Best Practices in BPM

Business process management tools are available to help manufacturers cope with information overload.

The amount of information being generated by even non-technical businesses today is staggering. Software tools exist to measure and report on almost every single operation imaginable, and data can be collected and packaged in real-time. Yet many managers are dangerously mired in a less-than-blissful ignorance of exactly how things work, even in the most essential business activities, at their companies.

However, the idea of adding yet another software purchase to the mix often inspires fear rather than confidence, bringing thoughts of less efficiency and more business process disruption (both during and post-implementation) to mind. Even companies who still maintain robust internal IT departments sometimes can't figure out where to best apply their resources to get the most out of their continuing investments.

Despite this unpleasant reality, business process management (BPM) software continues to be a strong player in software budgets. The reason is because BPM tools provide visibility into the exact workings of internal processes and services so they can be standardized, understood and better managed.

In BPM implementations such as document management systems, there are two broad categories of processes that need to be separated from one another:

Human-intensive processes. Otherwise known as "knowledge work," these processes require people to get work done by relying on and interacting extensively with business applications, databases, documents and collaboration with other people.

They require human intuition or judgment for decision-making during individual steps in the business process. Examples of such knowledge work include marketing, claims processing, loan approvals, accounts payable, mortgage origination and customer service.

System-intensive processes. These typically involve millions of transactions per day that are handled on a straight-through basis with minimal or no human touch and few exceptions.

Therefore, a good place for any company to start is to ask, "What is the nature of the process that needs management? Does my business process primarily involve people or data? And if it's people, what is the balance between brain and machine?"

A recent Forrester Wave study further subdivides the category of knowledge work into four product categories: people-intensive, decision-intensive, document-intensive and integration-intensive.

  1. People-intensive processes involve a high level of interaction between individuals for routing, approving and fulfilling requests such as customer service requests, travel and purchase requests, and usually involves high rates of exception handling. Although this type of open-ended process translates into a need for flexibility on the part of the end user, it doesn't mean that the processes can't be automated in some way, shape or form.
  2. Decision-intensive processes are usually fairly complex processes that involve gathering and deciphering information, and often include mission-critical decision-making as well. A rules engine that sets "if-then" rules (for example, at a manufacturing company, a rule could be implemented that said: "notify sales when inventory is lower than 10 and we have more than five pending orders on a Monday") is absolutely necessary for this type of process. Ease of information access (i.e., no wasted time in repetitive searches and minimizing multiple database screens) is just as critical for employees performing this type of task.
  3. Document-intensive processes require users to review documents for approval, enter data from those documents into a back-office system, and make decisions based on the documents in hand. User activity is driven by information found in scanned images or electronic forms, or often electronic documents created in Microsoft Word or other office automation software tools. Other examples of document-intensive processes include new account opening and invoice processing.
  4. Integration-intensive processes are not only descriptive of a certain type of business activity, but according to the Forrester report are also a goal to aspire to for a company looking to cut down on wasted operator time in exception handling, for instance. This means that a best practice in BPM implementations is always to examine the other three types of processes and look for ways to improve on or significantly modify the process to get it to an integration-intensive level.

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