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BPM software: How to find fast ROI on smaller projects

Business process management (BPM) software can lead to fast ROI when companies use it properly, experts and users say. Learn how to get started here.

Enterprise organizations should assess smaller projects and can realize fast ROI in three or fewer months when implementing business process management (BPM) software, experts and users say. And that could be a boon to CIOs seeking ways to increase efficiencies across the business during this recession.

"People start off doing BPM to solve some big problem -- don't start there," said Derek Miers, founder of BPM Focus, an organization that explores the impact of BPM software on business strategy.

"Find something that is going to self contain, some small-scope project," Miers said. "You can succeed at a small project [with which] you can deliver value and do quickly, like in six to 10 weeks. The business will go, 'Wow, can we have some more of that?'"

That's exactly what happened at Level 3 Communications LLC, which went from a small BPM project in 2006 to a system today where even business users can use the business process management tool to improve a process.

BPM is a systematic approach to improving an organization's business processes in an effort to be more effective, efficient and capable of adaptation. While large business process management initiatives often involve building a service-oriented architecture so that BPM and SOA work together, suites from a number of vendors provide the process mapping and workflow integration capabilities needed for smaller projects, such as those that could make a difference during this recession. Deployments typically cost less than $500,000.

In today's economic climate, "what we're seeing is that automation and introduction of efficiencies is becoming extremely important," said Setrag Khoshafian, who has written extensively on BPM and serves as vice president of BPM technology at Cambridge, Mass.-based software company Pegasystems Inc.

BPM software deployed for end-to-end mapping

Broadband telecommunications company Level 3 embarked on its first BPM software implementation to automate the business processes related to the provisioning of products for customers, said Fareed Saeed, who oversees business process management at the company.

For the project, Level 3 installed BPM software from Savvion Inc., which led to recognizable, fast ROI resulting in a six-month payback period, Saeed said.

Miers said some self-contained projects can take a couple of years to pay themselves off but create dramatic improvements in the meantime. "You should see 20% to 50% ROI in the first year. There's no reason you can't," he said.

For his part, Pegasystems' Khoshafian said he's seen companies with fast ROI of less than 90 days for small projects.

Continual business process improvements

Level 3's initial BPM implementation was in 2006, and further proved its value when the Broomfield, Colo.-based company made a series of business acquisitions. The BPM software helped integrate processes and systems. "That's when the BPM systems that we put in place came to center stage," Saeed said.

I'm at the point now when I've got so much work because end users are so happy with the end platform and value that they're bringing process after process.

Fareed Saeed, BPM expert, Level 3 Communications LLC

Since then, Level 3 has initiated a fairly broad BPM program to handle many of its businesses processes. Last year, it launched "quick-start BPM projects," which let business staff members use the BPM tool to define a process they currently follow manually or would like to create.

"We allowed them to go ahead and build that using Savvion's modeling tool," Saeed said. From there, the user hands it off to IT, and the process is usually operational within a month.

"We're talking about relatively simple processes, like tax disputes … or reserving a block of telephone numbers for a particular customer," he said. "We are able to get those [processes] on the platform end to end."

Saeed said Level 3's initial BPM program provided some valuable lessons that guided the company in further implementations.

"BPM projects are very different than the typical workflow/IT project," Saeed said. "You have to start off by understanding the business process and setting metrics, from the business perspective, that need to be captured, then define the processes, automate and optimize based on those goals.

"It was really an IT project to begin with, but because it was all process-oriented, we spent a lot of time collaborating with the business stakeholders," he said. "I'm at the point now when I've got so much work because end users are so happy with the end platform and value that they're bringing process after process."

That's what BPM software is all about, Khoshafian said. "Now business and IT can come together, talk about objectives, policies and procedures, and really see the benefits," he said.

"The good thing about BPM is, it's a never-ending cycle," Saeed said. "[Users] start with a process, and once they're in the tool using it, we get the data for how it's being utilized and can look at all the ways to improve that. Then, it's your next project."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Rachel Lebeaux, Associate Editor.

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