What is business process management?

Every successful business wants to make its workflow more efficient, effective, adaptable, and ultimately more aligned with its operational goals.

This is precisely the purpose of business process management (BPM) - to take existing and ongoing business processes, and continually improve them over time.

It's important to note that this is not the same as task management, which organises a set of activities so that a project can be completed on time. It is also not a catch-all term for general system upgrades. It instead refers to the improvement of business processes, or the fundamental, end-to-end events that are required in order for a company to keep operating. An example of this may be a customer placing an order through an online store, which then results in a delivery.

BPM is an organisational discipline - it presumes that you are able to view your business as a series of processes that can all be 'improved' in some way. The driving force behind this may be to increase efficiency, to incorporate new software tools, or adapt to changes in regulatory compliance - all in the view of meeting business goals. Often these goals will be centred on the delivery of a service that meets the varied expectations of a customer.

Yet a company may be looking to reduce expenditure, increase productivity, or even reduce paper waste. By incorporating methods such as change management, risk assessments, and predictive analytics, supported by new technology, a company will be able to align their goals with what their business is currently able to deliver.

BPM is most often deployed for processes that span multiple organisational departments, people, and regions - when the risk of human error and inefficiencies are at their greatest. For example, a customer request may run through many departments in a large multinational, and finding bottlenecks in those processes can improve the overall customer experience.

The problem is, a single person or team improving a particular element of a business process runs counter to the attitudes that BPM tries to engender. While it may be instinctive to think that everyone should be working towards making the systems they use as efficient as possible, this is far too broad and chaotic to be of any use to the company.

For example, a team using upgraded software or new devices may improve efficiency within its own department, but may create headaches for other participants in the chain. Optimisation does not happen in isolation, and requires a complete understanding of the entire business process. As a result, it is often the case that only a small team of dedicated insiders is best poised to handle BPM.

Technology is often considered interchangeable with BPM, simply throwing the latest hardware and software at a problem - yet this is not the case. While many process evaluations may result in some parts becoming automated, BPM may involve the streamlining of automation and technology itself. In fact there are many business processes that are inherently difficult to automate, yet can benefit greatly from business process management, such as complex supply chains that involve a myriad of fluctuating daily factors, from weather to congestion.

Simply put, BPM is the constant cycle of evaluation and improvement, a holistic approach that looks at business processes from above and assesses how best to untangle the entire chain so that business goals can be achieved.

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Dale Walker

Dale Walker is the Managing Editor of ITPro, and its sibling sites CloudPro and ChannelPro. Dale has a keen interest in IT regulations, data protection, and cyber security. He spent a number of years reporting for ITPro from numerous domestic and international events, including IBM, Red Hat, Google, and has been a regular reporter for Microsoft's various yearly showcases, including Ignite.