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Business process management, an increasingly important discipline to businesses looking to streamline their operations — which in today’s world, is almost every business — has long been the purview of well-paid management consultants, solution architects, business analysts, and other highly skilled, highly trained individuals. But today, the Best Business Process Management Software — sometimes called workflow management software — is making this somewhat arcane discipline more accessible to every business, not just large enterprises with deep pockets.
Business process management (BPM) expert Nathaniel Palmer defines BPM as: a discipline involving any combination of modeling, automation, execution, control, measurement, and optimization of business activity flows, in support of enterprise goals, spanning systems, employees, customers and partners within and beyond the enterprise boundaries.1 In other words, BPM helps you conceptualize your organization’s workflows, mapping out each potential path deliverables can or should take through your web of people and processes, so that you may more effectively identify areas that can be automated and steps that can be eliminated or otherwise streamlined to increase both efficiency and productivity. Research firm Gartner predicted that in 2015, organizations’ spending on business process management systems will reach $2.7 billion, a 4.4 percent increase over 2014.2
Business process management software helps businesses by allowing them to quickly and easily map out their workflows in an electronic environment — they get the benefit of actually seeing the big picture of their processes, plus the environment is easily manipulated to accommodate changing business scenarios, ‘what-if’ analysis, etc. Furthermore, many business process management software suites can enable the integration of various processes and applications, acting as the engine block to the component parts of CRM, ERP, Accounting, etc.
The following guide to business process management software will help buyers navigate the confusing BPM software marketplace through the identification of common features, industry trends, a discussion of business process management software vendors, and a case study of a leading solution.
What is Business Process Management Software?
As outlined above, business process management software helps businesses map their workflows, automate key processes, and otherwise streamline their operations. It is a somewhat catch-all term for any software system that models, maps, and/or automates most or all of a particular function or process at a business. As a result, there’s a fair amount of overlap between business process management software and other software verticals, including project management software, professional services automation tools, salesforce automation systems, etc. For example, a project-based business that uses a popular solution like Wrike, Mavenlink, or LiquidPlanner can use their project management software to map out their entire workflow, building visualizations for various key processes and making progress and problems more visible to the entire team. In other words, project management software is just a specialized version of BPM software designed especially for project-based businesses.
Common Features of BPM Software
Though features can vary, depending upon whether you’re using a generic BPM suite or one tailored to your particular industry, most business process management systems offer most of the following functionality:
- Document Management / Sharing: At the heart of many leading BPM solutions is a document management system, though they are becoming less common as cloud storage vendors — such as Box or Dropbox — are increasingly allowing their products to be integrated with popular business software, including BPM suites.
- Email Integration: Though chat systems and social collaboration tools are making email less important for internal communications, it’s still essential for contacting suppliers, partners, or clients, meaning that, like document management, it’s an important part of most BPM suites.
- Billing / Invoicing: Perhaps the only thing more important than doing the work your business is contracted to perform is collecting payment for said work. Many BPM systems offer a built-in billing and invoicing system, not intended to replace your accounting software, but as the natural endpoint of your revenue-generating business processes.
- Visual Workflow Map: Maybe the most important part of any BPM solution, a simple drag-and-drop workflow editor allows managers to construct and visualize their workflows in an electronic environment that allows quick and easy conceptualization and modification. Workflow mapping can take various forms, depending upon the application — Kanban is one example.
Other Considerations When Choosing a BPM Suite
Beyond the above features and functionalities, there are a number of other options that you must consider before making a BPM software selection:
- Cloud vs. On-Premise: Though cloud-based systems are growing in popularity as server space becomes commoditized, many companies still prefer a traditional on-premise server to host their own BPM solution. While most BPM vendors offer solutions for both delivery models, making your decision before beginning the search process will help you narrow the field.
- Mobility: Anytime, anywhere access to your business process management suite is essential to today’s increasingly mobile workforce. Though cloud-based systems allow mobile access by design, it’s important to verify that the website or mobile application is optimized for viewing on tablets and/or smartphones, particularly if you have outside sales agents, field maintenance technicians, or other remote workers that need access to the BPM suite.
- Generic or Industry-Specific: While many BPM software products are able to be used by various industries, businesses, or departments, many companies decide they’d prefer a system that’s tailored to meet the specific needs of their industry — ArchiOffice, a BPM suite for architects, is one example of an industry-specific BPM tool.
- Turn-key or Custom: While the nature of most BPM software means that each business can design their own workflows, integrations, etc., some companies prefer a completely custom-built system, usually out of a desire to include functionality not normally part of a BPM suite. Custom software engineering services can design a BPM tool with all of the functionality you desire and none that you don’t.
Business Process Management Software Case Study
Company: Davenport University3
Few organizations are more siloed than a university. Different departments may never interact with each other. Academics, facilities, and administration all struggle to find common ground on a variety of issues. Combined with stagnant or shrinking budgets, it’s easy to understand why universities are rarely known for their speed or efficiency.
