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Business overlooks dedicated BPM

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Most South African organisations are not managing any business processes through a dedicated business process management (BPM) solution.

This was one of the key findings from the ITWeb-FlowCentric Technologies BPM Survey, which ran on ITWeb Online for 14 days and attracted 117 responses.

While it was discovered that 32.71% of respondents do not currently manage any processes through a dedicated BPM solution, some 22.43% said they are managing one to five processes, while 15.89% are managing 11 to 20 processes through a solution.

The survey also asked respondents how long they have had their current business process solutions in place. Most (26.32%) revealed they do not have a BPM solution, while 25.26% were unsure. Some 18.95% have had a solution in place for two to three years. A joint 14.74% have had a solution for three to five years, or longer than five years.

Beyond transactional efficiencies

Commenting on these findings, Jacques Wessels, CEO of FlowCentric, says many companies have been led to believe that their enterprise resource planning (ERP) can manage all of their processes with ease.

However, he explains that BPM is the next natural step in the evolution of any business wanting to go beyond the transactional efficiencies accomplished with ERP to achieve competitive advantage.

“ERP, by nature, is rigid and isn't a natural fit with a company's unique business rules and requirements. While offering some degree of customisability, at a cost, ERP is designed to provide for transactional logic,” says Wessels.

On the other hand, Odette Pieters, services director at FlowCentric, believes BPM in itself seems like a daunting task; going through processes, mapping them and controlling them.

Pieters notes that many organisations do not have the manpower to do this, as the approach to BPM seems to be a 'big bang' one - all processes must be mapped, modelled and governed by systems. When starting the journey to BPM, she adds, focus should rather be placed on the top five to 10 processes that will solve the organisation's major problems, or alternatively the processes that would free employees' time by automating them.

“The BPM approach should be done in phases, as the investment can very quickly be turned into an ROI, rather than embarking on a road that seems endless by mapping all processes to the lowest levels within organisations. It is imperative that any company considering a BPM initiative make use of specialists to guide them through the first phase,” Pieters explains.

According to Wessels, many smaller businesses do not believe they would benefit from managed business processes, as they feel the outlay would not reap sufficient rewards.

Meanwhile, Pieters says: “Typically, solutions are not positioned as BPM solutions as such; they are positioned as point solutions, and when done correctly, are typically with minimal disruption, training and change management requirements.”

Productivity booster

The survey also discovered that the majority of respondents (60.91%) understand BPM as an initiative focused on increasing productivity of processes. On the other hand, 23.64% describe it as a process modelling or design method, with 15.45% saying it is a management discipline.

Wessels points out that increasing productivity is a function of BPM. “BPM is so much more than just being organised. It presupposes process awareness in the organisation that focuses on the continuous measurement and optimisation of business processes, to keep the organisation competitive and effective in an ever-changing environment.

“Compliance is enforced according to the organisational policies and procedures and, therefore, drives consistent output. Thus, user errors are minimised by automating the business rules and ensuring compliance requisites are executed consistently.”

It also emerged from the study that most organisations (55.45%) are focusing on business process change mainly because they want to improve customer satisfaction and remain competitive.

Other drivers for change include compliance with government regulations or business risk (37.27%); a need to improve management co-ordination or organisational responsiveness (20%); a need to save money by reducing costs/improving productivity (19.09%); as well as a need to improve existing/create new products or enter new lines of business to remain competitive (16.36%), among others.

Pieters believes the reason customer satisfaction is a huge driver in organisations is due to a simple economical fact. “If customers do not exist, the organisations do not exist. Furthermore, the competitive edge lies in customer satisfaction - the more satisfied the customer in terms of service delivery, the bigger the market share.”

Tacit knowledge

Most organisations (46.15%) describe their understanding of tacit knowledge as knowledge gained through personal experience, not formal training or processes, while 30.77% said they have never heard of tacit knowledge. On the other hand, 15.38% noted it is work-related practical knowledge, which has not been documented, and 7.69% said it is inherent knowledge or common sense.

Nonetheless, the majority of respondents (53.85%) pointed out that they do not take value of tacit knowledge into account when documenting business processes. Only 15.38% do so, with the remainder unsure.

According to Pieters, by definition, tacit knowledge is knowledge that is difficult to formulate in documentation.

“It is very true that organisations' documented processes form part of the best case scenario planning and does not cater for eventualities in the practical execution thereof. It is a well-known truth that experience is invaluable in employees, therefore training would typically give an employee a good basis to start from, but as they gain experience over time, they are more equipped to deal with the actual processes that occur within companies.”

Asked about the strategy they take when adopting or implementing BPM, most organisations (31.82%) responded that adoption or implementation is tactical to solve departmental requirements, with 21.82% saying they do not make use of BPM.

It also emerged that most organisations (44.45%) are using Microsoft Visio for designing or modelling their business processes, with 30% using pen and paper, and 19% using open source applications.

In the majority of organisations (58.18%), business processes are documented and kept up to date as and when needed, the study also found. Only 15.45% said they do this continuously.

Asked what percentage of their business processes are fully automated, the majority (34.86%) said 1% to 30%, while 26.61% fully automate between 31% and 61% of their business processes.

On the challenges faced when trying to gain widespread acceptance of business process efforts in the organisation, most (26.61%) said they have multiple process change efforts competing for attention, with 12.85% pointing out that management believes the existing ERP systems should perform BPM tasks.

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