing, what with cloud, social and mobility, BPM is not just a "great way" but essential process to know what exactly is going on in an organization, she emphasized.

Olding pointed out that if a company does not understand the work that is going inside it, it will be ill-equipped to make informed decisions on how to respond to changes or challenges that are happening to it or within it.

"I can't imagine any CXO, if asked by shareholders to explain what his or her company does and where it produces value, they would say I don't know what is going on," the analyst said.

Somak Roy, lead analyst, enterprise solutions at Ovum concurred that BPM's benefits intrinsically remain what they were years before, and are now increasingly important to survive in today's competitive marketplace. "BPM forces the organization to understand a process and question it with a certain level of rigor. This benefit really scales up when the process thinking spreads through the organization," he said.

Old habits die hard
Yet, as BPM abilities--and its benefits--get enhanced with technological advancements, analysts also noted that longstanding people- and behavior-related hurdles to successful execution have become more complex and crucial to overcome.

"Just as we have found in the past, it's not really implementing the software that's the problem. What is the problem is that you're changing the way people work, and making sure that two years from now, they don't go back to their old habits while also trying to circumvent [what they were told to change]," Olding said.

She highlighted that companies often see a lot of success in the short term with BPM implementation, only to realize two years later employees' work has expanded instead of streamlined. For example, a BPM application is supposed to help a worker who does price forecasting manually on spreadsheets, but if his user habits or behavior is not addressed, he may revert to using spreadsheets in addition to using the BPM software to do his job tasks.

According to Roy, the root cause of failure is companies "getting too greedy" with BPM rollouts, whereas older problems such as usability and collaboration have since improved over time.

Companies should just start with one relatively simple and well-defined problem they wish to address, rather than attempting a sweeping overhaul across the whole organization, he advised.

Starting small, such as a BPM project for a particular business unit, will mean that it is easier define the scope and stick to it, and makes for more consistent leadership--all of which are common challenges facing any IT project including BPM.

It also allows BPM competency and skills to grow and evolve, bettering the odds of consistent senior management buy-in when moving on cross-functional or cross-department projects, he added.

Lack of skills, consensus a hindrance
Olding noted that a lack of skilled staff is frequently cited as another barrier to launching a BPM program effectively. BPM skills are pretty wide-ranging, she said.

Apart from obvious skills such as being analytical and able to problem-solve, one has to be adept at communication, negotiation and organizational change, and be able to see the macro picture and yet drive that vision into tactical implementation to achieve results.

The other major challenge is organizational politics, she pointed out. As companies move from doing one-off BPM projects to taking these success stories to transform the way work is done, it "threatens the existing power base of leaders in the organization".

Olding drew up a typical scenario: Managers, who are used to running their respective teams the way they want to, are now being asked to collaborate and be accountable to work metrics shared by other departments. In other words, they feel they have to sub-optimize how they run their turf, in order to benefit the enterprise as a whole.

She advised that for BPM to work, at least 10 to 20 percent of the effort should be entirely devoted on organizational change or change management.

There must be effective engagement and inclusion of stakeholders whose work is going change, she emphasized. For instance, a representative for each role in the organization should be involved in the design of BPM project, and can also act as the peer advocate. At the same time, he or she can raise concerns that could pose risks to successful BPM execution.

BPM is "not a silver bullet", and companies should not do BPM "blindly" without prudent management practices, she concluded.

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