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Pragmatic Business Process Management in Human Resources

Having spoken so much about what Pragmatic Business Process Management is and what benefits it provides, it is time to turn to real world examples to understand the implications that this BPM approach has on companies.

The first example is of a company that was in search for a Regional Manager for their operations in the Middle East. So far they had businesses in the western countries as well as in Asia. Filling similar positions in other regions went without problems, but when posting the job offer for Dubai on Monster, more than 400 applications poured in just within the first two days, the operations couldn’t cope. Quickly the new hire process was automated, which allowed automatic replies on application entry, distributed reviews for application processing and automatic answers for inadequate applications and interview scheduling. The process remained in place after the position was filled and cut time and resources for all consecutive job applications.

This is a perfect example of how a company was capable of dynamically reacting to unexpected circumstances. Even though this situation might seem unique, think about the following: Consider you have to hire new people constantly and your staff is spending more time writing rejection letters than working on tasks for new or existing employees. Applicants are calling in all the time for inquiries on the status of their applications, why they haven’t heard anything yet, or even if their application arrived. Setting up a process can take up as little as two days to have the process automated – from application entry, automatic confirmation, evaluation and automatic rejection. No integration necessary, implementation without coding and with the ability to change routes, recipients, rules, etc. within minutes. The HR team can now focus on the important tasks of selecting the right applicants, scheduling interviews or even setting up new employees in the company. While the process obviously doesn’t cover the whole application process nor all options possible, it provides tremendous value and can be extended at any time. Do does this sound more familiar?

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What systems support pragmatic BPM

Implementing pragmatic Business Process Management requires a set of functionality within BPM Systems that supports the approach.

Easy to implement

Everyone in the company who is capable of using Office or other applications must be able to define processes and forms and specify rules within the BPM system without the help of IT or intensive training. The user interface needs to be graphical and code-free, making business process management accessible for anyone in the organization.

Easy to manage

Enabling everyone to change their business processes requires detailed access management to give permissions to the right people at the right time. A BPM system therefore needs to provide access management down to the step and form level. It is impossible to think of everything upfront. Therefore sophisticated roll-back mechanisms have to be available to change processes on the fly and have them continue from the corrected position.

Easy to change

No implementation can cover all possible cases. Therefore a process implementation needs to adapt to circumstances, situations and exceptions. The easier it is to make changes to the system, the more complete the solution. Therefore a BPM system needs to support change and make it as easy as possible.

While it is impossible to specify the requirements in detail due to the variety of implementations possible, here is a list of sample questions that you might want to ask when searching for a pragmatic BPM system:

1)    Can I return, forward, resubmit and confer out-of–the-box? The better the BPM client the less changes you have to make to the process.

2)    Can I graphically review and change process rules? The easier you can change process rules and test them, the more dynamic your business.

3)    Can I create an automated process with people, forms and rules without coding a single line? Every line of code is a liability making change more difficult.

4)    Do you support undefined process maps that can be completed during runtime? If you don’t know the exact rules or want to have them discovered, you can have the system learn over time and save specification time upfront.

5)    How many processes has the customer with the biggest process base implemented with your solution? The more processes, the easier it is to implement process automation.

6)    Do you have examples of processes that were implemented in less than one day? These are great examples of fast implementations and processes to automate.

7)    How do you manage access to the step and form level? The more detailed management, the more people can participate in improving the processes

8)    Do you provide online training? Giving end users access to training cost effectively and at their availability is essential for pragmatic BPM.

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Benefits of Pragmatic Business Process Management

April 14th, 2010 | 5 Comments | Posted in Pragmatic BPM

After discussing the benefits of process automation, this post is now focusing on the benefits of Pragmatic Business Process Management. A pragmatic view typically focuses on solving business pains, providing benefits and satisfying customers without making a science project out of the BPM project. As such, the benefits of process automation remain and are complemented by a number of benefits that deal with implementation and change.

