Summary: Business Process Management Software comes in all shapes and sizes. How do you know which option is right for your business? What should you be aware of before licensing a BPM tool? In this article, we take a deep dive into the different areas you should look at in any BPM system.
Let’s talk about business processes. They’re critically important to any organization. They can help your business or…they can hurt you. They contribute to inefficiencies and lost revenue in some businesses. But, other businesses view them as a competitive advantage.
The big question: Are your processes driving your business forward…or pulling it down? For many, it’s the latter. A recent study found that the biggest waste of time during the workday are inefficient processes.
Why is this so important? These days, your business processes matter more than ever. We live in an ‘instant’ world. Customers expect service/products/results right away…and they usually get it. If your company can’t deliver the level of service that customers expect, they’ll find someone who can.
So, where does your organization fall on the spectrum? Do your business processes help you or hurt you? Does your company still rely on inefficient processes? Now, that’s a tricky question. Sometimes it’s obvious. Other times, it’s not. Inefficient processes often go completely unnoticed. How do you know they are lurking in your business? Here are a few warning signs:
- Employees manually enter (or re-enter) data into your system(s).
- You rely on paper or email-based workflows.
- Your business relies heavily on spreadsheets.
- Customers complain about poor or slow service.
- Tasks are often overlooked.
Of course, that’s not an exhaustive list. Every company is different and inefficiencies will manifest themselves in different ways.
So, what happens if you’re dealing with inefficient processes in your business? That’s where Business Process Management (BPM) comes into play. Put simply, BPM is the analyzing, managing, and optimizing of business processes.
“If we considered the corporate workflow as a symphony orchestra and the business processes within it as the musicians, BPM would be the conductor coordinating them,” explains Ivan Kot, Solution Consultant at Itransition. “Indeed, business process management is both a holistic management discipline and an array of technologies (typically incorporated into BPM software) focused on harmonizing the business workflow across an enterprise.”
As mentioned above, BPM isn’t only about software. It’s just as much about people, your organization, and leadership. It’s about automating processes in a way that fits your company’s unique needs.
Now, all that being said, I’m focusing on the software side of BPM in this article. After all, there are many options and areas to consider when choosing the right solution. In this article, we’ll go over all of the basics. We’ll cover everything you need to know about choosing the right BPM software for your business.
What is BPM?
First things first: What is Business Process Management software? Here’s a great definition from Technology Evaluation Centers:
“Business process management (BPM) software consists of thousands of features that help companies with the entire range of tasks involved with planning, changing, and optimizing business processes. Outstanding BPM software reduces the difficulty and complexity of successfully performing BPM tasks, making it easier to analyze and model processes according to the way that your business operates.”
Now, there are different types of BPM systems. Of course, you have the traditional BPM software that applies to most any business. Then you have niche products that focus on specific industries or tasks. Finally, we’ve seen a newer crop of low-code platforms crop up that place a heavy emphasis on BPM–allowing you to create your own system with little or no coding.
Of course, I can’t tell you which is right for your business as everyone has different needs. That being said, there are a few important features that you should look for in any BPM tool, but we’ll explore those later on in this article.
What types of processes can you automate?
Bill Gates is famously quoted as saying, “The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.”
Some businesses get so enamored with Business Process Automation (BPA) and BPM, they attempt to automate processes that aren’t a good fit for automation. When this happens, you can do more damage to your business than good.
Which processes are ripe for automation? They must meet these requirements:
- The process must have a clear trigger: A trigger is an event that occurs that sets off the automated workflow. For instance, a trigger can be a submitted form on your site or a new product order. Any process that doesn’t have a clearly defined trigger is not right for automation.
- The process must have a clearly defined workflow: A clearly defined workflow will follow the same pattern every time. For instance, if someone orders a product on your site (the trigger), send a confirmation email (a process) to the customer and send the order information(another process) to the fulfillment center. If you can not clearly define rules for a particular process, or if the rules fluctuate, don’t try to automate the process.
- The process must not require abstract decision-making: If the process requires employees to gather information and make educated decisions, this is likely not an area for automation. For instance, you would never automate a 911 call center because you can’t replace the human decision-making element that’s required.
