Does your Business need BPM Software – 7 Questions to Ask BEFORE you Start to Shop

So you are thinking about buying a Business Process Management System (BPMS)?   You have heard about companies like Oracle, Ultimus, Aura Portal, and ProcessMaker?  You are about to start researching various vendors to try and understand which one is best for you.  In your early conversations the various vendors have already started to tell you why their BPMS is more standards compliant and easier to use than the rest.   And, of course, everyone is telling you that your business analyst can implement their software (no need for IT).



In this blog I’m not going to try and convince you which BPMS is the right one to buy.  In this blog I want to take two steps back and first help you analyze whether or not you should even be shopping for a BPMS.  Time is money, and I’m sure you don’t have time to spend hundreds of hours looking into BPM Software only to find out that it is not the right type of software for your company.  So, before you start your shopping process, here are 7 key questions to ask yourself about your business:

1)     Can my process be modeled?


This is probably the best question to start with.  Just take out a sheet of paper and try and draw your process in a flow chart fashion.  Don’t worry if you don’t know anything about formal modeling languages like BPMN (BPMN 1.2, BPMN 2.0).

Image from ProcessMapper BPM

BPMN 2.0 Diagram from ProcessMapper

Image from ProcessMapper BPMN 2.0 Modeler

Almost everyone has some innate ability to draw a flowchart.  Whether you are old or young, you’ve certainly had to draw some decision diagrams or something similar.  So, start by trying to draw your process.  Think about the tasks and how they need to flow from one user or system to another.  This isn’t a test of your ability to draw a flowchart.  By trying to draw your process, you may realize that a) you don’t actually know your process, b) you don’t have a process, or c) your process is not actually a structured process and hence cannot be drawn easily.  If any of these are true, then you are certainly not ready for BPM software.  Or, it may mean you need a slightly different type of BPM Software (perhaps you need more Case Management than Process Management for instance).  However, at the most basic level, you should note that BPM software becomes useful only after you can draw your process – that’s where the automation part starts.

2)     How frequently does my business run its business process or processes?

The general rule in BPM is that BPM Software makes sense when you have a high load of cases (also called instances or tickets).  There are very few scenarios where a low volume process justifies the use of  BPM Software.  If you have a process that you execute a few times a month or a few times a year, the chances are that you do not need a BPMS to automate this process.   Low volume processes generally do not make good automation candidates.  Implementing a BPMS in your business is an investment – an investment of time and money.  So, unless you are going to get a decent Return on your investment (ROI),  you should consider implementing a BPMS.  If you tell me you want to automate your purchase request process, my first question is going to be – “great, how many times does that process get executed (per day, week, or month).”  If you tell me it is only being executed one time per month, then I will immediately be skeptical that you need BPM Software to automate the process.  There is little chance your business will derive sufficient ROI from a piece of software that will only be used to manage 12 process cases year.  Of course, there are exceptions (for example for very long running processes), but they don’t apply to your average business.

3)      How many people are involved in the process?

If you only have a few people touching or acting in the process, then it is also unlikely that BPM Software and process automation will help make your business run better.  Workflow is all about coordinating lots of people and positions.  There are lots of good “collaboration” software packages on the market today.  And these are great for managing work in small, dynamic groups.  Workflow/BPM software becomes useful when there are lots of users, many of whom probably don’t even know each other.  In other words, collaboration and flexibility are not really possible because the workflow is simply too big and too complex and there are too many users.  This is when you need workflow automation.   Banks don’t generally want unstructured collaborations to guide their credit decisions – it is simply not practical if you have tens of thousands of employees evaluating hundreds of thousands of credit applications and you want to insure a fair and impartial result.  For this type of process, a bank wants to insure it has well defined business rules guiding the process and thereby insuring very predictable results.  On the other hand, a company of 20-30 employees will usually prefer to run its internal processes with the aid of collaboration tools.

4)      How often will my process change?

If your process is never going to change, then you probably shouldn’t be considering purchasing BPM Software.  It will work better and look better if you simply hard code it.  The point of BPM software is that it can be changed and adapted relatively easy.  But if you never have to change your process, then why pay for having this feature, right?  BPM Software is usually very adept at making changes as business rules change.  This is a principle reason for purchasing this type of software. But if your process is never going to change, then you might be better off building a hard coded piece of software to manage your process.

5) Am I looking to automate one process or many processes?

If you only want to automate a single process, then my answer to this question will be similar to #4 – go build the software yourself.  BPM software has lots of features built in to maximize flexibility.  But flexibility comes at a price both in monetary terms and in terms of design.

The point is that if you have a single process, why compromise?  Make your software look exactly the way you want, i.e. build your own solution or go find the solution that does EXACTLY what you want it to do.  If you want to automate 30 or 40 processes in a single platform – then BPM software is the way to go.  You get a lot of flexibility and can manage all of these processes in a single platform with BPM Software.  However, it is a general life-rule that products with a single purpose work better.  Just think about it.  The best, most elegantly designed coffee makers only make coffee – they don’t also make juice and toast.  I imagine there are devices that do all three, but they will never do all three functions as well as three different products dedicated to three different functions.  (The Spork is great if you need a spoon and a fork, but if you really want only a  fork then the spork kind of sucks).  BPM Software is a multifunctional device.  It is great for doing many things well, but it can rarely compete as a best of breed software for doing one thing perfectly.

6) Do I need a better ability to generate reports and measure my process against my company SLAs & KPIs?

One of the primary reasons for automating a business process is in order to measure the process.  With processes based on paper, excel spreadsheets, or paper it is very difficult to measure the process.  Even with “transactional” systems, it is usually very difficult to measure the process.  Most companies want to understand the level of service they are giving and getting in a particular process.  Companies want to understand where their bottlenecks are and how long it is taking different users and user groups to perform certain tasks.  A good BPM suite will have reports and dashboards available that allow the company to measure SLAs (Service Level Agreements) and track them against explicit goals and performance indicators.  Imagine that you are a bank and your process is a credit application process.  You suddenly start getting complaints from women located in Boston that their credit check is taking too long.  In a good BPM software, you should be able to set a conditional SLA on the activity related to CREDIT CHECK which specifically measures how long this task is taking given the condition SEX = FEMALE and LOCATION = BOSTON.  If you determine that this activity should not exceed 4 hours, you should then be able to generate a report or an alert that clearly identifies when this SLA is not being met.  In the report, you should then be able to drill down case by case to see what happened and identify patterns that are causing the SLA not to be met.

Setting Service Level Agreements in ProcessMaker

SLA Monitor Feature in ProcessMaker

7) Are there parts of the process where I wish I could change the routing of my process based on its performance?

BPM software should allow you to easily escalate and redirect cases that are not being handled in a timely manner.  With the information that we gathered thanks to the reporting in point #6, we can then take advantage of another BPM Software characteristic – the ability to reroute cases more efficiently.  In my example above, we can now go a step further.  If applications from FEMALES in BOSTON are not getting through the task CREDIT CHECK in 4 hours, then we should escalate these cases to a manager (TIMER BOUNDARY EVENT) or reroute them to a colleague.  Maybe the problem was as simple as an official going on vacation and the case load not being redirected appropriately.  If our business needs to adjust this quickly to changes in the overall performance of the process, then this is another good reason to start shopping for a BPM Software.   Ideally, we should be able to “set and forget” so that the business runs more smoothly.

I hope that these questions help you better analyze if BPM Software is the solution to your business problems.  After reading these 7 questions, are you still convinced that you need BPM Software for your business? Yes?  Well, then wait for my next blog – “Your Business Needs BPM Software – 7 Questions to Ask BEFORE you Buy.”  🙂

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