Measuring IT's effectiveness to the business

Firms can control and monitor their people and applications together.

Firms can control and monitor their people and applications together.

Confusion and hype in the IT market over the past five years have made us a sceptical lot. Depressing statistics and reports have made chief information officers cautious about IT investments, and rightly so.

However, it is important not to tar all technologies with the same brush - there are still some shining stars.

One of these is business process management, one of the fastest growing technologies in the software world, with a market value of over £318m in 2003, according to analyst Delphi Group. BPM growth rates are projected at between 15% and 30% over the next three years, bucking wider IT market predictions.

The roots of BPM stem from workflow technologies research as far back as the 1980s, which focused on automating processes involving people. BPM included capabilities that derived from process modelling, application integration, process monitoring and rapid application development tools.

BPM enables processes to be both modelled graphically and directly executed within the business. BPM can measure performance, spot bottlenecks and make refinements quickly and easily. Put simply, BPM understands, controls and improves the way people and applications work together.

Analyst firm Gartner Group reported last year that corporate satisfaction with BPM is high and continuing to rise.

It is certainly true that successful BPM often has the buy-in of the board, a rarity in the IT world. Many believe this success lies in the fact that BPM provides an "independent process layer" that helps a company get more value from existing legacy applications.

Long term, BPM enables organisations to achieve greater agility by implementing new processes far more quickly.

The rise of BPM reflects the trend in management thinking towards a more "process-centric" view. Business processes have been around as long as business itself, but they are often buried in a complex web of systems, structures and day-to-day working practices.

BPM software addresses the challenges of siloed applications, such as customer relationship management applications or data integration projects, that promise the earth but deliver little.

Many businesses have already cut costs as much as they can without damaging their products and customer service. The next step is to make some of those core business processes work smarter.

To achieve this you need a way of "seeing" the whole business process. BPM software is the toolset that allows a company to extract business processes and manage them directly.

But BPM is not just being driven by the need to cut costs. Post-Enron legislation that aims to ensure good corporate governance such as Sarbanes-Oxley, along with the need to improve services and productivity are forcing business processes to top of the board agenda.

BPM is a response to some fundamental business pressures. It is the cornerstone of the agile enterprise. Watch this space.

John O'Connell is chief executive of Staffware

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