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Lessons in efficiency: Business process management tools for 2010

Kristen Caretta, Site Editor
Business process management (BPM) tools re-emerged this year as a way to streamline processes and increase efficiency during the lowest points of the recession. And they will continue to help IT managers improve process workflows throughout the business, sometimes in novel ways.

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In a look back over the last year, two IT executives with BPM success stories share what they've learned and offer suggestions on how others can achieve similar benefits.

If complex, legacy applications are your problem, find your way to the future through BPM rather than ERP.

Stewart Mixon, chief operating officer at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), was in a pickle -- the university was overrun with legacy systems, mainframes and disparate applications, but it didn't have the money or resources to begin a lengthy ERP implementation.

Although ERP was the first choice amongst many stakeholders because it was better understood and well known across IT, Mixon and his team decided to go with business process management software, which brought the business processes together quickly and efficiently. Within the first six weeks of implementation, MUSC had drastically reduced information transfer error rates with the less expensive and easier-to-implement BPM software.

Even if the money was available for a new ERP, Mixon said, it still would have taken two or more years to implement .

Another selling point: It takes less effort to change business rules via BPM than it does to go in on the back end of an ERP system and try to make a change, he said.

Tip: Consider BPM over ERP as a possible solution because ,"no matter how convincing that new ERP sounds, keep in mind you always need new systems and bolt-ons," Mixon said. "My personal opinion: That's not going to solve your problems."

Lesson learned: BPM focuses on continual improvement, but Mixon said that's often overlooked because many people still don't understand what BPM is. "I have some well-intentioned, reasonable and knowledgeable peers who look at BPM as a Band-Aid to get us through the tough times," he said. "There is still some sense that we're going to buy a new ERP and replace the BPM and then all of our problems will be solved."

To keep BPM from being perceived as a point solution or steppingstone to another system when the economy turns around, IT must continually promote its successes. "You can't just implement it and forget about it and expect people to understand the concept," Mixon said.

Solving the branch office nightmare with BPM brings standard workflow, consistent results.

For a midsized organization with offices in multiple locations, it can be easy for employees in separate offices to fall into their own ways of doing things. Not only is this inefficient, but it also contributes to inconsistencies in information and data flow. Such was the case for John Vilim, chief technology officer at residential investment company Waterton Residential. Vilim implemented BPM software to tackle inefficiency and inconsistency companywide.

Use [process mapping]
to show [management] what the staff is actually doing today and as proof that they're getting more efficient for 2010.

John Vilim
chief technology officerWaterton Residential
The results, Vilim said, came relatively quickly."The consistency was big, especially when you're rolling up information to managers from different groups," he said. "It makes the whole process more efficient because the final data is understood across the board."

Vilim also said that by working with employees to map out processes and define workflows, it was much easier to train and show how and where specific jobs fit into the mix. "BPM makes it easier for your staff to see how what they're doing is going to pay off, and they feel more involved in the bigger picture," he said.

Tip: Stay agile. Major stakeholders involved in the definition of the business process may not know exactly what's going on in the trenches, Vilim said, which can lead to too many assumptions in the mapping phase. Once your BPM solution is up and running, Vilim suggests staying flexible to accommodate user-initiated changes and tweaks to the processes.

"Once it's implemented, get feedback from your employees because more often than not, they're going to bring up things that you never even thought of and come up with better ways of doing things," Vilim said.

Lesson learned: Don't let upper management discourage you from process mapping. According to Vilim, upper management sometimes does not understand the importance of creating maps and workflows -- suggesting it's more busywork than time well spent. But according to Vilim, it's important to do and will pay off.

"Use it to show them what the staff is actually doing today and as proof that they're getting more efficient for 2010," he said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Kristen Caretta, Site Editor, or follow her on Twitter @kcaretta.


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