BPM: Efficient Plan for Optimizing Business

Melissa Kulesz, Director of Business Development - SW Region, DataBank IMX
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Melissa Kulesz, Director of Business Development - SW Region, DataBank IMX

Historically, Business Process Management (BPM) has focused on streamlining methods to reduce steps and control costs. Usually manifested in document centric departments like accounts payable, processes that were once very labor intensive have become automated so that just the exceptions are manually processed. Yet as wonderful as these innovations are, most aren’t able to be replicated in other departments, creating operational silos. Pockets of efficiency are plentiful, but disconnected projects can create ad-hoc work around, which create new problems that technology, alone cannot solve. Many organizations today are discovering that updated BPM strategies can help bridge the gaps between these silos with the proper people, processes and organizational structures.

“Knowing, understanding, and extracting the data’s value will continue to be the main challenge. Remember, BPM is just the list of instructions; it’s the tools that have changed”

Business Process Management, as defined by AIIM, is a collection of techniques and structured methods that determine how we “study, identify, change, and monitor business processes to ensure they run smoothly and can be improved over time." By definition, BPM is like a detailed set of instructions, a check list of progressive steps to move from point A to point B. It’s quite unlikely, for example, that the underlying flow of events for a check approval in an accounts payable department has changed much in the past 40 or 50 years. What has changed however is the speed and efficiency of this process.

For a moment, let’s plan a road trip and pretend the map is our Business Process Management guide. If I am traveling old school, I’ll pull out my folded Rand McNally map to navigate from Dallas, Texas to my chosen destination. I can even use several highlighters to mark various routes in case I encounter road construction or decide to take a scenic route. It will require some additional planning and time to gather information for off-route stops, but eventually I’ll make it to my destination. But if I want to optimize my time and resources, I would use Google maps on my iPhone. The starting point and ending destination are exactly the same, but obviously it’s a completely different experience. Not only is my map now pocket-sized and able to provide me with verbal turn-by-turn instructions, it even gently prods me to get back on course if I go astray. But I digress.

This, according to Forrester Research, is the direction that BPM is headed. In their January 27, 2015 Executive Overview: The Business Process Management Playbook, they assert that Business Process Management’s new focus will be on the customer experience vs. the traditional cost-cutting/improved revenue approach. Departmental and informational silos need to be disrupted so processes can be more intuitive and cross-functional, working toward enterprise-wide deployment.

So where does an organization begin? Forrester suggests 4 main steps: Discover, Plan, Act and Optimize. To continue with the road trip analogy, this first step is akin to determining why you want to travel to your destination. Are you traveling alone? If not, you’ll need buy-in. For a business, support is essential and a land and expand strategy may be an excellent option. By establishing a business case for one department and then collaborating with other departments who tend to utilize similar data (for example, accounting and shipping/receiving), its breadth can be widened, increasing the likelihood of an eventual enterprise-wide adoption. Remember to keep the end-user as the focal point.

Next, it’s time for the road map – the plan. It’s an assessment of where you are currently at (like looking at the compass on a map) and determining what route to take. What technologies, software, and people/teams do you have in place? What is lacking? This is the brainstorming session, the “what if” scenarios, or how you would handle a detour. Since BPM is more than just software and technology and is dependent upon properly managed teams of knowledgeable people, the plan will be complex. Trying to coordinate and integrate document centric processes (like invoice processing) with human centric processes (like case management) requires a focused team and detailed methods.

As you’re implementing new BPM initiatives, your expectations are high that your new directives will deliver as promised. Of course, there’s a learning curve, but once it reaches its threshold, the measurements and assessments begin. Perhaps you purchased new ECM software to consolidate your data into a single repository. Is it integrated with your ERP or CRM system? Does it archive emails and attachments? Does it send alerts when a workflow process has been suspended due to a lacking signature or a missing document? Can you see your assigned workloads for staff and shift according to peak times? Are your efficiencies elevating the customer experience?

If the answers to any of the above do not meet your original objectives set forth in your plan, then the final step is in order – optimization. Business Process Management is constantly adapting. Business is moving from what was once an archival mode to a transactional mode and technology is just one of the tools to aid in the evolution. With the proper tools, companies can visualize their monthly financial data, allowing them to see trends, track correlations, and prepare more accurate forecasts. Rather than waiting until month-end close for numbers, financial information can often be viewed in real-time (if needed), greatly improving operational agility.

What does the future hold for Business Process Management strategy? Only time will tell since the melding of technologies seems to be upon us. Each industry and, sometimes, each department moves at its own adoption speed. Data that may have only been referenced on a monthly basis is now available almost instantaneously. Not only can it simply be viewed, it can be manipulated, analyzed and transformed into something new. What was once difficult to decipher and interpret in a spread sheet can now be rendered as a 3D model – a truly game-changing advancement. By bringing the end-user experience to the forefront, the customer becomes the driving force.

The key is weighing the options to determine acceptable risk and what improvements can be gained. Just because paper can be converted to digital format doesn’t automatically mean it should be. The same is true for any data – no matter the format. Knowing, understanding, and extracting the data’s value will continue to be the main challenge. Remember, BPM is just the list of instructions; it’s the tools that have changed.

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