What always strikes me when speaking to people in the BPM space is the dedication to discover and model business processes in detail and thereby spending thousands of dollars and up to years identifying possible business flows, rules, exceptions, redesigning them, getting employee buy-in etc. without even touching a single BPM benefit and saving a single dollar.

Discovering the process flow is important to automate processes. But where do you start and especially where do you STOP? Let’s focus on the goals first and answer this question with the benefits in mind.

The reason for automation business processes is to solve business pains, increase the efficiency of your operations and improve customer experience.

With Pragmatic BPM you

1)      Lower cost of business process management and therefore spend your budget wisely

2)      Cut time to improvement and reap benefits earlier

3)      Remain flexible and change faster making you more competitive, and

4)      Develop a process and change management culture for further improvements

Looking at the benefits in more detail:

Cost of implementation – Lower cost of BPM and Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)
The more complex your implementation, the greater the cost of business process management and the higher your Total Cost of Ownership. Implementing a complex solution and maintaining it only makes sense when the profits exceed the costs. This is a simple business calculation: what is the marginal benefit of an additional specification within a business process management investment. If it is zero or negative, it doesn’t make sense. Therefore start simple and let it grow rather than boiling the ocean.

Time to production – Reap benefits earlier and reduce risk
The faster you discover your process, the sooner you can reap the benefits of process automation. Efficiency gains easily compensate adjustments to the solution required by the incomplete process map and changes that happen to business processes on a daily basis. Make sure you are on the right path before going into too much detail and thereby risk the success of your project. In addition, it is more likely to achieve a high return on investment.

Flexibility and Agility – Stay ahead of your competition
A detailed and complex solution might enable you to react to foreseen circumstances faster and more dynamic but makes it more difficult to react to all other situations. Google is changing the game plan for advertising daily. New applications, new hard- and software, new auction models and ad quality indicators – no wonder competitors have a hard time keeping up. Change is an imperative and becomes a nightmare when having to change complex systems with all the exceptions and dependencies. Stay flexible and agile by implementing only the most important exceptions.

Change Management – Creating a culture of improvement
While process modeling brings teams together to develop a process, the task isn’t completed when the process is discovered. The process needs to adapt to changes, improvements need to be implemented, rules adjusted, extensions developed. If you really want to do business process management right, create a culture of improvement and allow for everyone to participate in improving business processes whenever and wherever they can.

Therefore discover everything necessary to automate a process and include exceptions and automate steps as they come up over time. This requires adaptive / flexible / dynamic (whatever you call it) process automation solutions and we will have to look at these requirements next.

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Advantages of Business Process Automation

April 8th, 2010 | 3 Comments | Posted in business process automation

Before looking at the benefit of pragmatic BPM, let’s make sure we are all on the same page for process automation.

Most everyone has done process discovery and definition at some stage in their professional career; when handling an unexpected situation or defining a procedure. Business Process Modeling organizes these activities in a structured approach to systematically discover, document, analyze and optimize business processes to improve operational efficiency.

When restructuring processes, companies transform the way of doing business, save money and time by streamlining business processes and increase quality of operations and products.

In some areas modeling and analysis is sufficient, but companies increasingly go beyond this stage and implement process automation software to reach a new level of performance or solve process immanent problems that can not be controlled in manual processes.

Let’s look at the challenges of manual process flow and examples of customers who have used process automation software to increase competitive advantage.

Shorter cycle times

Modeling allows companies to define and streamline business processes, by eliminating unnecessary tasks, realigning steps and optimizing information flow. While this typically shortens cycle times tremendously, the improvements often aren’t sufficient to reach a defendable competitive advantage.

A midsize manufacturer for electronic components and security solutions who specialized in mass customization had a custom quote process in place that would take three weeks from the initial inquiry to providing the client with a formal quote. At the same time competitors were able to deliver the quote within one week. The company not only wanted to improve their process to at least that level, but also wanted to beat the other players in respect to response time to achieve a sustainable competitive advantage. While manual process execution would have limited them to an average response time of one week, they cut it down to only three days in average and thereby manage to permanently outpace their competition.

