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Today’s companies not only need to do more than ever before—they need to do it all faster and better, preferably with lower costs and higher ROI. No wonder businesses of all types and sizes are turning to business process management (BPM) to improve how work gets done.

In fact, a majority of business and IT professionals rank BPM as a top priority for 2012, according to an international survey conducted by TechTarget, ebizQ’s parent company.

Specifically, among North American respondents, nearly 84% of those responding to questions about BPM ranked the approach as a high or medium priority for their companies this year, TechTarget's 2012 IT Forecast survey found. Worldwide, more than 90% cited BPM and a related approach, case management, as being of high or medium priority in 2012.

Those results mirror the findings of ebizQ’s most recent Reader Priorities and Challenges Survey, in which fully 92% of respondents ranked BPM as being of equal or higher importance this year than last year.

ebizQ's survey indicated strong interest in case management, but with lower rates of adoption. Only 25% of ebizQ’s survey respondents reported that they already use case management or plan to do so this year. However, an additional 33% were considering adopting case management methodology and technology, but didn’t have a definite timetable for deciding whether to do so.

To many experts, such findings reflect respondents’ apparent willingness to start moving forward—however cautiously—with BPM and similar efforts after a long period of recessionary belt-tightening.

“The last few years, with the economy being what it wasn’t, those types [of initiatives] must not have ranked as highly as other priorities, such as focusing on critical pain points,” says Steve Weissman, principal analyst for the Holly Group, a consulting firm specializing in process, content and information management.

But that doesn’t mean companies are jumping into massive, multi-faceted process- improvement initiatives. In fact, Weissman is seeing relatively simple, straightforward projects. “The most common targets are processes that are self-contained, [involving] things that don’t rely too heavily on other things,” he says. “It’s cleaner if you pick something that can operate independently.”

Of course, nearly all processes intersect with other processes at some point, but currently, many BPM specialists are steering clear of complex, deeply intertwined groups of processes in favor of those that, as Weissman puts it, “can operate largely on their own.”

That preference for simple, well-defined projects also helps explain rising interest in case management, as highlighted in both surveys. As Weissman puts it: “Cases are, by definition, self-contained—and the more self-contained something is, the easier it is to get your arms around.”

Stepping back for a bigger-picture look, analyst Craig Le Clair attributes case management’s growing traction to a trio of ongoing factors, including:

--The shift from a manufacturing-based to a service-based economy.
--The rise of the “information worker” (or, in Forrester parlance, “iWorker”—essentially, people who use computers or other devices extensively in their jobs).
--The growth of outsourcing.

Bottom line: “The people who are left have to do more,” says Le Clair, a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research. “The process support for that was insufficient and case management seemed to be a strong way to plug that gap. It got people thinking about case management in a new way.” As a result, the market for case-management technologies has risen steadily since mid-2010.

What’s ahead for BPM and case management in 2012? Companies are likely to expand their use of both technologies to increase operational efficiency, reduce costs, enhance business agility and improve services, based on the responses to ebizQ’s survey.

Meanwhile, consultant Jeff Kaplan predicts continuing interest in cloud-based approaches to process improvement. “BPM is becoming one of the most popular areas in which to deploy cloud solutions,” says Kaplan, managing director of the ThinkStrategies consulting firm.

For his part, Weissman hopes business and IT pros alike will remember to start with the basics when deciding whether to undertake BPM or case management initiatives.

“I’m encouraging organizations to start with a business problem,” Weissman says. “We get so hung up on the semantics of things; we spend so much time on [questions like] ‘Is case management a subset of BPM?’ At the end of the day, it doesn’t make any difference. The real issue is: What’s the business problem you’re trying to solve?”

READER FEEDBACK: Where does BPM rank on your organization's list of top priorities for this year? How about case management? We'd love to know. Please e-mail Site Editor Anne Stuart at editor@ebizq.net.

About the Author

Anne Stuart, ebizQ's editor from mid-2010 to mid-2013, is now senior editor for SearchCloudApplications.com at ebizQ's parent company, TechTarget. She is a veteran journalist who has written for national magazines, daily newspapers, an international news service and many Web sites. She’s specialized in covering business and technology issues for 20 years. Based in Newton, Mass., she can be reached at astuart@techtarget.com. Follow Anne on Google+ and at annestuart_TT on Twitter. For general questions about ebizQ, please e-mail editor@ebizQ.net.

More by Anne Stuart, Contributing Editor



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