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The benefits of Business Process Management (BPM) are well documented. For example, a recent study from Gartner found that 78% of successful BPM projects delivered an internal rate of return greater than 15%, with some returns as high as 100% or 360%. The study also found a strong focus on business processes with significant human involvement, rather than pure system to system integration efforts. In addition to financial returns, users consistently cite the ability of BPM to reduce errors, improve service levels, and increase visibility as important benefits. Because of these results, Gartner expects that BPM will continue to move up as an investment priority for organizations seeking competitive advantage.



Business processes are everywhere in organizations. Some have been defined with a great deal of detail and rigor. For example, loan processing is a core function for financial institution that has many personnel dedicated to the effort. As a result, the details of how loans are processed are typically well understood. On the other hand, the vast majority of processes in a business are not well defined or documented. They have evolved over time as a result of simply doing business, with people making decisions on how to address situations on the fly. If successful, the decisions are applied for similar situations and over time become the accepted process. If unsuccessful, other approaches are tried until ones that work are found. The result is that processes evolve iteratively, almost following Darwin’s theory of evolution. Because of this reality, the move toward BPM is often challenging—both in terms of gaining understanding of existing processes and enabling the flexibility to have processes change and adapt after they have been automated using BPM technologies.

To succeed with BPM, business users and IT professionals must work together as a team. Business users own the process. They know what the process is intended to do and how it should flow. They make decisions and adjust the process as often as necessary to meet their needs. IT owns the technology infrastructure that is used when these processes are automated. They understand the need to manage data, integration, and systems operations.

The combination of technology infrastructure, process flow, and business requirements all needs to be discovered and translated into a process map to enable automation to occur. This process discovery effort, and adjusting the process map to keep pace with change, is the most significant challenge of BPM projects. A recent Delphi Group study stated, “In general the greatest concentration of activity is found within the discovery phase, here represented as the combined efforts of requirements analysis and developing process models and business rules. On average these activities (process and rule analysis combined with requirements definition) consumed about 40% of the time spent on BPM initiatives. Frequently, however, the discovery phases were cited as requiring 50% to 60% percent or more of project time.”

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