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What is Business Process Management (BPM)?

Learn what business process management is, how it works, and why it produces better results in BPM processes across your entire organization. Plus, learn about the top three benefits of BPM.

Work today is complex, with nuanced operations, massive amounts of information to navigate, and a workforce powered by humans, AI, robots, and smart machines. Without disciplined business process management (BPM) practices to help you organize your workflows, data, and people across business processes, it can be difficult—if not impossible—to achieve and replicate positive results. But first, what is a business process?

Business process definition.

A business process is a collection of linked tasks that find their end in the delivery of a product or service to a client. A business process can also be defined as a set of activities and tasks that, once completed, will accomplish an organizational goal. The process must involve clearly defined inputs and a single output. These inputs are made up of all the factors that contribute (either directly or indirectly) to the added value of a product or service. These factors can be categorized into management processes, operational processes, and supporting business processes:

  • Management processes govern the operation of a particular organization’s system of operation.
  • Operational processes constitute the core business. 
  • Supporting processes, such as human resources and accounting, are put in place to support the core business processes.

Over time, the development of the idea of a business process has led to whole areas of study, such as operations development and operations management, and to the development of various business management systems. These systems, in turn, have created a new market for BPM software, which seeks to automate process management by using technology to connect process actors.

Now that we’ve defined what a business process is, let’s look more closely at the overarching system for managing these processes across an organization: business process management, or BPM.

Hyperautomation is a fundamental requirement for survival and success. Learn how BPM can help you in the BPM Guide: The Key to Workflow Automation.

What is business process management?

Business process management is a people-driven discipline organizations use to create, manage, and optimize processes. The ultimate goal of BPM is to continually improve business results. BPM focuses on an entire process rather than individual tasks, which helps strengthen performance, KPIs, and outcomes—and results in fewer errors, happier customers, and lower costs. 

Why is business process management important?

Every organization has business processes, but too many rely on outdated procedures that require paper forms or other manual steps. By becoming complacent, leaders and workers cost their organizations more than lost efficiencies. There’s also an opportunity cost associated with failing to modernize your processes.

Embedded business process management not only improves operational efficiency but also drives growth, helps manage governance, risk, and compliance, and improves customer experience and employee engagement. Sacrificing the opportunity to harness these benefits likely means sacrificing a competitive advantage.  

BPM is also a key part of digital transformation. According to the Harvard Business Review, process is one of four vital elements of digital transformation. They write

“Without [process management], transformation is reduced to a series of incremental improvements—important and helpful, but not truly transformative.”

Having a strong business process management discipline will help you meet your digital transformation goals.

How does BPM work? 4 steps to follow.

1. Design and model your desired processes.

Begin by focusing on the desired areas for improvement and mapping out your future-state process. Consider defining your revised processes on a process automation platform with low-code capabilities to make process design and modeling much faster and more efficient. 

  • Model processes. Using low-code development, multidisciplinary teams that include IT, citizen developers, and business users can use visual interfaces similar to flow diagrams to create process models for their applications. These process models can then be saved for reuse by other applications and faster design in the future.

  • Apply the right worker to the job. Orchestrate data, workers—both human and digital—and systems across the organization so processes run as efficiently as possible.
  • Apply business rules to identify, implement, and consistently replicate important policies and procedures (such as spend request thresholds, tax brackets, and approval chains) so you can improve governance and compliance.
  • Adapt to changing situations. BPM enables organizations to quickly track, analyze, and adapt to evolving conditions, like changes to business events and regulations.

2. Execute process workflows.

Once your process model design is complete and you’ve incorporated automation wherever it’s needed, it’s time to put your workflow into action. When bringing your new workflow into production, there are three things both IT and business users will demand: speed, security, and integration. Satisfying these demands with the right technologies will help ensure the success of your BPM initiative.

  • Speed: When using BPM software that natively supports DevOps, you can build and deploy a workflow application as soon as the design is complete. And once you build the app, you can run it anywhere; the app should look and behave exactly as intended on any device, including any kind of mobile device on any operating platform, with no extra work or cost. This saves time for both your developers and users, who need to access their workflows while on the go and require a seamless experience when doing so.

  • Security: No need to swap speed for security. Enterprise-grade BPM systems are covered by robust security certifications that drive compliance in all areas you conduct business. Advanced business activity monitoring and other governance capabilities keep your applications running and ensure business continuity.
  • Integration: When business data is scattered across databases and systems or in on-premises, cloud, and SaaS environments, you need a way to bring everything together. Build your applications on a platform with a data fabric: a modern, secure, and easy method for connecting data. Your workflow will deliver complete information and insights for more impactful decision making, no matter where your data lives.