Benefits of BPM
Now, I realize that the concept of BPM can feel pretty vague. It’s easy to speak about it in high-level terms, but…what does it mean to your business? What benefits will you see as a result of this effort? While the list could be longer, here are a few of the more common benefits:
Improve client retention
Why do customers leave a business? A recent report finds that bad service is one of the biggest reasons. A whopping 96% of customers say they will leave a business if it doesn’t provide the service they expect.
What do I mean by ‘bad service’? I’m not talking about employees who are rude or unhelpful. Of course, you can’t fix that with automation. I’m talking about the little things that annoy customers. For instance, maybe the new customer onboarding process is clunky. Or, maybe you take too long to respond to questions because your internal notifications are done manually. I could go on, but most every business has some customer-related process that could work more efficiently.
When you automate those processes, your business can respond to customers faster. You appear more responsive and operate more efficiently. As explained below, this goes a long way in retaining customers.
“It’s challenging enough to attract new customers,” says Rameez Usmani, Tech and Security Expert at Code Signing Store. “It’s even more difficult to keep them. Client retention, on the other hand, yields a far larger return on investment than acquiring new customers. It is less expensive, and repeat consumers generate more revenue over time. If KPIs like efficiency and innovation are enhanced, customers are more likely to be satisfied with a company. As a result, customer retention improves. If you can link your BPM usage to better client experiences, you’ll reap the rewards.”
Reduce business costs
Manual processes do more than just slow down your business. They lack visibility. It’s hard to manage these processes because you don’t know every step involved. It’s hard to know if that process wastes time or money since you don’t quite understand it.
When you implement BPM, you’re forced to map out your processes. As a result, you gain visibility into each one. As explained below, this visibility helps you identify cost-saving opportunities.
“Business process management can assist companies in identifying processes that aren’t worth the time and money. Some of these steps can be removed,” says Brian Dean, Founder of Search Analytics Platform Exploding Topics. They can also be outsourced in some situations. A multinational corporation, for example, may decide that outsourcing localization tasks are preferable.
Businesses must be able to adapt to changing economic conditions in order to succeed. That includes determining which procedures are mission-critical and should be kept in-house. They stay lean and nimble by outsourcing other processes. Contracting tasks like this out to other suppliers is far less expensive in terms of direct expenses and resources.”
Standardize business processes
Without BPM, your business processes can feel like a black box. You’re not exactly sure how they work or if each employee handles processes in the same way (hint: they don’t).
In other words, manual processes bring variance. Each employee might do things a little differently. Some might forget steps in the process. Some might create bottlenecks. As explained below, this is a big reason why BPM is so important: It helps you standardize processes so they work the same way every time.
“Not only does BPM help you improve your business processes, but it helps you standardize them as well,” says Brian Donovan, CEO, Timeshatter. “Essentially, by actually documenting the specifics of these processes, you are able to make adequate adjustments and improvements when necessary. It also helps with onboarding and teaching new hires about how certain processes work.”
Improve risk aversions and corporate governance
Let’s take the last point one step further. When you standardize your business processes, it can help you meet regulatory requirements.
Now, I realize that this isn’t a concern for all businesses, but it’s a huge deal for some. Staying compliant with regulations is a constant struggle for many. Using BPM software, they can ensure that important processes follow the appropriate steps every time.
“Improved risk aversions and corporate governance is a key benefit of using Business process management,” says Jessica Lipton, Chief Technological Officer of Elevate Delta 8. “In today’s environment, businesses face a myriad of challenges in the form of compliance requirements ranging from IT to product security. BPM ensures that businesses carry out their operations in compliance with these rules through periodic reviews of all business processes and detects areas of potential risks and non-conformity. This saves businesses from costly and time-consuming fines and penalties related to non-compliance.”
Manual processes (such as data entry) frequently lead to errors. One of the most common examples of this: Moving data manually. I can’t tell you how many times I run across businesses that are manually moving data between systems.
For instance, maybe a company’s ERP system isn’t connected with their reporting or budgeting software. They’re forced to manually pull data out of their ERP, edit it in Excel, and then upload it to another system. Not only does this waste time, it raises the risk for data errors.
That’s just one example of manual processes creating errors, but the list could go on and on. The big problem: These errors often go uncaught, which lead to far greater problems down the road. Automating manual processes like this can eliminate these data errors completely.
