Article: What Is Business Process Management (BPM)?

Oct. 21, 2011

Following the “what is”-series regarding different business areas is here an article about what Business Process Management is. The idea of the “what is”-series is to write the articles in a way that people who have never been in contact with the area will understand.

Business Process Management, also often called BPM, is a systematic approach on how to improve the business processes in a company.
BPM helps a company to get a clear picture of how the company’s processes are today and how to improve them.

BPM is something that is continuous in the organization. By working with the business processes you improve them, test them in the organization and then improve them again. This not only makes the work in an organization more flexible, but also helps companies to become more capable of changes, something that is very important in today’s volatile economy.

When defining the processes in BPM there are a few questions that need to be asked:

* What is performed?
* How is it performed?
* Who is performing it (preferably a role, not a named person)
* In what order are the activities performed and how long time can each activity take?

To visualize this in a good way we have the BPMN (Business Process Model and Notation). BPMN provides graphical notation for specifying the business processes in something called a Business Process Diagram (BPD).

The main purpose of BPMN is to bridge the gap between the business side and the technical side, since a lot of the process models are used to have the technical side help automate processes. However, it is important to understand that the business process models are very powerful for part of the business even though you do not automate the process using technology. Just having the personnel being guided through a visual design of what should be done, in what order and by who in different processes is invaluable.

In BPM you work with different groups of activities.

* Design, where you identify the processes and define them using the questions above.
* Modeling, where you use the BPMN to create a graphical model of the process.
* Execution, where you work according to the defined model. This is often done with an application, or at least involving an application, to help since a lot of processes are automatic.
* Monitoring, where you monitor the result and the way the execution works.
* Optimization, where you take the information from previous steps and identify bottlenecks and potential possibilities for saving money.

Since BPM is continuous, the steps are repeated every now and then. The frequency depends on several things, for example what kind of process and what type of organization.

There are quite a few BPMS (Business Process Management Suite or System) available to support the business process management. These systems not only help you to define and model the processes, but also to automate and improve them.
The amount of functionality available in a Business Process Management System is varying quite a lot. Therefore it is important that you understand what you are looking for before purchasing a system.

Business Process Management is a great way to get control over your business and what is happening during the daily work. It is important to understand that all processes should be connected to the company’s purpose, goal and vision to be able to understand that they are really aligned with what the company is meant to do. During these kind of exercises it is not uncommon that smaller companies start thinking about the purpose, goal and vision of the company since they have not been defined clearly enough before.