BPM Goes Mainstream

By Doug Bartholomew  |  Posted 2008-04-03

The good news is that technology to support business process management (BPM) has become widely accepted, with a majority of enterprises having BPM projects, according to a pair of recent surveys.

The bad news is that implementing BPM—which requires real process change to succeed—is no slam dunk. In fact, in a recent survey from Forrester Research a majority of IT professionals at 142 companies reported the type of mixed results from BPM more closely associated with a three-pointer.

BPM uses software to manage and continuously optimize an organization’s activities and core processes. Typically, BPM software packages are designed to foster integration, workflow and document management.   

On the downside, both surveys indicated a lack of organizational commitment to the process changes required to make BPM effective. For instance, more than 40 percent of respondents to a survey by Virtusa Corp. and PRTM Management Consultants reported they had no clearcut decision-makers in place to manage BPM programs.

“The organizational leadership must believe that process improvement is important for BPM to succeed,” says Tarun Sharma, worldwide head of the BPM practice at Virtusa, an IT services provider. Adds chief marketing officer Marc Hebert,  “BPM is just beginning to be standardized as a key tool in the enterprise.” 

The Virtusa/PRTM survey of business and IT professionals at 125 companies found that only 15 percent had a vision, with stated goals and objectives, for BPM. “In our experience, to get the most value out of a major new initiative like BPM, companies need to integrate clear business improvement goals into a multi-year roadmap,” Hebert says.

Many of those interviewed said that their BPM projects typically lacked senior executive sponsorship, with only 24 percent having a vice president or senior executive in charge of the project.

And in the mixed-results category, while 72 percent of the Virtusa/PRTM survey respondents reported having IT-enabled collaboration capabilities, most admitted in follow-up interviews that these systems worked poorly. In many cases, the technology used to support business collaboration were knowledge management or file-sharing systems that were ineffectually structured, lacked adequate version control, and were not linked to relevant business processes.

The most unexpected finding of the Virtusa/PRTM survey, Hebert says, was the frequent use of BPM technology as a tool to support new product development and innovation. Nearly half (47 percent) of the respondents said they were interested in deploying BPM for new product development initiatives.

“In the past, innovation was traditionally viewed as an art, but in recent years it’s become more process-driven,” says Hebert. “A tool such as BPM that helps formalize these processes and business rules can be an effective catalyst for innovation.”  

The second survey, by Forrester Research, also found a high adoption rate of BPM projects and tools. In a survey of 449 decision-makers in North America and Europe, some 60 percent were already using BPM, and an additional 19 percent planned to do so in the next 12 months. And a Forrester poll of more than 160 U.S. and U.K. enterprise architects had a similar finding, with 85 percent either actively planning for BPM or with one or more such projects already under way.

In the Forrester survey, which largely included vice presidents, directors or managers of architecture for the enterprise, widely varying BPM success was reported.

Some 60 percent reported that their BPM efforts had had both successes and failures, or else no measurable benefits to date. Just 37 percent indicated that their BPM projects had resulted in clear, measurable benefits.

In an apparent contradiction of sorts, about 60 percent of responding IT architects said their BPM efforts met their project goals. Roughly 20 percent said their BPM initiatives exceeded their established goals.  

Among those citing benefits, the chief areas of improvement resulting from BPM initiatives were:

  • Increased productivity for process workers, cited by 24 percent;
  • Real-time visibility into key processes, 18 percent;
  • Flexibility to change processes quickly and easily, 15 percent;
  • Ability to model business processes, 13 percent;
  • Consistent process execution across units, 12 percent;
  • Process optimization, 12 percent.  

Responding companies ranged from those with sales of less than $100 million to more than $5 billion. Among industry sectors, manufacturing was the most common, with 27 percent of the total, followed by financial services, 19 percent; professional services, 15 percent; and retail and wholesale, 9 percent.