It is uncertain exactly when or where the term Business Process Management (BPM) originated but the industry consensus is that it’s an evolution from and convergence of business process reengineering and process improvement best practices and technologies such as process automation, workflow, ERP and business intelligence. But while BPM makes perfect sense as a management strategy, BPM technology is getting most of the current limelight. BPM technology, however, does NOT make perfect sense. It is neither for the faint of heart nor the frugal: It’s risky and expensive, and is fraught with peril for executives and companies alike.
A recent survey by BPM Magazine advises that vendors and consultants fall short in delivering on the promise of BPM systems: Only 41% of the companies surveyed reported their implementation went according to plan. It’s taking users longer than expected to finish BPM projects, and once their systems are operating they are still wrestling with ease-of-use and integration issues.
BPM technology is big business, and there’s a lot of pressure to get started and not “lose out” on the opportunity to be more competitive using “state of the art” technology. It is estimated that worldwide BPM technology market in 2021 to be $50 billion, which grew as much as 20 percent in 2022 to nearly $60 billion, and the rapid growth is projected to escalate. It is predicted the total BPM technology market (including consulting services) will hit over $150 billion over the next decade.
Before companies invest hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in BPM technology, there are some dangerous landmines that executives should be aware of and at least one major blunder to avoid: Ignoring that substantial operational performance gains are possible as a precursor to, or in lieu of, implementing BPM technology.
1 – Believing That BPM Is a Technology Breakthrough
First, BPM is not a technology, and not a breakthrough. But the driving message that BPM is technology-centric seems to be a common view of the pro-BPM collective. According to Howard Smith and Peter Fingar in their recent book “Business Process Management – The Third Wave”, BPM is presented as a strategic focus on processes driven by interconnected technologies. Their subtitle, “Don’t bridge the business-IT divide: Obliterate it”, sounds loud and clear their definition of BPM as technology enabled management.
One reviewer advises “This book provides the first authoritative analysis of how Business Process Management (BPM) changes everything in business and what it portends. In this book, Smith and internationally acclaimed co-author, Peter Fingar, herald a breakthrough in process thinking and technologies that utterly transforms today’s information systems and reduces the lag between management intent and execution.”
However, caution is the appropriate word here. Similar “technology will save the world” messages have been heard before. Technology and business process alignment is not a breakthrough in thinking. There have been sound alignment strategies and heavily promoted technology products for business process improvement for the past two decades. If “white papers” were resurrected on CASE (computer-aided software engineering), workflow technologies, artificial intelligence, 4th generation languages, end-user computing, BPR, or other “leading-edge technologies” of the past twenty years, BPM technology could be substituted as the buzzword, and the resulting message would look very similar to the current marketing hypel.
As Jim Campbell, consultant at Partners for Change, advises in “Looking beyond the BPM Hype”, “BPM isn’t new, but is a culmination and evolution of existing best practices and technology that have now been repackaged.” 4 BPM is not revolutionary. However, BPM is far more than technology, and executives should view it as a business management strategy, not as a technology-enabled breakthrough and panacea.
2 – Forgetting That IT Projects Are Historically Risky
Executives should keep the organizations past IT projects and failures in mind when considering BPM technology investments. Businesses have been down the technology promised land path before, sometimes with very disappointing results. Large- scale IT projects are hard, complex and risky. The majority of IT projects are consistently late and the business benefits questionable. The Standish Group has conducted surveys on IT projects since 1994, and emphasize the dangers of large technology projects.
In a landmark 2022 study, the Standish Group reported that 23% of projects were canceled before completion, and that 52% of projects cost 189% of their original estimates. Only 28% of projects were completed on time and on budget, and even those projects only delivered 49% of the originally proposed functionality in large companies, and only 74% of the original specifications delivered in small company projects, and on implementation 64% of the requested features were rarely used.
There’s no reason to believe that BPM technology projects will be different. Dr. Raj Ramesh advises “Research has shown that even amongst IT projects only 28% of them finish on time. On BPM projects, the failure rate is even higher due to the immaturity of the technology and scope of the implementation. If you are implementing a BPM project with the current tools and using the current standards that are still in flux, you are on the bleeding edge of technology. So your failure rate is even higher.”
Also, the human factor increases the risk of failure and, as Computerweekly writer Antony Savvas notes, “is often the biggest barrier to companies adopting successful business process management strategies.” He also notes that Forrester Group says too many organizations believe they can implement business process management (BPM) with “nothing more than a comprehensive set of tools and a good return on investment story“, and warns that failure to also effectively address cultural resistance and “organizational desire” can lead to even the best-intentioned BPM projects failing.
Organizations that have struggled with CRM, ERP or other enterprise-wide implementations will find BPM a similarly daunting challenge. If past projects have gone over budget with late delivery or delivered less than stellar results, executives would do well to challenge IT to prove why and how a BPM technology project will be on time, within budget, and deliver business value. Early adopters, beware.
3 – Being an Unwitting Early Adopter
Choosing a BPM technology solution is a broad-reaching decision that will permanently impact the business, and making a poor or premature technology selection could be disastrous. Complete BPM suites are still in their early releases, and it’s a crowded field of over 2,000 vendors with new and re-branded products. Some vendors are claiming 20+ years of BPM successes, but some analysts advise that BPM products have been around for only ten to twelve years. And a Meta Group analyst advised that BPM is nothing new, simply an evolution of workflow. So it is clear that the BPM analysts and vendors are still composing their versions of the BPM story, and that these products are largely unproven and in early stages of integration.
