BPM: Be careful what you (keep) asking for

Analyst firm Hydrasight says business process management software will not make users any more satisfied with CIOs' efforts to meet their needs.

Hydrasight notes the common perception, among business users, that formal information technology organisation (ITO) support will result in a process or application ill-suited to the work habits and behaviours of the business user. We note this effect is compounded by a feeling of ‘loss of control’ experienced when a business process/application is perceived as inaccurate, inappropriate, inadequate or when changes are needed.

Hydrasight observes that many business users perceive the potential benefit of formalising processes and applications to be reduced by uncertainty in the effectiveness of translating business ‘needs’ to technology ‘solutions’ by the ITO. For example, a departmental daily planning process is likely to draw some information from existing systems in respect to pending orders, existing inventory, and available resources. Many managers ‘build’ an informal process in a spreadsheet, flowcharting tool, project management system or have a series of reports generated to “plan the day.” With newer process approaches, such as Simplified Business Operations Platform  (S-BOP see this previous article for a definition), managers can potentially draw relevant systems information into a process that mimics the steps business users go through, and embed basic business rules to create the priorities and schedule for the day.

We note that existing technologies often provide managers with access to information used in a given process through portals, dashboards and/or business intelligence/analytics reports. S-BOP, in contrast, enables managers to use information sourced from these systems by adding work flow, rules automation, and thresholds/tolerances to achieve their desired outcome. In this sense, business process products can be applied to some business problems that portals always promised to deliver on—but as yet often fail to.

While the above example may seem simplistic, the value to the business unit line-manager can be high. Having a process that automatically pulls relevant data from the required systems may eliminate multiple manual tasks, thereby reducing the time required to complete the process. This automation is also likely to improve quality, primarily because manual activities are always susceptible to error and automated systems rely on consistency of method. The result (ideally) is a process that mimics the manager’s personal behaviour, embedding his/her domain knowledge into software and eliminating the manual manipulation of data from multiple sources of information.

While Hydrasight recognises the challenges for the ITO, in translating a business user’s wants and needs into supporting software, we caution ITOs not to expect that emerging business process software will solve this problem on a more generalised basis. In the example above, where a repetitive process is assumed to exist and to be intimately understood by the manager S-BOP, for example, is likely to enable the manager to translate his/her wants and needs more accurately and more consistently. Where wants or needs have less formal definitions, or are highly conditional or where business users are simply unprepared to think in terms of user interfaces and work flow— BPM software, whether ‘S-BOP like’ or not, is unlikely to be successful.

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