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Business process management suites (BPMSs) aren’t like a lot of other enterprise-class implementations: The ways in which organizations want and need to deploy a BPMS can vary almost infinitely. However, experts say, there are some clear commonalities that can make for implementation success--and that you should carefully consider if your organization is either preparing to adopt a BPMS or is already deep into the process. Here’s a checklist:

Engage your stakeholders. One challenge: Sorting through the competing definitions of BPM (and thus, the differing expectations among departments regarding a BPMS), says Maryellen Papelian, director of business process consulting at Accounting Management Solutions, a service provider.

For instance, she notes, IT departments typically define BPM as the process for implementing application tools. The finance department, on the other hand, defines it as the process for improving functional procedures, reducing manual efforts and decreasing cost within the organization.

With multiple definitions on the loose, “it is important to ensure appropriate engagement with all stakeholders by clearly defining the business case for each stakeholder within an organization,” she says. “One critical step in a successful implementation is preparing the end user community to use what you are planning to implement. If the development and deployment of business processes is not carefully managed, the ‘built’ future-state model and ‘trained’ future-state model can be different, often to the detriment of the success of the project.”

Organizations that take the effort to refine and develop business processes throughout the implementation lifecycle can successfully answer the question that is most often asked by employees: "How am I going to do my job using this new system?"

Address both human and BPMS blind spots. Ralph Beck, founder of The RBeck Company LCC, emphasizes the human element is always crucial to BPMS. “Just identifying requirements involves judgment--a common source of human error,” says Beck, whose consulting firm focuses on organizations in transition.

Performance, too, is affected by commitment and trust, both easily undermined by blame over process analysis, he says. Thus, no matter how granular the process planning, at some point, someone involved will encounter something outside of the planned process. How well that person understands the process’s purpose and goals will help determine his or her response.

Thus, he notes, the biggest problem with implementation is the tendency to believe that the old ways were adequate and new approaches won’t work. The second biggest problem is its mirror image, namely tending to believe that “we designed it to work, so just run with it; any problems will work themselves out.” Overcoming these issues requires involving those who use the process and building in a review process so that you can test and adjust as the implementation proceeds.

Tie BPMS to branding and communication. Steven Mason, a former software engineer who’s now a strategy and branding consultant, offers what he describes as a “different, complementary perspective on BPMS.” In Mason’s view, most BPMS best practices are purely technical—for instance, “articulating use cases, optimizing graphs, ensuring that all the attributes attached to particular tasks and subtasks are defined, and ensuring that every person responsibility for the touch points of the process is included in planning and execution,” he says.

While those issues are important, they’re insufficient, Mason says: What's missing is the company's brand and what it stands for. “Most marketing people know the story of the consultant who asked 100 different employees of a company to write down what it did, only to get 100 different answers,” Mason says. That variation would never occur at, for instance, Apple: “Their key brand attributes--usability, being/thinking different, aesthetic beauty, Zen-like minimalism and performance--are true for all their products and the processes that produce them,” he says.

Mason’s thesis: Companies need to implement what he calls “brand-aware business process management systems,” which incorporate the key values and principles of the company--those that differentiate it from its competitors--into the blueprints for those processes. He adds: “If all the humans involved in BPMS do not know what the brand stands for, they have zero chance of incorporating into the processes.”

Figure out how to integrate BPMS, SOA, and other infrastructure elements. It’s not only BPMS’s definition that’s continued to evolve, says Shankar Krishnamurthy, industry principal consultant for BPM and EAI at Infosys Limited. The ways that different technologies and infrastructure elements are integrated into BPMS has also changed. Specifically, he says, Infosys has found considerable “polarity” in how the role of SOA is viewed in context with a BPMS.

“The key challenge is not whether one complements the other, but how,” he says. It’s been not merely a matter of coexistence, but of making SOA and BPM work well together, he adds. The consequences of success or failure are of more than mere academic interest.

For instance, Krishnamurthy says, a large insurer with which he worked wanted to automate a key business process and link 2,000 of its agents into an “ecosystem.” Some of the key activities they performed were driven by BPMS, but they found that before the right services were developed and put in place “the agent had to click and wait literally minutes for the data to flow up,” says Krishnamurthy. The problem, he says, was the granularity in designing services. The insurer understood the issues of SOA but didn’t have sufficiently robust skills to shape the services to the requirements of the BPMS. “How to make it all work together is an area we are seeing that people need help with BPMS implementations,” he says.

Start with manageable goals. Clay Richardson, senior analysts at Forrester Research, says it’s important to implement BPMS in manageable bites – preferably starting with “easy” elements. “This can build confidence in the BPMS team and win support across the organization when you have a demonstrable improvement to showcase,” he says. In his view, it can be risky to go for high-ROI projects before you know your team and your technology are ready.

Lock in management support. John Verburgt, director of business process management at CME Group (better known as the Chicago Mercantile Exchange), has been on the front lines of BPMS implementation over the past year. His biggest piece of advice: Get solid management support from the start.

In his case, CME had a deep and successful corporate culture that focused on results – and fueled skepticism of change. “People support process improvement and excellence, but everyone had a different perspective, so it was vital that we engage management and then be able to deliver demonstrable results. Contrary to Richardson’s advice, Verburgt says this goal – backed by management -- meant tackling one of the more complex processes at CME, one with a high potential ROI. It was a way of getting a clear win and justifying management support, he explains.

Have a plan for granularity and analytics. Kelly Azevedo, an independent systems consultant, says the degree of granularity designed into a BPMS implementation can vary widely. “We go into a lot of detail for the repeatable, routine systems,” she says. “While we can never seek to anticipate every single situation--nor would it be a good use of time--the principles and guidelines seek to address the 90% most common questions or situations.”

If team members understand that each task associated with the BPMS is required and must be completed, that not only makes it easier to correct employees’ activities when needed, but also provides excellent data to the organization. That, in turn, paves the way for improved analytics, she adds: “To ensure that each element of your system is relevant and useful you must be tracking using technology and analyzing what's working and where you can improve.”

READER FEEDBACK: How did you choose your BPM suite? Are you satisfied with your decision? Let us know. Contact Site Editor Anne Stuart at editor@ebizq.net.



About the Author

Alan Earls, a journalist who specializes in writing about technology and business, is based in the Boston area.

More by Alan Earls, ebizQ Contributor

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