By Neil Thurston, Chief Technologist, Logicalis UK&I
Effective Business Process Management (BPM) is an essential foundation for any successful business digitalisation and automation strategy. Another Logicalis UK eBook <link> and blog <link> in this series explore the detailed reasons why BPM is critical to automation. In summary, you can’t successfully automate a process unless you understand it fully, and BPM provides this understanding.
This blog provides a quick guide to the history, key principles and elements of BPM, the role technology plays in putting process at the core of successful digital business, and how Logicalis UK are helping our clients achieve effective automation through a process-led approach.
A definition and potted history of BPM
Business processes take inputs and apply resources to activities that use or transform those inputs to create outputs. BPM discovers, structures and maps business processes, using this mapping to assure control and consistency, drive improvements and eliminate wastes and inefficiencies.
BPM is based on a simple, age-old principle that an activity needs to be formalised and mapped in order for it to be carried out consistently, and changed or improved with predictable results.
A recipe for flatbreads, discovered on the wall of a 19th century BC Egyptian tomb, is an example of a mapped business process and demonstrates how long they have been around.
BPM took hold as a formal business tool after World War Two, with methodologies and models such as Kaizen and Lean, which focus on process mapping as a basis for business improvement and optimisation, and standards such as ISO9001 which give equal emphasis to assuring consistent results and quality.
From the 1980s onwards, business IT evolved from a heterogeneous set of function specific applications towards enterprise-level software platforms. Business processes started to be embedded in proprietary IT systems as workflows, in areas such as collaboration and case management.
Digitalisation represents the next stage in this evolution, as the role of technology moves from supporting business processes to being an integral component.
Key elements of BPM
Discovery identifies the business processes in scope for BPM. At an enterprise level, this generally means understanding the business purpose and strategy, identifying key stakeholders and their responsibilities and breaking these responsibilities down iteratively to their component processes. At a functional area level, it identifies inputs, activities and outputs to create a view of the processes for that area.
Mapping records each process as a flow of granular activities. Each activity takes inputs and transforms or uses them to create outputs, which form the inputs to one or more further activities in the flow.
Analysis assesses the mapped activities to establish how they contribute to the overall process outputs, identifying any wastes, for example duplicated or redundant steps, bottlenecks and sources of rework.
Measurement gathers information on process performance as an input to analysis leading to improvement.
Continuous improvement uses the outputs from measurement and analysis to continually improve the process, creating an ongoing cycle of mapping, analysis, measurement and improvement.
How automation impacts BPM
While successful business automation depends on robust and effective BPM, technology exists that can automate aspects of the BPM process itself, increasing its effectiveness and reducing the investment of time and effort required.
Tools such as IBM Blueworks Live can deliver key BPM capabilities, for example offering process mapping at the speed of conversation.
Effective BPM needs to be at the heart of any successful, digital-led business, and BPM software is there to optimise and maximise investment in it.
Logicalis UK&I have helped many clients deliver success in their business process management journeys.