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The benefits of mobile BPM are no secret: The approach enables companies to streamline and improve processes, all while making them more portable.

Of the newest approaches to BPM—such as collaborative and social—mobile might even seem like the most obvious. In today's always-connected world, end users demand real-time responses and employees depend upon real-time access to information.

Still, many business and IT leaders remain in the dark about whether—and when— to embrace mobile BPM.

"On the whole, unfortunately, most companies are not ready, trained, or adequately resourced" for mobile BPM, says Michael Finneran, principal at dBrn Associates, an advisory firm specializing in wireless and mobility. "It shows in the limited number of really good examples we've seen of BPM initiatives in mobile."

Due to an increasingly mobile workforce and demand for mobile customer experiences, the question of whether an organization is ready for mobile BPM is fast becoming irrelevant. As Clay Richardson, a senior analyst at Forrester Research, puts it: "I don't think there's a 'readiness,' per se, as much as you're going to be forced to do it."

Fortunately, organizations considering mobile BPM can take proactive steps to prepare for it now. Experts advise business process professionals to identify areas where mobile can be a benefit, keep a pulse on employees and end users, and develop a clear mobile strategy to ready themselves for the inevitable wave of mobile process.

While a company might wonder whether its workforce is ready to meet the needs of mobile BPM, the better question might be whether its current BPM strategy is meeting the needs of its workforce. In many industries, growing numbers of telecommuting, mobile employees are shaping up to be the greatest catalyst for mobile BPM adoption.

"I don't think companies will know they're ready [for mobile BPM]," says Richardson, an expert on BPM software, services, and methodologies. "I think they're almost going to be forced to do it by the mobile workforce. Most of the companies we talk to, we're telling them that they need to start reengineering processes to meet mobile."

Richardson also notes that, during recent research on disruptive forces that will reshape what BPM means in the future, he found that mobile was second only to customer experience. Despite such predictions, a proactive approach to mobile BPM has been slow to catch on—even as organizations have embraced other mobile initiatives.

Since the advent of the smartphone and the mobile Web, successful companies across industries have had to adjust to bring mobility—whether in the form of iPhone and Android apps for customers or bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies for employees—into the fold of their operations. The concept of "going wireless" is frequently viewed as part of the end-user experience, but often stops short of extending to business processes themselves.

"A lot of companies are getting ready for mobile, no doubt," says Richardson. "You'll see these amazing mobile initiatives that are spinning up in companies that see the advantage of mobile. But it's usually in another area—a lot of it is around customer engagement. The pattern we see is there are siloed mobile initiatives that are really disconnected from business process."

Widespread "un-readiness" to extend mobile to BPM has some roots in the hard work it takes to reengineer processes for mobile. Experts say the cost can be substantial and time-consuming. For that reason, ensuring that there are sufficient funds and resources for a thorough shift to mobile BPM is an obvious prerequisite to mobilizing processes. Businesses that simply plan to throw apps in front of old processes, without redesigning them, are not ready for a mobile BPM initiative and won't reap the benefits of the approach.

If organizations don't begin to prepare for mobile BPM, they may well find themselves scrambling to catch up—and spending more money—in the near future. "We see the reengineering of business processes for mobile as a multi-billion dollar emerging industry," says Richardson. "In the next five to seven years, we see that the industry will drive companies toward mobile processes." As more BPM vendors see the opportunity in mobile, the industry landscape will change.

Jack Gold, founder and principal analyst at J. Gold Associates, a technology research firm, offers an even stronger take on the matter: "If the company's not ready for mobile, then the company's not ready to be in business long-term."

To avoid falling behind, organizations can start by taking an inventory of their processes for mobile opportunities. Experts also touch upon five key steps that, if taken, will prepare companies for a mobile BPM initiative:

1. Identify mobile needs. First, analyze your processes, searching for steps that can be optimized for a mobile approach. After identifying areas where end users and employees can engage with a process, consider how to reengineer those steps so that they’ll work with mobile.

"Look for processes that really depend heavily on real-time communications or real-time access to information—'communication hot-spots,'" says Finneran. By taking the time to analyze processes and discover which steps will benefit most from mobile, companies can avoid mobility just for mobility's sake.

2. Know your workforce and your customers. Look at the work employees do—and how they do it—to determine whether mobile can help them do their jobs better. "[Sometimes] being there in front of the customer and being able to have the process guide you becomes much more important," explains Richardson.

Likewise, organizations should keep an eye on end users to create a satisfactory mobile customer experience. "User demand has so much more capability of making things happen in an organization than it ever has before," says Gold. "In the past, a lot of this was driven by the technology. Now it's being driven by the end users, by demand by customers."

3. Get support from your organization's executives. A mobile BPM initiative will struggle to get off the ground if executive management isn’t convinced about the benefits it offers. "It's more a matter of having a general corporate direction that embraces the appropriate use of available technology in the pursuit of business goals," Finneran says.

4. Have a mobile asset management system in place. Having a system to manage and regulate mobile device usage by the workforce is important for smooth transition to mobile BPM. "You need at least some level of organization in your mobile asset management before you can move forward," Finneran notes.

5. Develop a clear mobile BPM strategy. As with any other BPM effort, without a clear vision, a mobile BPM initiative can falter. "My big suggestion for all companies is to put together a [mobile BPM] strategy," advises Gold. "If you put together a strategy for three to five years out, you have no idea what will be going on then, but you can update it every six months or so. You'll be able to compete in the marketplace—and also, you'll have some focus."

Being ready for mobile BPM also means being prepared for common mobile challenges—not the least of which is security. It is increasingly important to ensure that both employees' and customers' personal devices are safe places for corporate and confidential data.

"We've been thrown a curveball with this BYOD thing," says Finneran. "It can potentially make the move to mobile BPM that much more challenging. Now, you have to figure out how you are going to provide security to all those mobile devices."

In a recent report, entitled "2012 State of Mobile Security," Finneran notes that while 62% of companies allow personal devices at work, only 14% require hardware encryption. The heterogeneity of smartphones used by any given workforce also makes it more costly and time-consuming to build mobile applications that will run securely across the enterprise. As a result, a serious mobile security plan is a necessary foundation for mobile BPM.

In the fast-changing world of mobile devices, a long-term strategy for success can seem elusive. But experts say it’s still critical to have one before taking on a mobile BPM initiative.

"Defining a mobile BPM strategy is definitely going to take different shapes for different organizations," says Richardson. "But much of it is about understanding the scenarios where mobile gives you an advantage."

That fact makes process analysis a large part of any successful mobile BPM strategy. Customer experience should also be influential. A mobile BPM plan must take into account that mobile users want an experience tailored to what they want to do—a variable that can change on a dime. Mobile processes will have to be altered frequently as a result and flexibility is key.

So, of course, is collaboration between business and IT.

"You cannot formulate a technology strategy in a vacuum," Gold points out. "It has to be formulated based on what your business strategy is going to be going forward." Ensuring that mobile BPM initiatives are in line with long-term business goals is essential for success.

READER FEEDBACK: Is your organization considering mobile BPM? If so, ebizQ editors would like to hear about your experience. Contact Site Editor Anne Stuart at editor@ebizq.net.

About the Author

Stephanie Mann is the former assistant editor for ebizQ and its sister TechTarget site, SearchSOA. Before joining TechTarget, Stephanie was a contributing reporter and proofreader for a Boston-area weekly newspaper and an editorial intern at a Cambridge, Mass.-based publishing company. She has also worked for several nonprofits and as a freelance editor.

More by Stephanie Mann, Assistant Site Editor, ebizQ



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