At the moment in financial services organizations, not spending today on an
IT project is often a more compelling option than even a significant return
on the investment tomorrow. This means that the business expects the IT department
to be innovative or accept cost reduction as the only viable strategy. Unfortunately,
investments in software infrastructure -- even for hot topics such as SOA and
BPM -- seem to offer primarily medium-term returns. This makes justifying new
investments and even sustaining current investments in this area challenging.
What this means is technology innovation must be carefully focused on "sweet
spots" where it can pass these more exacting investment criteria. In the
case of BPM, the sweet spots emerging are those where BPM has the ability to
automate complex manual processes, remove human error and handle process change.
To somebody coming fresh to BPM, this idea of looking for very specific problems
to fix may be surprising, as BPM is often positioned as a strategic project
driven from the top down with widespread benefits. While it can be argued that
the returns of a strategic approach may be substantial, the overall costs will
be high and the payback not immediate. Therefore, such an investment is out
of sync with the realities facing most financial services organizations today.
Unfortunately, this perception of BPM as "big concept" may make some
organizations slow to try BPM in a different and more pragmatic mode. To make
matters worse, BPM can be quite confusing, as it is really a combination of
concepts from process re-engineering and an approach to describing and formalizing
ad hoc business processes as well as a set of technologies.
To complicate matters further, BPM technology is actually applied to two types
of problems (and sometimes a combination of the two): the integration of applications
with multi-step business processes, and the automation of human workflows. This
final distinction has mostly to do with the origins of the vendors selling solutions,
who typically come from one or the other camp.
To identify where BPM sweet spots lie, it is useful to boil down what BPM does:
BPM automates well-defined processes. It is true that a BPM project often
includes the creation of the formal process definitions from the informal, and
implicit processes that already exist. However, while much is sometimes made
of the ability of BPM software tools to support the capturing of business rules,
many business processes still require a lot of work to formalize. This formalization
itself forces changes in the way the business operates. And it may be expensive
and hard to justify change for changes sake. Therefore, it is clearly much easier
to start in areas where the processes are already formalized.