Business process management software (BPMS) helps companies design, model, execute, automate and improve a set of activities and tasks that, when completed, achieve an organizational goal. Taken together, these activities and tasks, which can be done by people and equipment and typically span business departments, make up what is known as a business process. BPMS is the technology product that supports business process management (BPM), a discipline aimed at improving business processes from end to end.
BPMS, sometimes referred to as a business process management suite, is a collection of technologies that include the following:
- process mining tools for the discovery, representation and analysis of the tasks that drive business processes;
- workflow engines to automate the flow of tasks that complete a business process;
- business rules engines (BREs) to enable end users to change business rules without having to ask a programmer for help; and
- simulation and testing tools for observing how processes behave without having to code first.
In recent years, the market has seen the emergence of the so-called intelligent BPM suite (iBPMS), a term introduced by the consultancy Gartner Inc. to denote the introduction of sophisticated technologies, such as real-time analytics, complex event processing (CEP), business activity monitoring (BAM) and artificial intelligence (AI), to make process automation more dynamic and data-driven. IBPMSes also typically include enhanced mobile, social and collaboration capabilities.
Modern BPMS' increasing use of low-code/no code (LCNC) technology means that businesses no longer depend solely on professional coders to optimize their business processes. Business analysts and even business users can work together with process developers and IT on improving and transforming business processes using BPMS.
Why use BPM?
BPM assumes that businesses are run by processes and that an effective process is more than the sum of its parts -- i.e., individual tasks optimized to meet the objectives of a specific business unit or organization could nonetheless undercut the goal of the overall business process. One of the aims of business process management is to support organizational leaders as they seek to achieve operational efficiencies through workflow management and other tactical decisions, while also making the overall process more effective in meeting its goal.
BPM is not a one-and-done project. Instead, it provides a framework for the continuous creation, analysis and improvement of business processes, including the ongoing clarification of the job roles and responsibilities of people involved in the process.
If executed properly, BPM improves a company's ability to respond to market trends, threats and opportunities. BPMInstitute.org, the largest practitioner-led community of BPM professionals in the world, states on its website that BPM focuses on end-to-end business processes in order to achieve three outcomes: "1) clarity on strategic direction, 2) alignment of the firm's resources and 3) increased discipline in daily operations."
Among the benefits cited by BPMInstitute.org of a successful BPM program are the following:
- accelerate time to market;
- improve cost, productivity and quality;
- improve customer service levels and satisfaction;
- simplify business processes;
- manage risks and meet compliance regulations;
- introduce new process designs faster; and
- cut costs and increase revenues.
Benefits of implementing a BPMS
BPMS tools form the operating environment that enables and automates the aims and benefits of BPM described above. These tools help companies implement their business strategies by coordinating business process change and improvement across departments and even with external partners. They enable integration across enterprise systems and applications such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM).
BPMS tools collect data and run analytics to help companies ascertain which parts of the business process can be automated and/or changed. The data-driven approach empowers business leaders to make business process decisions that support strategic goals. Deployed correctly, BPMS tools also enhance the productivity and morale of employees by automating manual tasks, addressing bottlenecks and providing them greater visibility into how their work fits into a larger process.
BPMS is considered one of the technologies that helps companies achieve their digital transformation initiatives. The 2019 Gartner Magic Quadrant report on iBPMSes states that BPMS systems should be able to help companies "manage the reinvention of existing processes and the creation of novel business processes in support of both digital optimization and digital transformation efforts; support top-down and bottom-up redesign of [their] business processes; [and] improve the business outcomes of all types of work, not just structured and repeatable business processes."
Features of BPMS
Standard features found in BPMS suites include a process engine for modeling processes and web applications; data collection and business analytics to enable smart process changes; content management system (CMS) for securely storing files; collaboration tools, including social collaboration software; and cloud or on-premises deployment.
That said, the feature sets of BPMS products are evolving, as vendors scramble to respond to their customers' need to automate both complex and simple processes quickly, make changes in real time and use emerging technologies, such as robotic process automation (RPA) and AI to gain a competitive edge. BPM expert Dan Morris described the ideal BPMS architecture as a "composite environment" that can "support very rapid change, be technology-agnostic, support automated application generation and allow applications built in any platform to be seamlessly integrated into the solution."
Forrester Research took note of the evolving nature of BPMS in its 2019 Forrester Wave report on BPMS vendors, describing the market as "in transition" and asserting that "most vendors have dropped the moniker BPM" because of its association with "expensive, complex projects that took many months, if not years, to demonstrate value." Indeed, the consultancy has renamed BPM as digital process automation (DPA) and divides it into two types: DPA-deep to describe BPMS' traditional focus on automating complex processes and DPA-wide to refer to process automation that is simpler, broader and less expensive.
According to Forrester, companies in the market for DPA-deep capability should look for BPMS vendors that can:
- handle "complex, long-running processes across multiple variables, like local regularity requirements and security," as well as support for high-volume transactions;
- provide support for emerging technologies, like RPA and AI, which may require "building, acquiring or deep partnering;" and
- offer "a modern application architecture" that accommodates cloud-first customers and includes support for the microservices and serverless computing increasingly utilized by process developers.
In addition to being able to handle complex, long-running business processes and incorporate emerging tech, modern BPMS products also feature LCNC development platforms that can be used by professional developers and business users alike to optimize business processes.
Vendors in this evolving BPM market include Appian, Bizagi, IBM, K2, OpenText, Oracle, Pegasystems, and Tibco Software. Two examples of open source BPM products are Red Hat JBoss BPM Suite and Bonitasoft. An extensive list of BPM vendors is offered here by Capterra.
Examples of business processes used in BPMS
Business processes span departmental boundaries, rely on multiple technologies, are bound by compliance requirements and regulations, are long-running and are prone to frequent change benefit from BPMS. Examples of the business processes that can be improved by BPMS systems include the following:
- account management
- budget tracking and management
- claims management
- compliance management
- customer orders
- employee onboarding
- inventory management
- invoice processing
- performance monitoring
- project tracking
- workflow tracking