business process management (BPM)

What is business process management (BPM)?

Business process management (BPM) is the discipline of improving a business process from end to end by analyzing it, modelling how it works in different scenarios, executing improvements, monitoring the improved process and continually optimizing it.

A business process is an activity or set of activities that will achieve an organizational goal. BPM is not a one-time task, but rather an ongoing activity that involves persistent process reengineering.

BPM is not a technology. It often involves using intelligent BPM approaches to automate tasks or workflow, but automation is not required.

Organizations engaged in BPM can choose to follow one of the various BPM methodologies, which include Six Sigma and lean management.

What is the purpose of BPM?

BPM is used on an ongoing basis for business process improvement.

A business process can involve any one of hundreds or thousands of tasks and the workflows and approvals required to complete the task. Common examples include the following:

  • fulfilling a product order;
  • updating the associated accounts;
  • updating relevant databases;
  • approving and remitting an invoice; and
  • onboarding a new employee.

It aims to improve the order, insight and efficiency of the collective workflows that make up a business process. BPM reduces chaos within workflows and eliminates ad hoc workflow management.

The goal for organizations engaged in BPM is to take control of their processes and continually optimize them. This approach creates a more efficient organization better able to deliver products and services and adapt to changing needs.

BPM lifecycle

BPM consists of several steps. Many BPM experts refer to these five:

  1. Design. Analyze the existing process to see what can be improved. Then, plan the business process as it should ideally exist, using standardization and automation.
  2. Model. Look at how the business process operates in different scenarios.
  3. Implement. Execute improvements, including standardization and process automation.
  4. Monitor. Track improvements to see how they perform.
  5. Optimize. Continue to improve the business process.

Other experts list six or more steps, including analyze, manage and automate.

BPM lifecycle chart
The BPM lifecycle consists of five basic steps.

Business process management benefits

BPM is not a one-time task. Processes must be managed on a continuing basis. Companies should focus on improving them from start to finish and not simply look at individual tasks.

BPM helps managers in the following ways:

  • understand the processes that happen within their organizations;
  • analyze them from start to finish;
  • continually improve processes and business strategy;
  • have a greater impact on business outcomes;
  • adapt business process to market trends and industry requirements; and
  • capitalize on emerging technologies.

Well-executed BPM can produce benefits for the business as a whole, such as the following:

  • reduce waste;
  • cut errors;
  • save time; and
  • generate better products and services.

Types of BPM

Various approaches to BPM offer different perspectives on business activities and what components of the business they revolve around. The three main types include the following:

  1. Systems-centric. This type of BPM focuses on business processes that work with a business-integrated system without much human involvement. The processes often use workflow automation within a business's integrated applications. Customer relationship management applications and enterprise resource planning applications are two examples.
  2. Human-centric. BPM can also focus on processes that people handle. These applications have features designed for human interaction, such as a well-designed user interface and notifications.
  3. Document-centric. This approach centers on documents, such as formatting, signing and verifying contracts. Often business process management tools specialize in a specific document-centric task, such as signing.

Business process management examples and applications

BPM applications are used in many departments within an organization. Examples of how it is used to achieve business objectives include the following:

  • Human Resources. A BPM tool can make HR departments more efficient. For example, it can simplify the review of timesheets. Onboarding new hires is another area where BPM can improve and speed up the process. When document-centric HR tasks are automated, they cut the use of paper forms throughout a company.
  • Finance. Finance departments receive a variety of documentation from both systems-centric and human-centric processes. They receive a large volume of emails and paper forms about the company's internal and external financial processes. For example, a BPM platform enables finance departments to process employee travel requests faster. It can also streamline purchasing processes.
  • Sales. Sales teams also deal with a mix of human- and systems-centric processes. BPM tools can coordinate the exchange of sales quotes and invoices, and ultimately shorten sales cycle workflows.

Some features to look for in a BPM application, wherever it is used, include the following:

  • mobile features;
  • reporting and analytics;
  • document management;
  • easy software integration;
  • role-based access control; and
  • an intuitive user interface.

BPM tools and vendors

BPM software (BPMS) offers a suite of tools and functions for mapping, modeling, automating, managing and optimizing processes.

BPMS supports activities such as business rule management, user communication and analytics. Intelligent BPMS, or iBPMS, offers next-generation capabilities such as adaptive analytics and advanced collaboration tools.

There are dozens of BPM software options on the market. Vendors include the following:

  • Appian
  • BP Logix
  • IBM
  • Kofax
  • Oracle
  • Pegasystems
  • Tibco Software

Some examples of BPM tools include the following:

  • IBM Blueworks Live has process mapping in this cloud-based collaboration software.
  • Kissflow has API integration capabilities that let users integrate automated business process workflows with other applications.
  • Novacura Flow uses low-code software in its BPM application. That makes customizing the application easier because few programming skills are needed.
  • Quixy is a no-code software platform, which also makes managing business processes within the application easier because programming skills are not needed.
  • Wrike automates business tasks with collaborating teams of any size.

For more on this topic, learn how low-code BPM tools let businesses customize business process applications, without needing in-depth knowledge of coding.

This was last updated in September 2021

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