“BPM is a very important practice because without it, your company will struggle in a number of ways,” says Teri Shern Cofounder of Conex Boxes. “You’ll likely end up wasting a lot of time, you won’t get sufficient data to help you make the right business decisions, and there will be a lot more errors. Taking the time out for BPM will help you improve your company, benefitting your customers, your employees, and the company itself.”
We live in a time of great uncertainty. Technology is changing faster than ever. Unforeseen disasters (like pandemics) crop up and change everything.
How do you prepare for uncertainty? Focus on flexibility. When you don’t know what will happen next, put your business in a position to move quickly and adapt.
This is one big advantage of BPM software. Once you’ve mapped out your processes, course-correction is easier since the roadmap is clear. Workflows and processes can easily be altered on the fly with the right BPM tool.
“BPM helps you plan any foreseeable crises and changes and quickly make necessary and impactful decisions to change directions and cope with the sudden industry and company changes and uncertainties,” says Tim Sutton, Founder of CoffeeGeek TV. “Resilience is important for a company’s growth in the long term, especially in a time full of uncertainties like now.”
Improve collaborationIn many companies, different departments operate in silos. They often use different software packages that don’t communicate with each other.
The problems arise when business processes span different departments. When different software packages can’t communicate with each other, manual processes are sure to be involved. This creates bottlenecks, errors, and hurts internal collaboration.
“Currently, collaboration and integration are of growing importance in the business world,” says Jason McMahon, Digital Strategist at Bambrick. “In order to meet corporate goals, every department needs to work together as the business develops and grows. This difficult business procedure might result in lost time and resources because it confuses people.
BPM can assist firms to overcome these difficulties and move towards higher productivity and agility when it comes to business goals. It’s the process of managing individuals, systems, and processes to reach corporate goals that have been determined in advance. BPM can assist you in improving cooperation and streamlining corporate operations with its many benefits.”
What to consider when implementing BPM
Okay, so where do you start? If you’re considering BPM software, what’s your first step? My advice: Before you look for the software, focus on a few areas:
Start with an in-depth analysisFirst things first: Start with the processes. Understand what business processes you currently have in place and what you need to manage and automate. Here’s a great recommendation from Technology Evaluation Centers (TEC):
“Our experts recommend that all businesses start their selection project with an in-depth analysis of their current business processes and software systems. Visualizing a holistic view of company processes and systems will help to reveal areas of potential improvements. This includes covering gaps in processes or systems and implementing new efficiencies that boost productivity or reduce costs. After completing an initial analysis, you should possess a complete set of custom requirements that reflect the needs of your company.”
Find the process that needs to be automated right away
Once you have your processes defined and outlined, create a ranking of each one. Which will deliver the most value to the business? Which should we focus on first? As explained below, don’t fall in the trap of trying to automate everything at once.
“Instead of focusing on the operations, you want to automate, concentrate on what you really need,” says Ravi Patel, CEO & Founder of Job Alert. “In the runtime environment, deploy the process. Instead of focusing just on the consumer, think about automating internal operations that will affect handling timelines and overall process quality. Assess the employees’ knowledge of the procedure and their responsibilities. Most decision-makers make the error of attempting to automate many processes at the same time. Rather than attempting to solve all of the problems at once, concentrate on the most critical issues and apply the business process step by step.”
Talk to the users
Finally, understand who is involved in each process. This is important for a couple of reasons. First, these users can give valuable information about the process. What’s working? What’s not? What can be optimized?
Second, those involved in a manual process must understand how their involvement will change once it’s automated. If they’re involved with the BPM software, make sure you understand their technical skill level. Will this solution be easy enough for them?
“User experience is key, both for users interacting with the solution as well as those who have to implement or maintain it on a day-to-day basis,” says David Cacik, Head of Marketing at CloudTalk.io. “User interfaces need to be intuitive and should adapt automatically to fit different types of roles that are interacting with the tool at any given time (e.g., business stakeholder, analyst, developer).”
What to look for in a BPM tool
You’ll find there are plenty of (very different) BPM software options to choose from. Some are point-and-click, while others require more technical knowledge. Some are inflexible, while others allow for unlimited customization. Some only handle BPA, while others offer BPA and many other features.
Which is best for your business?
