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Companies set business process management priorities

Firms that are moving forward with business process management projects are beginning to report some rewards.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Starting a business process management (BPM) project can be daunting for some companies. Firms need to decide not only where to begin, but who will lead a project.

We had a need to become more efficient and not throw bodies at our growing business demands.
Vijay Sai,
manager of financial and business systemsThe Software Engineering Institute

At New Addison, Ill.-based distributor NAL Worldwide, a mainframe migration project has driven IT and business managers together to examine the company's business processes.

Robert Black, IT director at NAL Worldwide, said that the business and IT sides of the company are holding hands while transferring critical applications off the mainframe and enabling a service-oriented architecture (SOA). Black said that examining business processes to improve efficiencies was a natural part of the project.

"Clearly we've recognized that the processes define the best success of the business," said Black, who this week attended the Gartner Business Process Management Summit. "But on the IT side we need to define the metadata that helps bridge IT and systems that drive our business."

NAL is moving a variety of homegrown supply chain and warehouse management systems off the mainframe to HP-Unix servers and, in the process, service enabling its applications, Black said.

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Many BPM projects begin with customer service improvements in mind, according to Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc.

A customer relationship management project that began in 2004 drove executives at the Software Engineering Institute -- a federal research institute based out of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pa. -- to examine their business processes. The center wanted to improve customer service and respond faster to a growing number of clients, said Vijay Sai, manager of financial and business systems.

"We had a need to become more efficient and not throw bodies at our growing business demands," Sai said.

The institute asked its employees what they do and documented their business processes in Excel spreadsheets. Visual models were developed before the institute decided to choose Vienna, Virginia-based Appian Corp.'s BPM suite to improve processes.

"Our end users began to discover the role each one played in the overall organization," Sai said. "It was an eye-opening experience."

Still, SOA projects are also driving companies to examine business processes, according to Gartner.

BPM projects put a business face on SOA initiatives, said Janelle Hill, vice president of research at Gartner. In SOA and composite application development, the emphasis is still on the developer, but with BPM, business people are learning the skills necessary to change system behavior themselves.

Once process modeling takes place to identify how work gets done at a company, tasks and dependencies are mapped to application logic and data sources. Then, user access points are defined to determine where user interfaces are needed. The business manager should be able to see the modeling environment clearly and test any changes to understand the impact of the change.

But IT won't be giving up all control of a company's systems, Hill said.

"The business manager must step up and take ownership for the consequences of their changes," Hill said.

Process modeling technologies are more and more oriented toward casual business users, according to Toby Bell, a research director at Gartner.

"It's really all about the metadata," Bell said. "It's about taking your existing pools and moving them out of isolated states, setting policies and managing them effectively."

And companies are finding ROI success in initial BPM projects, Bell said. A 2004 Gartner survey of 154 completed BPM projects found that 77% had a return greater than $100,000 per project. Also, 56% said they had returns in the $100,000 to $500,000 range.

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