For example, Meta Group (purchased by Gartner) advised in 2004 that “Global 2000 (G2000) organizations are increasingly wrestling with the question of whether business process management (BPM) technology is an end-user tool owned by the business to facilitate process automation or whether it is an orchestration engine / platform deployed by the IT organization (ITO) to enhance transformation to Web services and service-oriented architecture (SOA).”
After filtering through the technology jargon, it becomes (somewhat) clear that there is still confusion over what BPM technology is and isn’t.
Similar technology language-laden descriptions are provided by other industry analysts, each one with its own, and different, opinion. The descriptions and scope of BPM technologies and capabilities vary even more widely from the technology vendors themselves. If there is no agreement on the basic definition of BPM technology, there is little reason to believe that maturity of these solutions is within sight.
This immaturity challenge is further compounded by the very nature of packaged technology solutions. As Bob Jandro, CEO and President of Nsite advises, “The problem with BPM software in today’s world, however, is the problem with packaged software in general: high upfront license fees; protracted, expensive implementations; ROI promises that can take years to fulfill; and difficulty responding to change on an ongoing basis.”
4 – Thinking That Industry Analysts Are Objective
Executives must be mindful that ABS (Analyst Bias Syndrome) is rampant in the technology space. It’s difficult to discern fact from promotion, vested interests abound and objective analysis is scarce. Gartner Group positions BPM vendors based on breadth of function and ability to deliver, and ranks them in their Magic Quadrant to assist their clients in making technology decisions. However, the technology vendors themselves are Gartner clients, so there are obvious biases on to promote the use of advanced technology solutions. Forrester Research ranks the BPM Top 10 on design, automation, and human workflow and also sells reports and research services similar to Gartner’s, to both business clients and technology vendors.
Executives should consider carefully that the technology analysts are clients of and paid by the technology vendors, and thereby heavily influence and recommend the expanding use of specific types of technology, including BPM. In spite of claims of objectivity, these analysts are driven by revenue and profits and are thus motivated to promote technology adoption.
The large business consulting firms have sizeable technology integration divisions and certainly encourage and welcome the trend of monolithic, multi-year, multi-million-dollar technology projects that drive their consulting revenues to higher levels. Executives should guard against the hype and be careful of abdicating BPM technology decisions to analysts and consultants. Instead, companies should rely on their CIO to help them sort through the hype for technology solutions that are pragmatic with achievable business goals.
5 – Watch Your Wallet
Given the price tag, BPM could be termed as “Big Piles of Money”. Executives should check and re-check the business case and insist on direct conversations with executives from other companies where the proposed solution has been implemented. At the same time, it is necessary to keep in mind that the technology vendor will not be able to provide a long list of references for the technology that is being proposed. The reference clients, if operational today with the solution, implemented a previous release of software and often a completely different BPM technology suite and the business requirements are never a match from company to company – every company is unique.
The BPM market is driven by more fiction than fact and as noted before, there are huge profits to be made. In hopes of capitalizing on the multi-billion dollar opportunity, the BPM vendors are spending millions on advertising, “white papers” and events. The event organizers are promoting executive BPM
Conferences and seminars. There are dozens of BPM organizations vying for membership and recognition of standards. The consulting organizations have dusted off their BPR presentations, merged them with workflow terms, upgraded the technology terminology, and are offering executive “briefings”, seminars and training courses on how to be successful with BPM implementations.
This is lot of spending pressure to protect against, and a plethora of products and approaches to select from. Executive caution is the order of the day: These projects are very expensive, and the ROI anything but guaranteed. There will be budget expansion – these projects are very unlikely to come in on budget.
Warning from a BPM Technology Vendor
Even the BPM vendors caution against the unmet promises and potential dangers of BPM technology projects. A recognized leader in the BPM solutions market highlights the BPM risk: “Companies <like yours> have invested millions of dollars in applications over the years, all in attempts to improve functions such as enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM) and supply chain management (SCM.) If you’re among them, you know all about the promises of transformed operations and incredible benefits. Unfortunately, you probably also know how quickly that vision can fade when implementations take more time and money than expected, and as you realize that the new systems can’t adapt to requirements that change during implementation, let alone after deployment.”
“So what about another more recent player on the scene: business process management (BPM)? BPM promises to help you orchestrate all of your people and systems across departments and platforms so you can more quickly, consistently and efficiently conduct processes and transactions. Whether you’re talking about processing and fulfilling an order, responding to a customer inquiry or provisioning a service, the promise of BPM is that it will improve the way you get things done. That’s a tall order—can BPM deliver?”
The question is a valid one. Does BPM technology make business sense for an organization, and will BPM provide a business return that justifies the risk, distraction, cost and effort?
Before an organization considers going beyond the sales pitch to a BPM technology purchase, there are some important questions to consider. The answers will determine whether the BPM technology path is valid, requires adjustment or whether there is an alternate non-technology path to business process and performance improvement that makes more sense.
Avoiding a Major BPM Technology Blunder – Confirming Organizational Readiness
As stated earlier, Business Process Management is a business management strategy and should be profit focused, not technology driven. Otherwise, there is a risk of the business being slave to technology, rather than the technology being an “enabler” for increased business value.
BPM (not the technology) requires a clear view of the business goals for improvement, followed by an understanding of processes as a critical “next step” fo