The answer: It depends on your business and your needs. However, here are a few areas to consider:
A low-code/no-code approach
Let me ask you a couple of questions:
What’s easier: Deploying and customizing a pre-built BPM software package or creating your own custom BPM applications from scratch? The first choice is the obvious answer but it still isn’t as simple as you might imagine.
You see, traditional BPM software of the past came with some fatal flaws. They were often complex–difficult to learn and harder to use. To make matters worse, customization typically required coding. Any changes to the system needed to run through the development team. So, while deploying/customizing a pre-built solution might be easier than building one from the ground up, it’s still no walk in the park.
- What is better for your business: A pre-built BPM software package or a custom solution? The clear answer is a custom solution, as it perfectly fits your business. Of course, creating a custom option from scratch isn’t an option for most companies since it requires so much time and effort.
Here’s a better question: What if you could combine the benefits of both? What if you could create a custom solution quickly using your current resources? That’s the advantage of the low-code/no-code approach.
How does low-code tie into BPM? We’re seeing a rise in low-code-driven BPM lately. Some BPM tools are adopting low-code features. Many low-code platforms offer quite powerful BPM features, meaning you can create your own custom solutions–often in the same amount of time it would take to deploy a pre-built package. Using low-code tools to create your own BPM tools provide the best of both worlds: A custom solution that’s delivered quickly.
“Low-code development is undeniably a speedier approach to software and application development,” says Gerrid Smith, CMO of Joy Organics. “Given this, low-code BPM solutions are a cost-effective approach for businesses to save money by ensuring low maintenance costs and allowing them to tailor the program to meet their individual needs. Low-code applications are becoming the new, simple technique of coding, with quick and simple drag and drop functions, prompting more customers to demand it from providers.”
A transparent pricing model
The total cost of ownership is a bit tricky, as many vendors offer low upfront pricing that balloons the more you use it. Here are a few questions to ask about licensing:
- Will the price go up as you add more users?
- What is a ‘user’? Is it an employee who uses solutions created by the software, or is it an employee who uses the software to create automations?
- Will you pay more as you create more solutions?
- Do all features come with the initial cost, or do you need to pay more to unlock everything?
When it comes to BPM software, plan for scalability. You want to avoid any solution that becomes increasingly more expensive as you use it.
“Scalability is a crucial aspect to look for when choosing a BPM tool,” says Lipton. “If your business has plans to expand, it would be in your best interest to choose a tool that can scale with your business. This will save you the cost of reinvesting in another BPM tool once your business expands.”
Flexible deployment options
Where’s the best place to host your BPM software? On-premise or in the cloud?
There’s no right answer that applies to every situation.
Rather, I believe in flexibility. If that calls for on-premise hosting, so be it. If that means you move your software to the cloud, that’s fine too. Environment flexibility is a critical aspect of BPM. Be wary of any platform that locks you into their cloud, or a single deployment location.
Here are a few questions to ask the vendor before licensing a solution:
- Who owns the data? You might be surprised to learn how many cloud-only solutions won’t let you own your own data. That means you can’t get it out of their system if you leave.
- Will the BPA applications work outside of the platform, or are they tied to the platform?
- Does this platform give us the flexibility to move from the cloud to in-house, and vice-versa?
“The cloud is being adopted by an increasing number of organizations, including huge corporations,” says Dusan Stanar, Founder & CEO of VSS Monitoring. “Cloud deployment is a very appealing proposition because of the OpEx model, little upfront investment, much lower risks, and scalability choices. If you decide to switch vendors, you should be aware of the hazards of data stored outside your firm, cost escalation, and migration nightmares. Your company may be one-of-a-kind, so think about these factors before making a decision.”
One of the most important aspects of any software product is also one you can’t see: The architecture. It might be invisible to the users, but the impact that architecture has on your overall software experience is enormous. It impacts portability, security, flexibility, and more.
Most importantly, architecture plays a big role in a BPM tool’s integration capabilities. Before you deploy any software, you’ll need to answer two questions:
– How easily can we integrate this with our existing systems?
– How easily can we integrate this with third-party services?
Understanding a software platform’s ability to integrate with other software is crucial in your decision-making process. Does it support RESTful web services? Is it built using open technologies? These questions will save you from many integration headaches down the road.
