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Business Process Management - A New Glue or the Old Soft Shoe?

Business Process Management - A New Glue or the Old Soft Shoe?

There are more than 100 BPM software vendors, all selling something different. Here's how to figure out whether you need it and how to make it work for you.

Reader ROI

  • The types of business process management software
  • How early adopters are using BPM software to become more efficient
  • What to consider before you buy

Depending on whom you ask, business process management (BPM) software helps monitor human and automated processes, automate previously human processes, process something still managed by humans or manage something previously processed by humans.

Confused? You should be. Gartner estimates that there are currently over 100 BPM vendors out there, and it seems that no two agree on what it is they're selling. So which definition is right? "They all are," says Eric Austvold, a research director at AMR research. "There are varying degrees of rightness." Behind the hype, BPM is a marketing buzzword for various software applications that are useful if you have a business process that needs improvement. But for a BPM product to be useful to you, rather than a waste of time and money, it's important to choose the right project and the appropriate software.

Here are a few things that different BPM products can do: You can buy a BPM application that monitors your business processes, automates workflow or serves as an enterprise application integration (EAI) tool. These products can help you identify areas of your business that need to be automated, enforce business rules and even help you integrate your existing IT infrastructure. CIOs who have successfully deployed BPM report that it has made their companies more efficient. For the most part the software is relatively inexpensive, often as low as $US100,000, which means that most companies can afford some version of BPM if they want. Happy customers report a high ROI, often between 200 and 300 percent.

Getting that ROI, though, depends on being realistic about what you're going to accomplish. Most BPM projects don't make a big splash, and they require a lot of work up front. Maneesh Gupta, information systems chief for Prince William County, Virginia, says that installing the software may only take a month, but determining beforehand which processes to apply it to can take six months. (Gupta used it to improve the way the human resources department keeps track of employee performance and status.) And in many cases the initial investment in BPM is so small that even a return of 200 percent won't change a company's margins. "You will have to do a hundred of these projects before the CEO will ever see the results," says Austvold.

But small wins are still wins, and that makes it worthwhile to sort through the hype about BPM and figure out how it can help you. "Most processes [in business] today are sophisticated and complex," says Gupta. "They are not linear. That is where [BPM] comes into play."

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