3. Measure and analyze process performance.

Executing your workflows is by no means the end of the road. An effective BPM discipline requires continuous improvement. In this phase of BPM, data is gathered and analyzed so you can assess how your process is performing. The technologies you use for these assessments will shine a light both on the successes of your orchestration and automation efforts as well as the areas where work is still needed.

Process mining software can be a valuable asset during this phase. Process mining uses data science and machine learning to analyze operational system log files and create clear and concise maps of your processes. It replaces subjective and costly interviews with a data-led and fact-based approach to documenting how work happens, providing insight into what people, systems, and organizations are actually doing. 

Process mining is a great complement to BPM. If you find certain areas of your process are not performing as well as hoped, you can revise the process, turning the wheel of continuous optimization.

But rerunning new log files through a process mining tool isn’t the only way to assess performance. This is where the power of automation comes in. You can also leverage built-in, real-time management tools and analytics to monitor in-flight processes and performance, reassigning tasks as needed to increase efficiency. With this kind of visibility, you can quickly make changes that can have a significant, positive impact on your business.

Get a step-by-step manual for monitoring and optimizing business process management: The Ultimate Guide to Continuous Improvement. Download Now.

4. Enhance and optimize processes.

It’s likely your analysis in the measuring and analyzing step uncovered additional opportunities for improvement. BPM should be an ongoing practice to continuously enhance and optimize your processes as new technologies are introduced, turnover occurs, and your organization grows and evolves. 

Business process management software can drive continuous optimization by helping you do the following:

  • Adapt to changing situations. BPM enables organizations to quickly track, analyze, and adapt to evolving conditions, like changes to business events and regulations.

  • Proactively identify and address bottlenecks and inefficiencies by aggregating process history and conducting analysis.

  • Leverage predictive analytics using past performance data to create smart, self-optimizing processes.

  • Report dynamically with real-time visibility into how business operations are performing.

  • Continuously improve processes with the insights to evolve business performance.

How do BPM and business process automation work together?

Every business process has both human and technology elements. Certain tasks require human intervention, while others are much more efficient when automated. The BPM discipline can help you make sense of this separation of duties, but from a much more holistic perspective than if you were to look at each task individually. This approach will also guide you in knowing when and how the various BPM technologies should be used to maximize value.

In this digitally driven business world, BPM technologies play a big role in business process automation. They bring processes, data, and software together to orchestrate and coordinate actions across enterprises, whether those actions are steered by onsite or remote employees, virtual workers, or smart technologies. This allows work to be done faster, more precisely, and more effectively, while decreasing errors and costs. 

These are some of the most commonly used automation technologies and capabilities of BPM:

  • Content processing powered by AI.  

  • Robotic process automation (RPA) and API integrations to automate system interactions.

  • Business rules.

  • Workflow orchestration. 

From simple, department-level tasks to global workflows, the benefits of automation include higher business resiliency, increased productivity, greater reliability, improved availability, increased performance, and reduced operating costs. As the complexity and scale of processes requiring automation increase, so does the need for stronger and more comprehensive orchestration capabilities. 

Want to learn about how to succeed with hyperautomation? Get the Gartner report: Gartner® Emerging Tech Impact Radar: Hyperautomation.

How to know if you need business process management.

Whether you’re just getting started with BPM or already have a practice in place, you may be wondering if you’ll see any significant impact from considering/reconsidering your approach. Below are some common symptoms from businesses, non-profit organizations, and government agencies around the world that indicate a need for new or improved BPM:

  • Your processes still leave a paper trail—an actual paper trail.

  • Your employees spend a large portion of their time looking or finding rather than doing.

  • System users suffer from “copy-and-paste syndrome,” inputting the same information multiple times across many systems.

  • Your employees’ efficiency is throttled—and their patience tested—by silos and a general lack of visibility.

  • Different business units or departments have different systems for the same purpose.

  • Your customers are delivering redundant information to different business teams—over and over again.

  • Your customers depend on a single stakeholder for communication, leading to massive bottlenecks.

  • Support reps wait hours to get the data needed to complete a customer interaction.

Other symptoms that indicate a need for BPM relate to risk, compliance, and customer experience include:

  • Old systems aren’t keeping up with customers’ expectations.

  • Customers encounter different experiences across different devices.

  • Some customer experiences aren’t supported on certain devices or channels at all.

  • Each operating location has a unique regulatory environment that’s continually evolving.

  • Compliance systems operate in silos.

  • Information has become “needles within multiple haystacks” in your organization.

  • By the time employees get the information they need, things have changed again.

  • Software doesn’t support the latest security and privacy protocols.

And it’s definitely time to consider BPM if you’re building and deploying apps and seeing these issues:

  • Multiple projects focus on problems your IT team is already working to solve.

  • No commercial product seems capable of solving your challenges completely and cost effectively.