Manual processes have a natural limitation to how fast they can flow. With process automation, tasks can be executed in parallel, are instantly transferred to the next step on completion and allow for notifications and escalations when deadlines are reached. If your company needs to break through manual process limitations or your employees have difficulties keeping up with the workload, you should consider supporting them with process automation software.

Reduce workload

Application software today provides tremendous value that we wouldn’t want to miss any more – from simple spell checking to data analysis or extensive calculations. In manual processes, people conduct steps and tasks that could just as well be handled by process automation software, just like application software helps us get work done faster.

A Swiss investment bank creates monthly reports for their institutional clients on the performance of their portfolio. While application software allowed them to copy and paste information into the reports and thereby save a lot of time, they were looking into ways to automate the creation of the reports without risking the validity of their content. With process automation, they were able to automate the whole process cutting report creation time down from six and a half hours per report to only 30 minutes in which they did quality assurance. The information is gathered from other systems and reports are automatically generated. These are then routed to the appropriate people for quality assurance. The software then takes over again, creates PDFs and automatically sends them on to the clients.

Manual processes are limited to the ability of application software to help employees get the work done. Process automation frees up employees from work that can be handled more efficiently by systems so they can focus on growing the business.

Measure work

Companies are investing heavily in the area of Business Intelligence to generate data that is required to make smart decisions based on business data. While data can be extracted from applications, manual process flow can’t be measured automatically and therefore companies are still driving their businesses purely based on common sense, experience and guts feeling in this area.

A travel and service company knew it had to guarantee a high level of customer satisfaction to maintain their competitive edge. They set up service level agreements so that customer complaints would be resolved within a week for 60% of the cases and within 2 weeks for close to 100%. While standard business intelligence would only have been capable of checking their performance against the goals, business process automation allows the company to monitor and control the complaint process, adjust parameters and analyze the data to identify bottlenecks and opportunity gaps. This empowers the company to further tighten service level agreements and therefore remain competitive.

By implementing process automation, process data is collected automatically and is available for monitoring and analysis. This data helps you make profound decisions and provides you with early indications about process deviations within your operation.

Eliminate Human Errors

Even the best manual process does not prevent people from making mistakes. There are infinite possibilities of what can go wrong. Increasing workload certainly is a key driver of human error causing a lot of rework and frustration and imposing risk on the company. Systems can help prevent human errors on data entry through plausibility checks and are designed to perform the same tasks over and over again with the same high quality result, which is a key advantage of process automation.

A large manufacturer for printing machines automated a process that originally required people to send faxes to various locations, type the information into various systems and at the end to manually compile the information to create a quote for the customer. At every step the company risked to lose information or transfer information incorrectly. Process automation provides process participants with computer aided data entry. The software checks for logical errors and passes the information on automatically to the other systems so human error could be dramatically reduced. As a result the company improved customer satisfaction leading to a 40% increase in order entry.

Quality is a key differentiator in many markets since customer satisfaction is closely interrelated with it. Since there are ways to provide high quality, error free results it has become an imperative for companies to automate business processes with business process management software.

Compliance

While many discussions around compliance today focus on rules and regulations imposed on companies, implementation actually is the more challenging part – similarly to business processes: How do you make sure people follow the rules instead of simply defining responsibility in case something goes wrong?

A large automotive supplier had a paper based process in place that required every employee to gain approval for their purchase and expense requests from their manager. While every employee knew the process, they were very creative in finding weaknesses of the process, by bypassing the manager’s signature or get it when he was passing on a way to a meeting etc. Their finance director searched of a solution that would require the employee to use the available forms and the manager to sign the requests when he was at his desk. Within weeks of implementation, purchase expenses for office goods dropped by 20% while staff productivity remained at a high level.

