You believe BPM (Business Process Management) has the potential to help your organization. But you realize you don’t really know what to look for in a BPM solution. With dozens of BPM vendors on the market, and projects that range from tiny to mega-large, how do you choose the right BPM solution for your company?
This article provides some directions that can help you make the right choice. It doesn’t cover every case (each scenario is different), but it will give you some basic guidelines that can help you avoid common pitfalls, and end up with a solution that will achieve your company’s goals. Start by asking yourself these questions:
1. What is your business/IT challenge?
The first step is to understand the current state of the system you are trying to improve. In most cases, you’ve been directed to BPM because you have an existing set of processes which are either manual, low-tech (email, spreadsheets, etc.), or based on some legacy/bespoke system that is causing your organization a great deal of headache. This headache can be in the form of too many employee-hours, poor quality of product, poor customer service, compliance or governance issues that result in damages or legal costs, and the list goes on. This is a definitely a problem that BPM can solve, and the fact that you have defined the problem will help you look for a BPM solution that is capable of addressing it.
In other cases, you may feel that there is a no ‘problem’ per say, but rather, you wish to improve on processes that are working moderately well, and bring them to the level of excellence. You’ve heard that BPM solutions have led businesses to achieve truly amazing results.
In either case, you need to define your current scenario, and set your goals from the get-go.
2. Are your process challenges human-centric or system-centric?
BPM was initially created to improve IT system-to-system processes. As time progressed, it was found that BPM had the potential to improve human-centric processes as well. So ask yourself – is the challenge you face primarily technology related? Is it a question of getting multiple systems to coordinate or operate processes more efficiently? Or, do you need better human process management, for example, around a request or approval cycle? Do you need to get more users involved in a specific process? Or perhaps your challenge involves both human and system elements?
Depending on the answers to the above, you can start looking for a BPM solution provider whose strengths lie on the Human-centric or Machine-centric axis (note: you may require an EAI system for complex system integrations). Some vendors specialize in one or the other, and this can be a key decision point. Alternatively, if you require a combination of human and system-centric capabilities, you should start investigating an iBPMS (see the section on that below), which include strengths in both areas.
3. What is the scope of your project?
Some BPM solutions solve a very specific process-related challenge, that may be limited to a single department, and which does not affect the rest of the organization. At this point, you should begin to define the scope of your project, and you should be answer scope related questions such as:
- Number of users affected?
- Number of processes?
- Number of systems involved?
- Number of department involved?
- Will the system need to scale up?
- Effects on other parts of the organization?
- Timeline of the project?
- Lifetime of the system?
Understanding the scope and scale of the project is the first step in understanding what your budget should be. This goes hand in hand with the next question.
4. What is the potential ROI?
Now that you’ve laid out the estimated scope, what is the estimated ROI you hope to achieve? What concrete benefits could your organization see if the solution works well? If you can assemble the answers to these questions in a short list, you will be able to define a realistic budget for the project. This is something you should share with your management.
Try out this BPM ROI calculator to assist you in making this estimate.
With this estimated budget, go back to the list of BPM vendors. Some of the larger vendors only do long-term, large scale projects, where the budget is in the millions, and the time scale is in years. If this is the type of solution you’re looking for get ready for a massive project, because that’s what it looks like you have on your hands.
If, however, you are aiming to achieve goals in a shorter time frame, on a smaller or medium sized budget, you start looking for BPM vendors who provide great features and rapid delivery capabilities, at a reasonable cost. This will certainly help you narrow down your list.
Whichever type of vendor you examine, find out what you can about their cost of licenses, and the cost and availability of services, as this will help you match up your budget with realistic vendor candidates.
5. Who will you ask for advice?
When selecting such a significant BPM solution provider for your organization, it’s not enough to rely on web reading or anecdotal stories. You need to find the right consultant or analyst who can recommend the right vendor for you. It’s important to have answered the first four questions before you get to this stage, as even the best analyst or consultant will not be able to help you if you haven’t defined your challenges, scope or budget.
Come prepared to your meeting with this information, and you will get better guidance. While it is out of the scope of this article, choosing the right advisors is also a key factor in project success.
6. Who will make up your team?
In some cases, you will assemble an internal BPM project which will design and implement your solution. This is no simple task. Your team must include not only IT developers, business analysts and project managers, but also BPM experts. In many cases, it will be worth it to find a BPM vendor which also provides their BPM implementation experts as part of a solution package. In such cases, it is imperative to search for a BPM provider whose implementation teams have a solid track record of expertise and success.
7. How flexible and easy to use must your solution be?
After you have implemented our solution, how likely is it that you will have to modify it (even in small ways) to meet changing real live conditions? If the answer is “often” or even “semi-frequently”, you should look for a provider whose technology can facilitate process change. This will enable you to keep your solution relevant as time goes on, and continually improve it. Look for BPM vendors who put a strong focus on change capabilities, as the ability to handle and control Change is perhaps the biggest factor in the long-term success of your project. (Read more about Change-enabled processes).
Ease of use is a key element of system usability. Do you plan to have business users develop processes, or just developers? How friendly is the system for end users? What is your timeline for training? There are an increasing number of user-friendly BPM solutions on the market that are accessible enough for the “power user” and do not require months of training. Put these on your radar if ease of use is important.
8. What specific features and integrations do you require?
We place this topic last for a reason, even though logically you might expect it to be the first question. Specific features are important, but only after you have a firm idea of the challenge, scope, budget and methodology of your project.
Ask yourself which features are must haves for your BPM solution. Is a mobile interface a must? Do you need analytics? Is it important to have integration with other key systems such as SharePoint, CRM or ERP? Think not only about the present, but two, three or even five years down the road. The BPM solution you select should have elements which are important to your company as it grows.
A note on iBPMS vs. BPMS
Among BPM vendors, there is a subset which Gartner calls “Intelligent BPM Suites” (iBPMS), which include a broader set of features that help organizations achieve intelligent business Operations (see this article). Intelligent operations might sound like hype, but they are exactly the sort of thing that helps your organization collaborate, improve and out-match competition. Intelligent features includes capabilities such as intelligent analytics, mobile BPM, social collaboration, dynamic/agile processes and integration with external systems.
If you were buying a mobile phone, would you prefer a legacy model or a smartphone? And what if the prices were similar? For most people, the choice is clear – they opt for the smartphone. The same goes for iBPMS vs. BPMS. If you can choose an intelligent BPM suite, this is preferable, as you will on-board a product that is more flexible for not only your current project, but the future state of that project, and future projects within your organization.
To Sum Up
We hope these questions have helped you crystalize your thoughts and goals for a BPM solution, and set you on the path toward one which helps your organization achieve and exceed its goals.
With 17+ years’ experience in the BPM industry, we at PNMsoft would be happy to assist you in helping you choose the right BPM solution for your company.
Eli Stutz is Head of Knowledge and Collaboration for PNMsoft, the authors and publishers of Cora SeQuence – a Gartner Magic-Quadrant (MQ) rated Intelligent Business Process Management Suite (iBPMS). Eli Stutz conducts live monthly webinars on BPM and workflow topics, and authors case studies and white papers.