  • Your organization still has hundreds of apps in its backlog, despite having spent huge sums of money on ERP software.

  • Your “enterprise automation platform” has turned out to be merely a sales automation tool.

Hear from insurance company Ameritas about how they’re optimizing their BPM landscape by consolidating workflows into Appian.

What are the benefits of implementing business process management?

In the short term, BPM helps organizations decrease costs and increase efficiency. This can mean more revenue and growth as well as increased speed, organization, and efficiency. In the long run, BPM helps create competitive advantage by improving organizational agility. BPM platform technology can make any organization—in the private or public sector—more efficient, more agile, and more successful, no matter their mission.

Cost savings.

At first glance, BPM seems to deliver the same major benefit as traditional enterprise application technologies like ERP: increased workforce productivity (as a result of streamlining business operations and automating repetitive tasks). BPM platforms, however, go far beyond creating efficiency. Knowledge sharing capabilities and embedded collaboration tools help improve decision-making. Process performance reports and continuous process improvement help optimize workflows. Notifications and triggers help reduce errors and eliminate waste. And a business rules engine enforces governance. 

BPM platforms not only help organizations increase workforce productivity, but they also improve product quality and reduce corporate risk. The result? Within months of deployment, these improvements deliver substantial cost savings to organizations. 

Revenue growth.

In addition to decreasing costs, BPM platforms also help an organization raise its overall revenues by increasing product output, accelerating cycle time, and improving customer service. Straight-through processing helps accelerate delivery times. Dashboards help prioritize business activities by their influence on sales. Process performance reports help identify bottlenecks and reduce hand-offs. Centralized enterprise knowledge helps speed decision-making. And closed-loop customer feedback processes help track performance. Over time, these enhancements result in a faster time-to-market and an improved customer experience, which ultimately increases sales and revenues.

Increased agility.

While decreased costs and increased revenue are the two most immediate and tangible benefits of business process management, the real value BPM delivers is intangible. In the long run, process applications built with BPM platforms help organizations become more agile. Business rules ensure that processes adapt automatically to changes in the business environment. Collaborative tools bridge departmental boundaries while improving and speeding decision-making. And in-flight process modifications accelerate response to change by dynamically rerouting processes in real time. With these capabilities, a company is better equipped to switch gears and respond to its changing business environment – faster than its competitors!

In the case of Ryder, a commercial fleet management and supply chain solutions company, all customer-related documentation used to be uploaded at onsite rental counters using email, mail, and fax. Outside party data was collected through phone calls and emails. Ryder implemented a BPM approach and used the Appian Platform to unify systems and processes with multiple applications that work together seamlessly. By doing this, they were able to reduce rental transaction times for customers by 50%.

Features of the best business process management software.

Leading BPM technology delivers a variety of capabilities in a single platform. Process management technology allows organizations to streamline operations by automating, executing, mining, and monitoring business processes from beginning to end. In order to realize all these benefits, look for a platform that includes these capabilities:

  • Data fabric to unify data across systems and build powerful applications. 

  • Artificial intelligence to augment productivity across any digital experience

  • Process automation to automate anything with integrated workflow, RPA, AI, IDP, and API integrations.

  • Total experience features to engage internal and external users across web and mobile experiences. 

  • Process mining to discover process inefficiencies and optimize business outcomes.

  • Low-code design experience for fast speed to solution.

  • Enterprise-grade qualities like high reliability, security, and scalability.

Finding a unified solution like this will reduce training times, licenses, and dependencies on additional tools.

Want to learn more about platforms for business process automation that help you streamline operations? Get the Gartner Market Guide for Business Process Automation Tools. Download Now.

Key BPM takeaways.

Embracing business process management is just the beginning. Organizations today must concurrently streamline their workflows, build data into everyday processes, create a positive user experience across devices, automate wherever possible, and deploy apps and services as quickly as possible.

Modern BPM platforms support all of these digital transformation goals by:

  • Helping organizations become more responsive to customer demands.

  • Facilitating the integration of data into business processes so users have the right information when they need it.

  • Enabling the use of modern technologies—such as data fabric, RPA, low-code capabilities, and AI—in processes.

  • Serving as a hub for data and applications to break down barriers between devices and channels.

  • Accelerating app delivery using low-code platforms that help development teams keep up with shifting business demands.

  • Addressing and reducing technical debt instead of adding to it.

  • Connecting workflows across devices and business channels to allow disparate teams to work with each other without disruption.

  • Streamlining the flow of information to connect customers and companies and transform your organization in the digital world.

It has become clear in recent years that organizations need more speed and agility across all business functions. Whether because of the shift in customer expectations or the need to digitize archaic internal processes, all organizations need to digitally transform—and fast. Speed used to be a competitive advantage for many businesses, but now it’s a necessity to survive.