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Business Process Management Tools: 13 Features to Look For

Elizabeth Bell, Appian
September 29, 2023

Every organization, big and small, relies on processes to get work done. Processes are the backbone of your success. But if left unchecked, your processes can spin out of control. That’s why business process management (BPM) tools are so essential. They provide a wide range of coverage to help you develop, automate, optimize, and orchestrate efficient processes. 

A top-of-the-line BPM tool should provide you with capabilities in each of these four areas:

We’ll break each section down into the specific tools to look for. 

Process development.

Creating processes that can bend as needed while maintaining guardrails for compliance, all at the pace of modern business—this requires digital agility. But demands on IT teams often overwhelm their limited resources. That’s why process development capabilities that enable your teams with speed and power will help your business work more efficiently than ever. 

Look for a process platform that has these tools:

  • Low-code development. 
  • AI-aided development.
  • UI/UX capabilities for a total experience.

Low-code development.

Low-code is a software development methodology that allows organizations to build applications in a visual interface by drawing a workflow diagram. It’s an intuitive and human way to build a process or components of a process. 

When you have a low-code process platform, IT and business users can collaborate much more easily to manage business processes. Firstly, the business team doesn’t have to understand Python or SQL—they can look at a visual development environment. And secondly, because low-code application platforms use tools like drag-and-drop modelers, smart services, components, and prebuilt connectors, it’s much faster for IT teams to iterate when the business team requests changes to an application. Low-code interfaces help technical and non-technical users alike visualize exactly how a process will take place in an application.

AI-aided development.

A process platform that uses AI to help developers and IT work faster is a game-changer. As AI innovation accelerates, businesses should look for opportunities to use AI to become more efficient. Since BPM is meant to make you more efficient, AI is a perfect complement. But since this is a newer field, it might not be apparent what you should be looking for AI-wise when reviewing BPM tools. Consider these examples of how you could use AI to speed up process development:

These are just a couple examples of how AI, especially when combined with low-code, can accelerate process development. Capabilities like these are must-haves in the new AI era. 

UI and UX.

A process platform that provides strong UI and UX capabilities will ensure your processes are streamlined across the employee and customer experience. Regardless of whether your users are prospects accessing a web portal or employees using an in-house application, a seamless, interlinked experience and beautiful UI are necessary to drive engagement and satisfaction. 

When it comes to mobile, business process management software should have cross-platform functionality standard in its design so that you don’t have to do any separate development, maintenance, or upgrades to deploy your applications on mobile.

Want to see capabilities like these in action? Check out the demo library for the Appian Platform.


Process automation.

Any process platform worth its salt will have a robust suite of process automation capabilities. Organizations need to automate wherever possible to reduce inefficiencies. See what McKinsey has to say:

“[Intelligent process automation] promises to reduce complexity, replace manual processes, and improve both organizational performance and end-user experience. Companies that lag may soon find themselves in catch-up mode and at an increasing (and perhaps enduring) competitive disadvantage.” - McKinsey

Look for these automation capabilities:

  • Process modeling. 
  • Business rules and management. 
  • Task management that integrates robotic process automation (RPA) and humans.
  • Content processing. 
  • Case management. 

Process modeling.

Often left out of a business process automation suite, process modeling is the critical framework for organizing processes from end to end. It’s the backbone of automation. With it, developers can do process design, like laying out automation activities, structuring the execution flow, incorporating humans with automations, and deciding how activities will flow from one to another—a complete workflow that progresses seamlessly from start to finish. Look for process modeling technology that includes a wide range of features, like scheduling, error handling, routing, expression evaluations, and data transformation. 

Business rules and management.

Business rules instruct workflow technologies to carry out tasks or deliver information in a certain way, depending on conditions or criteria known as business logic. A business rules engine uses business logic in this format: “If X, then Y.” This format establishes specific outputs based on specific inputs.

Why are business rules an essential part of process automation? Business rules govern other forms of automation. For example, rules can drive decisions like: 

  • Routing documents for processing.
  • Calculating a total price.
  • Determining how to best route a service request.
  • Enforcing corporate policies.
  • Ensuring proper formatting of data when captured.

Task management that integrates robotic process automation (RPA) and humans.

Task management, whether you have a bot or a human performing the task, is an essential feature of business process management software. Robotic process automation (RPA) can automate repetitive tasks performed on client applications, like copying data from one system to another or triggering an alert or notification. And when the task isn’t suitable for RPA or needs to be reviewed, process modeling capabilities can easily delegate the work to the right employee.

