Business process improvement is about more than efficiency gains

Business process improvement begins with efficiency gains, but BPM goals are becoming more about external customers and rapid, real-time improvements.

This is the first in a two-part series on business process improvement strategies and trends. In this first part,

IT executives and experts discuss the growing trend of involving more front-line employees and even customers in their business process management (BPM) programs. In the second part, IT executives discuss how they got their BPM programs off the ground and the challenges of keeping them on track.

John Verburgt didn't set out to live and breathe business process improvement at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) Group Inc. But after spending six years involved in remediation projects and overseeing 45 processes related to financial controls, he became the CME Group's de facto BPM guru.

It's a new area of the business that gives customers the ability to trigger tasks and processes externally.

In 2011, having realized "a significant reduction" in process cycle times, Verburgt was named director of BPM at the Chicago-based financial exchange and told to work his magic on the rest of the business. Three areas -- new product management, employee on-boarding and a new customer portal -- became the focus of pilots for a corporate business process improvement program.

To date, Verburgt's BPM program has helped the company improve overall business process cycle times in these areas by 30%.

Efficiency gains are just one thing, however. The real crown jewel of the CME Group's BPM program is the customer portal. "It's a new area of the business that gives customers the ability to trigger tasks and processes externally, with the appropriate entitlements," Verburgt said. "The process behind our customer portal is our blueprint now for what we see as the future for the customer support experience."

Giving others the keys to the BPM program

The idea behind involving front-line employees, as well as customers, in BPM is to create an environment in which work processes are adapted continuously to their needs. Called social BPM or collaborative modeling, business process improvement becomes a group activity in which processes can be improved or changed in real time.

"With social media you can actually change the way you're doing a process midstream," said Elise Olding, research director in Gartner Inc.'s BPM practice. "What's critical is not inundating people inside or outside the organization with a whole bunch of data. It has to be presented in the context of work for them to be able to take action on it."

BPM is being pushed out to the front lines of an organization and beyond to speed up business process improvement, agreed Clay Richardson, senior analyst in Forrester Research Inc.'s BPM group. For example, one health care cooperative he works with is asking its customers to help design its business processes.

Companies like Nokia Siemens Networks also are transforming business process improvement from a task undertaken by the IT department to an employee-enabled process. "[IT is] enabling other parts of the business to drive their own process improvements," Richardson said. "The people designing and building the processes are training others across the business to do so also, within certain standards and using approved tool sets."

It is still early days for social BPM, says consultant Jennifer Dearing. For most of her clients, the emphasis of business process improvement is still on efficiency gains, not on involving more people in the BPM program, said Deering, senior principal with Burlington, Mass.-based BPM consulting firm Collaborative Consulting LLC. She is seeing a shift even in traditional BPM teams, however. "They are focusing more on fixing processes, not so much to just improve internal processes, but to better service customers. They have more of a customer mind-set."

Todd Coffee, senior director of enterprise process solutions for Tenet Healthcare Corp. in Dallas, said he "foresees a time when direct patient interaction can, and will, be leveraged to streamline processes, reduce delays and improve patient outcomes." For now, his focus remains on his customers -- Tenet's internal clinicians and administrators. "To the extent we can remove non-value-added, costly and burdensome work from the routines of our clinicians and administrators, the more they can focus on our patients," he said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Christina Torode, News Director.

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