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Business Process Modeling and Notation (BPMN) Defined: Everything You Need to Know

Roland Alston, Appian
February 23, 2024

What’s the definition of BPMN? It’s a visual language for business.

Inefficient operational processes often lead to bottlenecks, delays, and increased costs, hindering a company's ability to respond swiftly to changing market demands and optimize its supply chain management. Enter Business Process Modeling and Notation (BPMN), a powerful visual language that helps businesses enhance operational efficiency and streamline complex processes.

BPMN serves as a standardized framework for business processes that allows organizations to define, model, and communicate intricate operational processes in a clear and structured manner.

BPMN Example

By visually depicting workflows, decision points, and interactions within the organization, BPMN gives stakeholders a comprehensive view of how tasks are performed, who is responsible for each step, and how information flows across different departments and functions. This graphical notation facilitates communication between business and technical users, ensuring a common understanding of business process diagrams and facilitating collaboration in business process design initiatives.

Over time, BPMN has evolved from a simple graphical notation tool to a comprehensive business process management (BPM) tool, driven by the escalating complexity of business operations, technological advancements, and the imperative for organizations to adapt to market shifts swiftly. Today, BPMN offers a range of features, including process automation, integration with other systems, real-time monitoring, and performance optimization.

BPMN plays a pivotal role in enabling hyperautomation across organizational operations, leveraging cutting-edge technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), robotic process automation (RPA), and process mining. By offering a structured methodology, BPMN empowers organizations to seamlessly identify, model, and automate business processes, facilitating the integration of hyperautomation technologies and optimizing business outcomes.

Beyond its role as a visual language, BPMN excels as a strategic enabler, empowering organizations to navigate fast-evolving operational challenges and adapt their processes to align with dynamic business needs and objectives. And BPMN is even more potent when combined with a low-code development platform

Leading low-code platforms provide user-friendly process modeling capabilities, allowing users to swiftly transform process models into applications without  any coding skills. Through intuitive drag-and-drop features and pre-built process components, users can design workflow-based applications effortlessly within a visual process modeling interface integrated into the same platform.

Appian’s low-code business process modeler in action

Combining BPMN and low-code development not only improves collaboration between process owners and technical users but also accelerates the BPM journey by enabling exponentially faster prototyping and iteration while reducing development time and costs.

Why is BPMN so important?

As a common language, BPMN facilitates cross-functional collaboration and alignment across departments and teams. It provides a standardized visual representation of processes, enabling stakeholders from different disciplines to share insights and drive consensus on process optimization initiatives.

BPM vs. BPMN: What's the difference?

As a visual language within the business process modeling (BPM) framework, BPMN standardizes how we depict and communicate operational processes. It’s a visual aid that allows you to analyze complex processes, making roadblocks and solutions to efficiency and cost-effectiveness much more tangible. 

While BPMN primarily deals with the visual representation of individual tasks within a process, business process management, or BPM, takes a more holistic approach, addressing the entirety of the operational workflow. By offering a broader operational perspective, BPM enables organizations to gain deeper insights into their processes, uncovering overarching patterns and dependencies contributing to operational inefficiency and ineffectiveness.

Learn more about BPMN in our guide to business process management. Get The BPM Guide: The Key to Workflow Automation.

How companies use BPMN.

Organizations use BPMN to customize their business processes according to their unique requirements. In the past, the BPM aspect of BPMN involved extensive manual data collection and interviewing. However, process mining technology has emerged as a more efficient approach. Process mining analyzes system log files to create precise process maps and increase visibility into operational activities. The synergy between BPMN, BPM, and process mining is essential for organizations seeking to scale their operations without adding additional staff.

As your organization navigates the challenges of BPMN integration, it's essential to explore strategies that maximize its potential. Here are three approaches that can help you unlock success with BPMN:

3 strategies for unlocking BPMN success.

1. Invest in BPMN training.

Investing in BPMN training can optimize collaboration and communication, bridging the gap between non-technical leaders and IT professionals. This ensures a shared vision for process optimization and leads to improved efficiency.

2. Embrace a low-code platform.

Integrating a low-code automation platform with BPMN empowers non-technical leaders to design and implement automated workflows seamlessly. This reduces the time to market for new initiatives, enhancing agility and competitiveness.

3. Cultivate a culture of continuous improvement.

Foster a culture of continuous process optimization using BPMN to encourage feedback loops and data-driven insights. Using BPMN to refine processes continuously is an effective way to stay ahead of the disruption curve and drive ongoing improvement initiatives efficiently.

BPMN’s role in the mixed-autonomy future.

As much of the global economy moved from being primarily office-based to remote to hybrid, the operational agility required to stand out from competitors has also evolved. BPMN is essential to scaling business process automation at a time when operations are more complex, information is abundant, and the workforce is a blend of humans, AI, robots, and intelligent machines. In this mixed-autonomy environment, BPMN shines, allowing you to visualize and efficiently orchestrate complex processes and process flows across the enterprise.

BPMN, key to unlocking next-level efficiency.

The relationship between BPMN and AI transcends mere integration—it's a synergistic collaboration that underscores the idea that AI is a strategic partner rather than a replacement for human decision-making. It’s a complementary relationship that recognizes that while AI excels at specific tasks, a human touch is essential to navigate the complexities and potential pitfalls of AI.

However, many organizations are grappling with islands of automation and paper-based or manual processes that create backlogs and user frustration. These inefficient processes hinder collaboration and decision-making due to data siloed across various systems. In contrast, cutting-edge BPMN tools, paired with low-code platforms, seamlessly orchestrate AI process automation across the value chain, eliminating islands of automation while empowering users to execute business rules, integrate systems, automate processes, and implement advanced systems—like dynamic case management—for faster decision-making.

Achieve your operational goals faster. Download the Case Management Guide.

Case management Task Grid

Navigating the hyperautomation future with BPMN.

Hyperautomation is a powerful driver of digital transformation, with the hyperautomation software market poised to surge to $1.04 trillion by 2026. As organizations grapple with talent shortages, economic uncertainties, and heightened competition, gearing up for hyperautomation is more urgent than ever. In that context, BPMN is a must-have tool for defining, modeling, and optimizing complex operational processes across the enterprise value chain.

Want to learn more about how to succeed with hyperautomation? Get the report: Gartner® Emerging Technologies and Trends Impact Radar: Hyperautomation Report