Making business easier

Dr Greg Cline, head of corporate accounts at Investec Import Solutions.
Dr Greg Cline, head of corporate accounts at Investec Import Solutions.

Business process management (BPM) sounds so much like a buzzword. But, in reality, it's actually a technology that makes running your business easier, because it automates much of the money-sapping, time-draining aspects.

As Ian Marr, senior solutions architect at Ulwembu, explains, BPM is the business operations task associated with defining, documenting, improving, and, ultimately, optimising and automating business processes.

As a result, says Marr, it helps businesses by ensuring standardisation across systems, which can later be enhanced through automation. "BPM helps businesses identify opportunities for improvement, which can help to unlock greater efficiencies within the organisation."

Alan Collins, portfolio & delivery solution manager at T-Systems South Africa, provides a more technical definition, explaining that BPM.com joined forces with other industry experts on the establishment of an official and definitive definition of BPM: "Business process management (BPM) is a discipline involving any combination of modelling, automation, execution, control, measurement and optimisation of business activity flows, in support of enterprise goals, spanning systems, employees, customers and partners within and beyond the enterprise boundaries."

As a concept, BPM has been around for almost 20 years, says Barry de Waal, chief executive of strategy and sales at 9TH BIT Consulting. "BPM started off as what could be called 'human-centric workflow', but quickly evolved into the automation of long-running business processes, swiftly moving into the orchestration of short-running business processes too."

Dr Greg Cline, head of corporate accounts at Investec Import Solutions, adds that BPM is about aligning goals and processes as the business evolves. "Unfortunately, many companies develop processes in isolation to each other and when things evolve or change, some processes become redundant. It's important to remember that businesses are fluid and dynamic, but a company can only be as flexible, efficient and agile as its business processes - which is where BPM comes in."

BPM started off as what could be called 'human centric workflow', but quickly evolved into the automation of long-running business processes, swiftly moving into the orchestration of short-running business processes too.

Barry de Waal, 9TH BIT Consulting

Lenore Kerrigan, country sales director at OpenText, weighs in, saying that BPM is not just about technology as - while a key component - it is not the be-all and end- all when it comes to BPM. This, she says, is because there are many organisations that have created strategies, methods and tools to augment the BPM capability, and these methods and tools almost all centre around common themes.

Examples of methods and tools Kerrigan cites include Six Sigma, the BPM Group's 8 Omega framework, and AIIM's BPM curriculum. The common themes that can be extracted from all of these include the following:

o Definition of business processes, and in its rawest form, documentation of the various business processes an organisation executes on a daily basis;

o Management of those business processes, whether the management is done by human or system participants within the process;

o Analysis of the business processes, usually done to identify further improvements that can be made to the process to reduce costs, increase efficiencies, etc;

o Improvement of those processes based on the analysis that was done, as well as through feedback from both internal and external participants in the process (including customers);

o Control of the business processes through monitoring and the implementation of various business rules, validations, approvals, etc.;

o Integration of the business processes into the organisation, which would include people, other processes, systems and the business strategy; and

o Automation of business processes (to once again improve efficiencies and reduce costs), where automation makes sense, i.e. do not automate for automation's sake.

But what does it mean for you?

Henk Olivier, MD of Ozone Information Technology Solutions, says what BPM really means is getting things done as efficiently as possible, with the right technology for the business.

He believes BPM can really make a difference because it ensures that `all processes, work standards and employee standards are on the same level and clear to everyone'.

"One of the biggest challenges in business is when people assume how things should be done, or how to do certain things. BPM controls systems and ensures everyone is on the same page, clear on how the business functions, what the business does and the right flows of data and information. It also adds a level of agility to the business."

Making BPM smarter

Where it gets interesting, however, is when we add artificial intelligence (AI) to the mix, which Marr says can be an instrumental tool when automating BPM. When data is gathered to identify patterns and trends, process optimisation and automation can be more focused.

Marr adds that integrating these technologies allows for standardisation, and more effectiveness because processes are constantly being optimised. And that streamlining means that costs will be cut, while companies become more efficient - which is increasingly important in an era of sluggish economic growth.

It's important to remember that businesses are fluid and dynamic, but a company can only be as flexible, efficient and agile as its business processes, which is where BPM comes in.

Greg Cline, Investec Import Solutions

What this means is that, when we plug in AI, data can constantly be interrogated, which provides valuable insights that can aid a business' growth. However, Marr says, this type of integration is still in its infancy in South Africa.

Yet, as Olivier points out, organisations are busy scaling and, by integrating AI with some automation processes, gives companies the ability to predict, adapt and recommend to improve results and specific processes, as well as detect bottlenecks in the system. "AI is going to be used more in businesses, especially when it comes to analysing data and doing future predictions or recommendations."

De Wall elaborates, saying that the next step in this automation of process is the combination of BPM with AI, moving completely away from the need for human decision-making.

"By removing this human involvement step, we can speed up processes, drive greater efficiencies in automation as we know it and bring in new levels of agility, thus saving money for any type of business and driving up profitability.

"We've already seeing the combination of BPM and AI being used to great effect within local industries such as finance, retail, and any company running a contact centre," he adds.

Kerrigan says if BPM is all about achieving faster, more consistent results, then AI adds to both those metrics considerably. "Both systems aim to eliminate human error and form a great symbiotic relationship, like strawberries and cream, or Batman and Robin, they can stand on their own...but are much more powerful when they work together."

Who can benefit?

The best part, Marr says, is that all businesses can benefit from BPM - especially those that are faced with the explosion of data and need tools to assist with decision-making in an ever-changing environment.

Olivier says the businesses that will benefit the most are those in advertising, marketing and construction, because they are customer-focussed and need to constantly change and improve processes to be more efficient in delivering results.

Cline says any business that can benefit from automation, or streamlining, can benefit because BPM gives businesses an advantage as it enables companies to constantly innovate in what is a fast-moving world.

BPM, Collins says, enables companies to modernise processes, and when AI is added, companies can automate and take human intervention out of mundane and sometimes time-consuming tasks.

Take a call centre for example: BPM and AI could mean that less than 2% of calls need to be assessed for quality purposes, because of the automation these solutions bring. If you consider that a mid- to large-sized contact centre can make anything between 20 000 and 200 000 calls per day, it becomes apparent that assessing quality can be a huge task, made easier through BPM and AI, Collins says.

This, Collins adds, is because voice conversations between the agent and the client can be converted to text by the AI engine and, when analytics is applied, a report can be generated, highlighting the percentage of calls that were not compliant with the company's policies. This also helps companies plan resources better, because they can use the analytics to work out where best to place resources.

And, as Collins notes, when it comes to outbound call centres, predictive analytics can also assist in working out the best time of the day to call a person based on their profile, trimming wasted time.

Collins adds that companies in warehousing or logistics can also benefit from BPM and AI because they are heavily process-driven. BPM can eliminate hitches in processing orders and ensuring stock is on hand.

"The importance of continually innovating in business is now more important than ever before and companies cannot afford to fall into a routine when it comes to the latest market developments."

This article was first published in the September 2018 edition of ITWeb Brainstorm magazine. To read more, go to the Brainstorm website.

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