Innovation. Collaboration. Mobility. Cloud. These are the hallmarks of next-generation business process solutions – and the Business Process Management (BPM) software that will enable them. It is no longer sufficient to drive benefits at the edges; BPM tools must drive fundamental change and growth across the organization. Select involvement in process improvement will not radically transform a business; all employees at all levels (both on-site and in the field) must “be part of the process” in active collaboration. Finally, the cost and scalability benefits of BPM SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) must be fully realized.

In short, Business Process Management software must leverage the latest advances in social technologies and application delivery to increase an organization’s tempo in responding to change and growing the business.

BPM software today does some things very well. It automates repetitive processes to improve through-put and capacity. It increases efficiencies by reducing process hand-offs and policing the execution of those that remain. It improves quality by increasing process consistency and reducing errors. Most significantly, it gives visibility into what once were opaque functions, creating more agile organizations that can identify and correct problems more quickly, and rapidly adjust to changing customer, competitor and market requirements.

These sorts of benefits are valuable, but they only scratch the surface of BPM software’s potential.

The hurdles to the new frontier of BPM software tools are rooted in the notion of participation. The more people across an organization (and its value chain) that can “be part of the process” – the better. Unfortunately, the deployment of a BPM-based process application today tends to exclude all but a pre-determined set of process participants at the line-of-business and mid-management level. This is because BPM software systems require technical training and behavioral change that can be hard to accomplish outside of a relatively narrow focus group.

Imagine the possibilities if, instead, executive management had a simpler way to engage with the process-based information that would allow them to make better, faster decisions in guiding the organization. Imagine the time and money saved if suppliers, distributors and field staff were truly linked, in real-time and on the mobile devices they already carry, to corporate processes and data. Imagine the delight (and future revenue potential) of customers who feel deeply-connected to a particular company because all interactions and issues are handled in a quick, effective and transparent way.

But the reality is that from a participation stand-point, we’re not there yet. As a rough estimate, there are probably fewer than 50 million users of BPM systems around the world today. By contrast, in 2009 there were 336 million users of business email, and that number is expected to grow to 456 million by 2013. (The Radicati Group, “Email Statistics Report, 2009-2013,” May 2009 ) Social media technologies like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, while much younger than BPM, have already surpassed it in use, with an increasing amount of that use being business-related.

So if BPM software is so good at making people’s jobs easier (guiding them through tasks, reminding them of deadlines, providing real-time information), why do Knowledge Workers, by such an overwhelming majority, prefer email and Social Networks for managing their daily tasks and human interactions?

The answer comes down to six core tenets of those more-pervasive technologies:

Simplicity: Anyone can figure out how to use email or participate in a Social Network. BPM software technologies require training.

Instant Availability: There’s no up-front preparation needed to begin, and no time-intensive implementation required. The BPM process starts with potentially long phases of process discovery before implementation even begins.

Universal Access: Users can reach their email and Social Networks from literally anywhere with an internet connection. For the vast majority of BPM software suites, this is not the case.

Flexibility: These technologies are not limited in scope to pre-defined sets of users, structured activities or pre-determined events. Traditional business process management works for structured processes and established process participants only.

Collaboration: Email and Social Networks enable personal interaction for discussions, brainstorming and problem solving. BPM software tools are improving on this score, but still have a way to go in usability and features.

Mobility: An extension of Universal Access, making these technologies available on the mobile device of the user’s choosing.

The good news is that Business Process Management software can achieve these same qualities, and bring the benefits of email and Social Networks into its fold. The really exciting news is that in doing so, BPM software can greatly extend those benefits for organizations. By adding business context and increasing the manageability of information and interactions, Mobile BPM tools can far-exceed email and stand-alone social technologies in creating more meaningful, effective and valuable collaboration. By being as easy to use as email, BPM software can bring everyone (from executives to line-of-business to customers) into process. Through native support for popular mobile devices, BPM can further extend process participation. By fully-embracing the cloud computing or SaaS model for delivery of the entire BPM suite and its resulting applications, BPM can deliver its benefits more quickly, with no up-front cost. By tapping into social media, Social BPM can bring previously unavailable information from sites like Facebook and Twitter into corporate processes in a controlled and actionable way, yielding new insights into customer sentiment, sales opportunities, support issues and more. The sum total of this is the creation of a more agile enterprise.

According to analysts at the research firm Gartner, “Organizations that have agile processes match their operational process improvement efforts to the tempo of change in their internal and external environments.” (The Radicati Group, “Email Statistics Report, 2009-2013,” May 2009) Matching that tempo requires BPM technology that incorporates the new horizon of social, collaborative, mobile and cloud-based technologies.

Samir Gulati is an expert in Business Process Management and BPM Software. He offers advice to the software industry and to U.S. corporate leaders in his role as VP of Marketing for Appian Corporation is located in Reston, VA.

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