Efficient processes can only deliver the anticipated results, if employees comply with the defined process flow and task handling. Business process management software ensures that rules are followed, defined steps are taken and processes become transparent.

This was a long post, but I didn’t want to split it up. We will turn to the pragmatic BPM benefits the next time.

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Why Pragmatic Business Process Management

March 30th, 2010 | No Comments | Posted in Pragmatic BPM, Pragmatic BPM Case

It might seem obvious, that the greatest benefits can be reaped from complex business process management focusing on the core processes of a company. This however would imply that they haven’t really been optimized. Being at the center of the business, this doesn’t seem likely.

Especially when taking the pragmatic BPM approach, non-critical processes make a convincing case for process automation. Extensive planning and alignment efforts account for a majority of the BPM project costs. Cutting these to a minimum provides a clear advantage to the pragmatic approach. Being able to automate processes faster and with less effort allows companies to benefit from improvements earlier and generate even greater profits.

While there are good reasons for strategic BPM, pragmatic BPM requires attention to identify the  greatest benefits  BPM can bring to a company. Let’s have a look at an example.

Consider you have to hire new people constantly and your staff is spending more time writing rejection letters than working on tasks for new or existing employees. Applicants are calling in all the time for inquiries on the status of their applications, why they haven’t heard anything yet, or even if their application arrived. Setting up a process can take up as little as two days to have the process automated – from application entry, automatic confirmation, evaluation and automatic rejection. No integration necessary, implementation without coding and with the ability to change routes, recipients, rules, etc. within minutes. The HR team can now focus on the important tasks of selecting the right applicants, scheduling interviews or even setting up new employees in the company. While the process obviously doesn’t cover the whole application process nor all options possible, it provides tremendous value and can be extended at any time.

There are clear benefits and we will have a look at them in detail in the following post.

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Handling different kinds of business processes

March 26th, 2010 | No Comments | Posted in Pragmatic BPM

While there are different kinds of business processes within every organization, the majority of vendors, analysts and journalists in the BPM space focus their attention on critical or end-to-end business process modeling and automation. These can become huge integration projects with the ideal world promise of driving companies from a centralized dashboard based on rules, analysis and strategy. On the opposite, everyone knows the importance of unofficial ad-hoc cooperation of individuals to get work done.  All business processes are somewhere between these extremes and can be automated to various degrees, but need different sets of functionalities to be successful. While changing core business processes requires extensive planning, implementation and testing, the concept of pragmatic BPM focuses on solving day-to-day business pains quickly with flexible BPM solutions. Within the next few posts, we will look at different solution scenarios and likely software prerequisistes.

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Is SOA preventing BPM business success?

March 19th, 2010 | 2 Comments | Posted in SOA

Yesterday I attended a presentation on Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) and found one statement very striking: Only 20% of SOA components are being reused.

From a business perspective, SOA is supposed to help companies save money and resources, as components are created once and can be then reused. As such it makes sense to implement SOA first before orchestrating processes.

Above statement however implies that many companies are missing out on efficiency and performance improvements, since BPM is postponed for the sake of SOA, which fails to materialize its benefits!

From a technical perspective it is nicer to get things neatly in place, but for the business this means missing out on the BPM and SOA benefits for years instead of getting real tangible BPM benefits within months.

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What PragmaticBPM.com is about

March 16th, 2010 | No Comments | Posted in pragmaticbpm.com

PragmaticBPM.com will discuss Business Process Management (BPM) from a very pragmatic point of view. While there are many different experts in the market discussing design standards and centers of excellence, many companies don’t have the time, ressources or desire to become experts themselves in BPM but want to get problems solved and the work done.

This blog focuses on providing insights, perspectives and experiences from real world BPM pragmatists, BPM implementations and BPM best practices that helped make BPM happen for companies, departments and people.

Anyone is welcome to share their perspective and thoughts with us and we will be more than happy to include sotries, ideas and solutions that are of value to our readers. We explicitly appreciate any comments and hope to support companies worldwide that strive to make BPM come true.

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