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Q&A: Getting Business Process Management Right

What a BPM tool can do, and how to avoid the biggest mistakes enterprises make in their BPM projects.

BI can show your organization where you need to make improvements, but to understand your processes and successfully make changes, you need a business process management tool. To learn what a BPM tool can do, as well as the perils of BPM (and best practices to be successful), we turned to Mac McConnell, vice president of marketing at Bonitasoft; the company recently released version 6.0 of Bonita BPM, its business process management solution.

BI This Week: One of the big benefits of BI is that it can show your organization where improvements can be made based on the data you have. From dashboards to charts and tables, BI helps an enterprise spot what's working and what isn't. From there, organizations can start the BPM process. Can you give us an overview of what BPM is -- what are its key features and what pain points does it aim to solve?

Mac McConnell: Business process management (BPM) provides the process structure and data necessary to improve your Business intelligence (BI) and thus your operational efficiency. This is the simple goal of BPM -- improved business performance.

Ultimately, what a BPM tool allows an organization to do is organize internal or external processes. It provides the ability to track, notify, and direct the flow of various tasks within a process so that the marriage of humans and systems can be improved. Effective BPM suites provide four key elements:

  • Process design: A whiteboard-style interface that allows your processes to be drawn
  • User portal: A portal where end users interact with the process and work on the tasks assigned to them
  • Connectivity: An open communication framework to other applications so data is available in real time
  • Analytics: A reporting suite that allows for customized tracking of process performance

The core is a BPM execution engine that combines these components into a user-friendly, process-driven application. It keeps proper log of all activities and creates a data warehouse of process information that can be mined to discover bottlenecks, exceptions, and overall process improvements.

Where do organizations struggle most in their BPM projects?

Often, organizations struggle to define the process they are attempting to automate using BPM. They say they know how to set up a process and translate it into a business process suite, but in reality, the process isn't always that well understood.

There are two critical phases in any BPM project: the initial process design phase and process improvement phase. In the process design phase, you are trying to extract tribal knowledge for input into a process diagram within the BPM suite. The process improvement phase is where data and BI become a part of the project. Organizations need to make decisions about the kind of process indicators they want to track. For example, they'll want to know how long it takes to complete a single instance of the process; how much time certain tasks take to get completed; how efficiently certain people are working to move their tasks along; and how many exceptions there are to a process.

How are BPM projects implemented and how long do they typically last? What are the different methods?

The amazing thing about BPM is it does a lot of different things for a lot of different people. A BPM suite is a blank slate to write on. We've had customers go from idea to full-scale implementation in two weeks and we've had others take a few months.

A lot of people will apply many different methodologies to a BPM project. For example, we have customers using Six Sigma, Lean, or ISO approaches, but the best approach is a true organizational desire to improve processes. To do this, it is critical to take a proactive approach -- automate, measure, improve.

What are the biggest mistakes enterprises make in their BPM projects?

Many assume BPM is a "set-it-and-forget-it" process. It is not. Just because a certain process has been set up doesn't mean it's the right way to do the job. This is where intelligence, data, and BI come into play with BPM. Companies will often start with process design instead of asking What is the goal of the process and how do I track to this goal? If you start here, then the intelligence component is easily built into the process and not a bolted-on afterthought.

What best practices can you recommend to solve these mistakes?

Make sure you're paying attention to the data your BPM tool is providing so you can improve that process over time and make it truly valuable to the goals of your organization. The right data and intelligence at the right time makes all the difference. Also, never assume that because a process has been run a certain way for years it is the right way to do it. For all you know, your immeasurable process is wrong. Your organization may need to accept some change, but with good process intelligence it will be easy to prove that there is a better way to do things.

Your company has just released a new version of its namesake product, Bonita BPM 6. How does it address the problems we've been discussing?

We've broadened our connector framework so companies can now connect to almost any custom or off-the-shelf application, database, or data tool. That allows us to provide data in real time for people that need it.

We've also developed new search functionality. You can now search for specific process data or other data connected to that process. We want to make sure information is at people's fingertips when they need it to make the right decisions. Lastly, we have developed a mobile interface which adds a new mobile component to our platform. With Bonita BPM 6, process workers can now initiate a complete task directly from their mobile device.

In terms of BPM for BI practitioners, what's the single biggest benefit of Bonita BPM 6?

We've reimagined and built a new framework for business intelligence and process intelligence. For instance, a senior manager responsible for multiple locations can use the product at a high level or a line manager can drill down and track progress on projects in various locations. One of the real benefits of Bonita BPM 6 is that it helps identify bottlenecks within your process and give you the tools to clear those bottlenecks out of the way.

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