What is Business Process Management?

Old Technology
The original ERP – it did addition.

For most of my youth, when I would hear someone use the term BPM, I just assumed that I was speaking to a DJ (beats per minute). Eventually, I came to spend more time working and less time dancing, and BPM came to mean something completely different. Although Business Process Management isn’t quite as edgy as “Beats Per Minute,” it is exciting in its own right.

These days, Business Process Management is more than just workflows and processes used to conduct business. Although most b-school grads and consultants will give you an abstract and somewhat nebulous definition of bpm – an iterative process cycle that emphasizes improvement – the fact of the matter is that modern bpm is completely dependent on technology. Trying to implement a business process life-cycle without the use of complicated software is just not possible. Organizations are so large, complicated, volatile, and cumbersome, that no single human (or group of humans) could even think about overseeing the entire bpm life-cycle without assistance from our silicon friends.

I hate to say it but, those glorious days of decision makers understanding all of the organization’s processes, writing out marching orders to managers on pieces of paper and watching the money flow are over. Firstly, most decision makers know as much about their organizations as drivers know about the cars they drive. Sure, they know that they can go left, right, faster or slower, but they have no idea what is going on under the hood or what processes enable them these actions. We all get along fine driving our cars without knowing what’s going on under the hood, but any manager worth her salt will tell you that unlike machines, people need feedback, not just directions. Smart employees need to understand why they are being asked to do the things they do and smart managers need to be able to understand, at a high level, what’s going on under the hood in order to make decisions and rationalize their marching orders.

With these needs in mind, it makes sense to define Business Process Management as a centralized set of tools and processes that automate, optimize, manage, and analyze work and the workers within an organization. If that sounds an awful lot like an ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system, that’s because it essentially is just that: an ERP with a specific set of goals, focused on maximizing efficiency and optimizing business processes. A magical machine forged from the dreams of smart managers, developers, engineers, workers, project managers, and anyone else who has ever worked in a large, complicated environment. The only problem is, this machine is usually more of a fantasy than reality.

Nearly 50% of all ERP systems fail before they’re even implemented. And most end up under-utilized by the people that they’re supposed to serve. With this blog, I hope to break down some of the problems with modern bpm and erp systems and describe some useful tricks for small and medium-sized businesses so they can leverage technology and get automated and optimized.