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What is business process management (BPM)? The key to enterprise agility

Paul Rubens | Aug. 29, 2017
BPM is evolving as serving customers, rather than cutting costs, is becoming the key motivation for adopting BPM software.

managing business process cycle rotate phases
Credit: Thinkstock 

Business process management is the practice of aligning goals and processes as businesses evolve. BPM software helps organizations define the steps required to carry out a business task, mapping these definitions to existing processes and then streamlining or improving these processes so that the steps are taken more efficiently.

Business processes are the key to the way that almost every company operates. That's because they are the blueprints that are followed to achieve all kinds of business functions, and they enable the different parts of the organization to work together and to interact with suppliers and customers.

That being the case, it's not hard to see that a company can only be as flexible, efficient and agile as its business processes interacting with each other.

Here's the problem: Many companies develop business processes in isolation from other processes they interact with, or worse, they don't "develop" business processes at all. In many cases, processes simply come into existence as "the way things have always been done," or because software systems dictate them. As a result, many companies are hampered by their processes, and will continue to be so until those processes are optimized.

 

What is BPM in IT? It's more than cutting costs

It's important to remember that businesses are dynamic, so their goals and processes are continually evolving. For that reason, business process management should be thought of as a continuous practice rather than a one-off event – prompting some people to suggest that it would be better named "business process improvement."

In the past, the focus of BPM was to achieve cost savings, add efficiencies and increase value to businesses. But in the last year or so that's changed, according to Rob Koplowitz, a principal analyst at Forrester Research.  "BPM priorities have overwhelmingly shifted to customers," he says in the report BPM Platforms for Digital Automation. "Organizations considering BPM initiatives are doing so to serve customers, not cut costs. Increasingly, BPM and process change are focusing on facilitating cross-channel collaboration among employees, customers, partners, and 'things,'" he says.

To give you an idea of the shifting priorities, a February 2017 Forrester report looking at which business processes BPM users are re-engineering found that 64 percent are looking at customer servicing and 52 percent at customer on-boarding, while just 26 percent are looking at supply chain and partner-facing and 25 percent accounting and financial.

 

Players in the BPM software market

The BPM platform market is a broad one, and participants include software industry heavyweights like IBM, Oracle, SAP and Software AG. But in addition to these names there are many more specialized companies, as well as companies better known in other areas, such as Red Hat (Linux operating system software) and TIBCO (data analytics).

 

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