The Beef on Business Process Management

The concept of business process management (BPM) has received a great deal of attention lately. If you examine solution offerings from a number of the leading infrastructure vendors, you will find a great deal of language focused on process integration or collaborative commerce.

So what is BPM? And how is it relevant to B2B marketing?

At its core, BPM is about creating scaleable e-commerce infrastructures that minimize friction points within or between organizations. The classic example of its value can be seen by examining the operations of a typical online retailer.

The customer purchasing process triggers a cascade of processes that are managed by a combination of people and systems: Orders are collected by a commerce engine, inventory is checked, credit cards are processed, picking sheets are created, shipments are packed, and products are sent off the dock.

The relatively routine task of processing a customer order can involve numerous systems, manual checks and approvals, and interactions with third-party organizations.

Business Process Management to the Rescue

BPM is designed to help companies gain greater visibility and manageability over the complex set of processes that support their enterprises. Think of BPM as the “control tower” view over a business, a high-level perspective of an organization’s internal workings that helps companies identify inefficient workflow or take proactive steps to prevent disaster.

I have spoken with many managers who agree that BPM would be ideal; however, they are often quick to point out the practical challenges to implementation and adoption. Here are some examples:

  1. “We barely know how we do things today…”

    Most organizations operate in a perpetual state of “firefighting.” Exceptions are built on top of workarounds, intertwined by manual approvals and closed by custom systems that no one wants to maintain. The “business at the speed of thought” requirements of the late ’90s resulted in many companies not really thinking about optimizing their business processes.

    The fix: Bite the bullet. The best organizations in the world are thinking carefully about their operations and how to eliminate the friction. Friction equals waste, and waste results in poor business performance.

  2. “We are in the middle of a complex ERP/SCM/CRM implementation…”

    Enterprise systems serve as the system back plane for all organizations. Enterprise resource planning (ERP), supply chain management (SCM), and customer relationship management (CRM) suites are difficult to implement, requiring a tremendous amount of resources and time. For many organizations, process issues are not addressed until after an implementation is finished. This is a mistake.

    The fix: Start optimizing processes concurrent with your enterprise system implementation. Companies that model integration points, workflow, and exception routes during an implementation can configure systems to work around your organizational requirements instead of forcing your organization to model itself around a system.

    3. “Our business partners do not have their systems prepared for BPM…”

    This is a classic issue that many companies face. Often the point of greatest inefficiency lies at the handoff points between two companies. To automate processes between two organizations, an implicit requirement is the presence of two stable systems on each end of the conversation.

    The fix: Get your IT departments to collaborate. Companies should take IT management cues from a successful retailer like Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart is notoriously aggressive in getting its suppliers to comply with its data management and reporting standards. The result? It has probably one of the most efficient stock-replenishment processes in the world. Most companies don’t wield the leverage of a Wal-Mart, so I recommend pursuing a collaborative path of action. Work with your partners to achieve mutually beneficial goals — classic “win-win” objectives.

  3. “Our people are not ready for this…”

    Addressing business processes is difficult for many organizations because at some level companies are asking their employees to change ingrained work habits and procedures.

    The fix: Adopt a change-management program that is integrated with your business process management initiative. Training, education, and user feedback are essential for BPM projects. I recommend getting your top personnel involved at the onset of any initiative, then involve them throughout the entire process-design phase of the project.

  4. “Our processes aren’t broke. Why should we fix them?”

    This colloquial business philosophy is pretty common and has been associated with some of the more fantastic failures in business. (See Eastern Airlines or Woolworth’s.)

    The fix: Commit to winning the competitive battle of business processes. Successful organizations treat business processes as another dimension of market competition. They take aggressive steps to outmanufacture, outsell, and outsupport other players in the market.

What Is Your BPM Strategy?

I would be interested to hear from you regarding where your company stands in adopting BPM strategies. What processes within your organization are prime from automation? What type of tools is your company implementing? Do you have a change-management strategy to support your employees?

The challenges are great, but there can be a huge payoff for those companies that succeed. Business history proves it. Those companies that manage their processes effectively can respond faster to competitive forces in a market.

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