What is business process management (BPM)?
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Illustration showing different types of Business Process Management, its lifecycle and benefits
What is BPM?

Business process management (BPM), as defined by Gartner (link resides outside ibm.com), employs methods to discover, model, analyze, measure, improve and optimize business strategy and processes.

While it is sometimes confused with task and project management, the business process management scope is broader than these adjacent topics. Task management focuses on individual tasks whereas BPM observes the whole end-to-end process. Project management refers to a one-time scope of work while BPM focuses specifically on processes that are repeatable.

Through continuous process reengineering, organizations can streamline their overall workflows, leading to increased efficiencies and cost-savings. This concept isn’t new; six sigma and lean principles are examples of BPM methodologies.

By incorporating advanced analytics, activity monitoring, and decision management capabilities, business process management suites are able to coordinate people, systems, and information and material to achieve business outcomes. As a result, they have been particularly helpful in accelerating digital transformation strategies.

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Types of BPM

There are three main types of business process management: integration-centric, human-centric, and document-centric

  • Integration-centric BPM: This type of BPM focuses on processes that do not require much human involvement. These processes are more dependent on APIs and mechanism which integrate data across systems, like human resource management (HRM) or customer relationship management (CRM).

  • Human-centric BPM: Unlike integration-centric BPM, this type centers around human involvement, typically where approvals are required. Intuitive user interfaces with drag-and-drop features allow teams to assign tasks to different roles, making it easier to hold individuals accountable along the process.

  • Document-centric BPM:  This type of BPM centers around a specific document, such as a contract. When companies purchase a product or service, it needs to go through different forms and rounds of approval to develop an agreement between the client and vendor.
Business process management lifecycle

A successful BPM system starts by defining the stages involved in a workflow. This helps the team identify areas of improvement and metrics to track progress. By applying business process management, organizations can improve their operations, leading to better business outcomes. To achieve these results, you should fully understand the BPM lifecycle. Here are the five lifecycle steps:

  1. Process design: The team should start by outlining the milestones within the process. From there, individual tasks within the overall BPM process should be identified along with task owners for each step in the workflow. The steps should be clearly defined so that the team can identify the areas for process optimization and the subsequent metrics to track its improvement. 

  2. Model: During this step, the team should create a visual representation of the process model. This should include specific details, such as timelines, task descriptions, and any flow of data in the process.  Utilizing business process management software is helpful during this stage.

  3. Execute: The team should conduct a proof of concept, testing the new BPM system with a limited group. After incorporating any feedback, the team can begin to roll out the process to a broader audience.

  4. Monitor: During this phase, the team should monitor the process, measuring improvements in efficiency and identifying any additional bottlenecks. 

  5. Optimize: At the final step, the team make any final adjustments to the process to improve business activity.

A successful BPM project requires careful planning and open communication, but after improving a set of activities, teams quickly see the benefits of it.

Business process management benefits

BPM solutions increase organizational value through process improvement, yielding a number of benefits. Some of these include:

  • Increased efficiency and cost savings: BPM systems help to optimize existing processes and to incorporate more structure into the development of new processes. It does this by removing process redundancies and bottlenecks, resulting in improved efficiency and productivity. With more agility, businesses can achieve their intended business outcomes at a faster rate, and they can allocate any excessive resources to other high priority work.

  • Enhanced employee and customer experience: A BPM suite of tools assists in eliminating repetitive work and in making information more accessible. By removing distractions, employees are able to focus on their work and their customers, leading to increases in customer satisfaction. Clear workflows also shorten the learning curve within the employee onboarding process, enhancing productivity and engagement.  

  • More scalable processes: Since BPM enables better process execution and workflow automation, this transfers well when scaling processes to other geographies across the world. Business process management tools can bring clarity to roles, ensuring consistency along the process, and it can also surface opportunities to incorporate business rules for automation, allowing teams to focus more on innovation.

  • Greater transparency: Since business process automation clearly defines owners for tasks along the process, this provides more transparency and accountability throughout a given process. This fosters more communication among teams.

  • Less dependency on development teams: BPM offers low-code features which remove potential dependencies on development. Business users can be onboarded onto these tools quickly and easily, increasing process automation across the company.
Business process management use cases

BPM software provides more structure around processes, removing some of the inefficiencies within a given workflow. Some examples where it has been applied successfully include:

  • Content distribution: Media firms can use BPM to automate the process of content preparation and delivery, from content creation to distribution. A business process management system can be designed to interact with content management, rights management, content traffic and work order systems.

  • Customer service: Customer service representatives can identify frequently asked questions for chatbots to handle, alleviating the team when there is a high volume of service requests. Transcript data from call centers and chatbots can also help automate processes further as well as inform more personalized answers for customers.

  • Finance: Companies can create templates to standardize purchase orders submissions from various teams, allowing them to procure business software or hardware more quickly. In addition, customize workflows can be established for unique scenarios.

  • Human resources: HR can employ BPM to streamline document and workflow management. It provides a more structured environment for processing HR forms, such as employee onboarding and off-boarding, performance evaluations, vacation requests and timesheet approval.

  • Banking: When processing individuals or businesses for loans, banks need to evaluate applicants for potential credit risk. This involves collecting information from multiple sources, such as the applicants, employers, and credit rating agencies. BPM expedites decisions around loan eligibility by managing the flow of information throughout the process and reducing errors in documentation.

  • Order fulfillment: Firms can improve the operational efficiency of their order fulfillment systems using BPM. They can use BPM to manage special offers, order capture, and order fulfillment. This shifts the process toward customer-centric order management that delivers greater business value.
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