As you build your tech stack, consult this research from Gartner®: Beyond RPA: Build Your Hyperautomation Technology Portfolio.


Content processing.

Like we mentioned above, AI can automate content processing, helping organizations move away from manual document review and time-consuming content classification and data extraction. This application of AI is commonly known as intelligent document processing (IDP).

In fact, Appian’s AI Skill Designer takes the idea of IDP to a new level by allowing teams to apply artificial intelligence to critical use cases, including email classification, document classification, and document extraction—all with low-code. Look for a platform that enables lightning-fast content processing so that this step in your workflows doesn’t become a bottleneck.

Case management.

A process platform with case management capabilities can help your organization manage all your processes, from the most structured to entirely ad hoc. Ideally, your team will be able to manage these business processes in a single location for full visibility and collaboration.

  • For structured processes that need governance, the platform should seamlessly tie together process and data, allowing the creation and management of business rules and empowering business personnel to make immediate changes to their business processes to adapt to any situation. 
  • For ad hoc processes or process steps, the platform should be able to handle dynamic workflows through event management, business rules, and complex event processing scenario support, automatically routing case events for review and action.

Process optimization.

BPM is all about adopting a mindset of continuous improvement. Today, technological evolution has made it possible to improve processes faster and more precisely than ever before, including these two powerful tools: 

  • Process mining.
  • Health check and process monitoring.

Process mining.

Process mining capabilities allow you to mine the data generated by your solutions to automatically identify bottlenecks, process non-conformances, and the root cause of issues inhibiting your digital transformation goals. Rather than performing extensive stakeholder research, a team can apply process mining to a process to find areas to streamline. 

Health check and process monitoring.

Another important optimization aspect to look for is process monitoring via health checks. This capability helps a developer monitor the health of process executions so they can see how well each digital element is performing as well as review the underlying structure itself. Ideally, the feature will help identify warnings and errors so that the developer can quickly navigate to the affected area of the process and fix them.

Process orchestration.

Make sure you look at BPM tools beyond just what they can do for your processes. You need a reliable platform that delivers the technical, too, like access to data, integrations to systems, and governance. 

  • Enterprise data.
  • System integrations.
  • Governance.

Enterprise data.

Strong processes require data—data that’s accessible and synchronized across the entire organization. Seek a process platform that uses a strong data management foundation so that you can access and incorporate data from any source without expensive data projects or database programming. A data fabric architecture, specifically, allows you to unify data from multiple systems to enable secure and easy access to enterprise data and deliver a 360-degree view of the business. 

System integrations.

APIs provide well-defined specifications for how systems can interact with each other. While it’s the most efficient way of integrating systems into process orchestration, connecting APIs to process flows can be technical and complex. A process platform that provides a low- or no-code approach for connecting API integrations can make it simpler to bring system automation into your processes and accelerate delivery time.

While APIs provide the most efficient way to interact with systems, in some cases, these might not be available. Perhaps the system doesn’t support it, or the interaction is based on a client application. For these scenarios, consider RPA, which can use software robots to emulate human-to-computer interactions and automate repetitive tasks across applications—like connecting legacy systems that lack APIs.


When you have multiple applications deployed with various users and roles on your low-code platform, you want to ensure that IT remains in control and that guardrails are in place. While a data fabric gives IT the ability to manage access to data at the application level, you’ll also want to look for a process platform that includes unified DevOps. By continuously integrating incremental changes and frequently releasing application updates, you can make sure your applications are high quality throughout their lifecycle. In addition, make sure that security is built into every part of the application lifecycle. Using DevOps practices together with a secure platform that supports efficient DevOps practices empowers your team to build, test, deploy, and monitor applications quickly and confidently.

Business process management tools: criteria to consider.

If you want to see the benefits of BPM come to life at your organization, you need to choose a strong BPM tool. Consider these criteria for business process management tools: 

  • Will the BPM tool help you bridge any islands of automation you may have created?
  • Will the tool unify enterprise data with well-defined governance?
  • Will the vendor support you on your digital transformation journey?
  • Will the vendor provide AI you can trust to augment the delivery experience?
  • Will the tool empower you to optimize and automate the full scope of your operations with end-to-end process automation?

With these criteria and top features in mind, you’ll be prepared to find the best-fit BPM tool for your organization.

Get more in the BPM Guide: The Key to Workflow Automation.