“Integration is an essential feature of any BPM tool,” says Brad Touesnard, Founder & CEO of SpinupWP. “You want to ensure that your BPM can communicate with your legacy software systems so that it can bring all your software together in your operational workflow. Without integration, you will be spending a lot of time on manual data transfers between systems. Make especially sure your BPM offers integration paths for all your core processes.”
Visual Workflow Designer
Any modern BPM must include a visual workflow automation designer. Workflow designers let users automate business processes using a drag and drop interface. This means that any employee with knowledge of the business process can create a workflow automation.
What can they do? Visual Workflow Designers let users set workflow triggers that fire when data is added or changed. These triggers can start all types of workflows, ranging from email notifications to API calls and everything in between.
Customer support is an important, yet often overlooked consideration. It can make or break software, but it’s rarely discussed before the purchase.
“One crucial consideration when selecting a business process management tool is product support,” says Jake Smith, managing director of Absolute Reg. “These tools are highly sophisticated, and they serve an important function in any business. They are also meant to be used continually to produce meaningful results.
This means that business owners have to prioritize customer support when selecting a business process management tool. They need to work with a vendor that can help them understand how the tool works and address any problems they encounter.
An effective way business owners can do that is to interact with a vendor’s customer support department before committing to their product. It’s critical to first learn what their support process and coverage look like so that they can determine whether their needs will be met.”
In my experience, you’ll find that vendors handle support in one of three ways:
Outsourced: Some software vendors still outsource their support overseas or to another company. Generally speaking, you’ll find this approach delivers frustration and inferior service.
Internal, tiered support: Tiered support starts you off with a low-level support employee, with basic knowledge of the product. If they can’t answer your question, it gets passed up the ladder.
Internal, expert support: This approach ensures that you’re speaking with a product expert every time you have a question/issue.
Make sure you understand which option the vendor uses before you buy. Customer support plays a major role in the product’s success within your company.
Powerful reporting features
As mentioned above, BPM systems should help you automate AND optimize your business processes. That means it needs powerful reporting features to help you keep tabs on your business, processes, and workflow.
What do I mean by “powerful reporting features”? Here are a few must-have’s when it comes to reporting and BPM:
- Built-in graphing and charting: It should let you create detailed graphs and reports without exporting data to an external application. In other words, you need far more than an ‘export to CSV’ option.
- KPI Dashboards: These dashboards let your business leaders keep tabs on their key data from a single screen.
- Historical and real-time reporting: You should be able to set up reports that let you analyze past performance, but also create real-time reporting applications.
- Simple report builder: Finally, end-users should be able to create reports on their own, without bothering the IT department. It must include a codeless report-building interface so anyone with access to the software can analyze their data.
Strong internal and external security
When selecting BPM software, examine security in two separate areas: Internal security and external security. Let me explain:
Internal security: From an internal standpoint, you can’t give users unlimited access to your data. Here are a few questions you should ask before licensing any BPM tool:
- Does the platform let your IT department control the data and user access?
- Does it let you secure data by user or user role? Each user should only have access to the data and features that they require.
- Does it allow for single sign-on (SSO), so users can login with one set of credentials across multiple software platforms?
- Does it include multi-tenant security, so you can control user access on a row-level?
External security: From an external standpoint, how secure are the generated applications? This is especially important if you’re creating customer-facing workflows.
“When dealing with process management, data safety, cybersecurity protocols and overall security training should be at the top of the priority list,” says Kristen Bolig, Founder of SecurityNerd. “Business Process managers need to be considering cybersecurity and safety while analyzing and optimizing processes or else potential cyberattacks or data breaches could cause tremendous trouble down the road. Business data is the key to good process management, so keeping that business data safe and secure is so important.
Business Rules Designer
Unique to every organization, business rules are custom database procedures, programs, or scripts that define business processes. They provide the rules an automated business process must follow when it runs.
However, creating these custom business rules requires lengthy development cycles and manual coding. Business users often wait weeks or months for IT departments to create the custom code needed to implement their business rules.
A Business Rules Designer lets both non-technical and technical users create business rule logic without coding. This reduces development time, removes pressure from the dev team, and generally simplifies maintenance.
There you have it, a list of areas you should examine before licensing a BPM solution. Would you add anything to this list? Feel free to comment below!