Paper forms are passed around without data ever being recovered from them. Outdated documents create email nightmares as they’re passed around or sitting in someone’s inbox for weeks at a time.
That’s the situation in which Davenport University found themselves. The Academic Information Systems department was one of the few cross-department services and it saw the drove of inefficiencies in a place where innovative ideas are supposed to thrive.
The first solution? Request the internal IT department to create electronic forms — but they were so stretched that it would be a three year wait. A quick search led to lots of technology with fancy bells and whistles, but also with huge price tags.
Finally, they came across KiSSFLOW. Within a few hours, they had set up their first process, and the time savings began instantly. Davenport University uses KiSSFLOW for three major workflows. The first is for students to submit a request to have a course considered as a substitute or prerequisite. The public forms feature means they can host this form online for students to fill out on their own. It then branches off to the right department and is either approved, rejected, or clarified.
Academic scheduling is a much more complex workflow. Every year, professors want to add new courses or make changes to existing ones. Each request must follow a long set of approvals that can take several weeks with paper forms. Davenport University uses an automated form to allow professors to submit these requests online, streamlining the process for everyone.
The success of these workflows was so apparent that even the transportation department created a workflow for the reservation of vans and buses, and many other departments are waiting in line to discover how KiSSFLOW’s BPM capabilities can serve their needs.
The team at Davenport University found the form creation interface extremely simple; even with no programming background, they felt it was very intuitive and easy-to-use. One key point that they knew they were missing out on with email and paper forms was data collection. Years and years of important data was scattered across desks, trash cans, and inactive email accounts. KiSSFLOW enabled them to start tracking their most important data and analyze and interpret it as well.
Other Market-Leading BPM Suites
KiSSFLOW was the best solution for Davenport University, but it may not meet your unique requirements. The following vendors offer some of the most recommended BPM solutions on the market today, and may be a better fit at your organization:
Creating Executive Buy-In
Additional expenditures on software systems can be difficult to sell in today’s business environment. Your organization likely already uses a number of systems that perform some of the same functions that a new BPM suite would fulfill, making it even more difficult to justify further outlays on software that will only have an indirect impact on bottom-line profitability — you may have executives that will simply hear “new software” and immediately be against the purchase. As such, it may take a team to ‘sell’ your team on a BPM solution. As the individual researching your options, it will likely fall to you to assemble your allies; the following are tailored talking points for convincing the members of your C-suite of the importance of a BPM suite and the positive impact it can have on your business.
Your Chief Executive Officer is a natural ally for your BPM software purchase. As the individual at your organization tasked with seeing the ‘big picture’, it shouldn’t be too difficult to explain why a BPM suite will increase efficiency and enable true transparency between individuals, teams, or departments. The transformative capabilities of well-designed and deployed BPM software will enable your business to reinvent itself — shifting away from short-lived, transactional processes towards sustainable, repeatable actions that will enable continued growth in a difficult, increasingly competitive global marketplace. When meeting with your CEO, make sure to focus on the at-a-glance monitoring of processes that a BPM suite can provide, the relatively low total cost of ownership — especially when compared to other enterprise software solutions — and examples of BPM software implementation at companies similar to yours.
Besides your CEO, your Chief Information Officer is likely the most important person you’ll need to convince of a BPM suite’s necessity. Depending on how up-to-date they are on trends in enterprise systems, they may not realize that modern BPM suites — unlike legacy, pure SOA-focused systems — leverage predictive analytics, human intelligence, and even Internet-of-Things sensor connections to provide far more comprehensive capabilities than similar systems from just a few short years ago. Make sure to mention the flexibility in deployments, the wide variety of available software integrations — especially through tools like Zapier — and the redundant systems your BPM suite can replace (usually for far less money).
Choosing the Best Business Process Management Software
The capabilities of modern business process management software are seemingly endless — just like the number of BPM software vendors. Deciding on the best BPM system for your business can be confusing, frustrating, and difficult — but it needn’t be. Here at TechnologyAdvice, we specialize in connecting technology buyers with the solutions that best meet their unique requirements. To that end we’ve assembled thousands of software reviews, vendor comparisons, whitepapers, buyers’ guides, feature lists, and other resources to help in your decision-making process.
If you’re curious about any of the business process management software suites mentioned in this guide, we’d love to talk to you. Call one of our product experts for a free consultation, or use the Product Selection Tool on our site to get a personalized list of recommendations based on your industry and desired features.
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- Palmer, Nathaniel. “What is BPM?” BPM.com. Accessed September 9, 2015. http://bpm.com/what-is-bpm
- Moore, Susan. “Gartner Says Spending on Business Process Management Suites to Reach $2.7 Billion in 2015 as Organizations Digitalize Processes.” Gartner. May 28, 2015. http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/3064717
- Miller, Neil. “Can One Team Break Silos and Increase Efficiency at a University?” July 28, 2015. KiSSFLOW. https://kissflow.com/butterfly_effect/can-one-team-break-silos-and-increase-efficiency-at-university/