Back to school: BPM still suffers from lack of best practices; education is the cure

According to Carl Frappaolo, VP of market intelligence for AIIM, the Enterprise Content Management Association, “When you look at who’s performing business process management and who they report to, it’s all over the map.”
By Frank O Smith, senior contributing editor November 26, 2007

Business process management (BPM) calls for a fair deal of integration with other systems, compounding the challenge to successful implementation. Couple that with the typical people issues, and BPM project success ranks less than satisfactory.
According to BPM: Not Just Workflow Anymore —a study conducted by AIIM , the Enterprise Content Management Association—more than one-third of respondents say BPM projects really don’t deliver hoped-for ROI. Key reasons, says Carl Frappaolo, VP of market intelligence and author of the study, are education and lack of broad enterprise ownership. “When you look at who’s performing BPM and who they report to, it’s all over the map,” he says.
The leading corporate group for BPM ownership falls to IT, but at 21 percent, it’s hardly a bellwether standard. “I’d be very concerned if IT ran away with it, in terms of ownership,” Frappaolo says. “If IT owns it, you have to ask whether you really want them to determine business processes for issues like contract negotiation.”
The challenge is properly aligning the business and “getting business people to step up to the plate in terms of ownership,” Frappaolo adds. The way to do this is through up-front education, an idea supported by 70 percent of respondents who stated that moderate or greater levels of internal education would be helpful.
“BPM isn’t a turnkey or commodity software offering,” Frappaolo says. “If you don’t take time to get educated, and plan to get the proper change management in place, it’s easy to fail.”
While one-third of respondents’ BPM projects are limited to department initiatives—and only 22 percent say they involve cross-department or enterprisewide installations—“Business processes aren’t typically restricted to a single department,” says Frappaolo. “Some extend even outside the company. If you have to ask permission to change a process in another department, the degree to which they’re willing to cooperate can have significant impact on ROI.”
Phil Larson, director of product management for Appian, a BPM software vendor, says Appian is seeing the evolution of BPM move more solidly out of department initiatives and into enterprise projects. But Larson also underscores the importance of up-front education.
“Enterprise ownership is critically important,” says Larson. “The driving factors for the enterprise are increased productivity, visibility, and agility in business operations. It’s about streamlining operations, reducing costs, and improving performance—but there’s change management required to make that happen.”
Larson believes BPM was a confusing technology until as recently as two or three years ago.
“The level of education was low, and was largely done as a departmental solution,” he says. “But [now] BPM is more mature and is looked at as an enterprise solution. It requires thinking of the business in terms of driving innovation as an end-to-end process, and thinking about the roles that need to be in place to take advantage of doing things in a new way. It means providing everyone with a common language and understanding for what the processes are.”
Larson suggests starting small with such big objectives. “Take an enterprise view, but start with manageable processes with low complexity and high impact,” he says. “Promote successes internally. BPM is the gift that keeps on giving, but it’s critical to skillfully manage the shift to becoming a process-centric organization.”