How BPM Can Transform and Empower Your Enterprise

Three examples demonstrate how self-service in the workplace can help us streamline business operations.

By Harry Clarke, CEO, HandySoft

Today, we use the ATM rather than a bank teller to withdraw money. We buy birthday gifts without leaving our home and we can track their delivery online. If we need a new car, we can "talk" to thousands of users on the Internet for their customer experiences and opinions. We even use online software to help us complete our tax returns.

As consumers, we live in a world of "self-service," made possible by intuitive business process applications. These self-service applications make our lives easier, keep us more informed, and allow us to be in control. While the world at large is embracing the self-service paradigm, enterprise organizations in both public and private sectors are just starting to look at this concept as a path to improved efficiency and streamlined operations.

From executives to support staff, the people who run today's enterprise organizations don't have access to the same types of tools that we as consumers take for granted. For many organizations, creating a simple ad hoc report still requires an IT staffer to get involved. Many enterprise activities -- from acquisition to human resources -- remain bogged down in heavy, inflexible, traditional applications.

The good news is that progress is being made. Enterprises have started to leverage business process management (BPM) technology, particularly dynamic BPM, to help close this self-service gap. Thanks to advances in dynamic BPM (which is far more agile and flexible than traditional enterprise applications), self-service capabilities are now available to enterprise users. This paradigm shift is what we call "enterprise self-service." When implemented effectively, enterprise self-service empowers users within an organization with the same capabilities that they have come to expect as consumers, now applied to their business.

This sounds great in theory, but how is enterprise self-service being applied today? We offer three examples of enterprise self-service projects delivered today through dynamic BPM. They demonstrate how self-service in the workplace can help us streamline business operations.

Making Complex Processes Simple and Intuitive

Many (if not most) American citizens don't understand the ins and outs of the U.S. tax code, yet on April 15th every year, a large portion of Americans complete their taxes without ever having to consult a tax expert. They use online tax services that consolidate the complex tax forms. Through these services, information is presented in a straightforward, easy-to-use format that the average person can understand. Users file their taxes faster and track their progress as they file online. Automated tax systems also immediately notify users if there are any issues or errors, which can avoid a huge headache later.

In the work world, enterprise organizations are turning to dynamic BPM tools to build similar features into their business processes and web applications. For example, last summer the U.S. Department of Energy's Loan Programs Office unveiled a new online portal for its clean energy loan guarantee program. The program grants low-cost, long-tenure loans and loan guarantees to clean/renewable energy projects. To be considered for a loan, applicants are carefully screened through a rigorous application and review process.

Previously, this entire process was handled through complex paperwork and a cumbersome legacy system. Using dynamic BPM, DOE had the power to Web-enable the entire application, consolidate and streamline the application process, and improve the overall end-user experience. The new online portal has been well-received, helping users submit applications in as little as one day instead of the weeks that it used to take. Revisions can be made quickly and easily, saving significant time and reducing errors.

Providing Management the Answer to "Where's My Work?"

When people ship a package, one of the first things that they do is search for the package's tracking code. When time is of the essence, people appreciate having the capability to track their package as it moves from point A to point B. In the work world, organizations are starting to adapt this "tracking" feature in support of management-level tasking. Rather than tracking a package, enterprise self-service tools -- made possible by dynamic BPM -- allow managers to track projects from point A to point B.

On a daily basis, a great deal of what management-level employees do is unstructured. Their work involves a significant amount of collaboration and ad hoc tasking. E-mail is a vital work tool used by these employees, but it offers very little visibility into "work in progress." Enterprise self-service is changing that. Today, dynamic BPM tools can align with e-mail software to provide managers with unparalleled insight into project management and tasking. Using this feature, managers can dynamically track projects that are assigned to employees. This self-service capability provides managers with insight into collaborations and a more tangible delivery date, helping ensure that projects are completed on time, on budget, and on par with project goals.

Making Data Actionable, Easy to Analyze

The ability to analyze and meaningfully display complex data is a third self-service feature that dynamic BPM tools bring to the business world, borrowing heavily from the applications that we now use as consumers. By looking at an online retirement account, you can appreciate this trend. As consumers, when we log in to our online retirement account, there are countless options to track and visualize the performance of our investments (using charts, dashboards, etc.).

Over the past few years, the use of these data-visualization applications has exploded in the work world. On the government side, one of the more famous uses of this technology is the White House's Federal IT Dashboard, a Web site that enables the public to view the details of federal information technology investments.

This type of dashboard has been a wake-up call for many agencies with IT investments that fall below an ideal level of performance. It has made agencies more accountable for their IT spending and is helping to improve project performance. Using dynamic BPM, organizations can implement dashboards at any level, from departments down to individual projects. The key is to increase the transparency of these operations and improve their management by visually representing information so that past and current performance can be clearly understood at a glance.

The Last Word

Using enterprise self-service helps make employees more efficient as well as more self-motivated and self-reliant. Dynamic BPM is the driving force behind this approach. Designed for rapidly creating self-service business process applications, and supporting the often ad hoc nature of most business processes, dynamic BPM can help organizations improve execution in less time and at less cost.

As BPM brings a promising new set of self-service capabilities to the enterprise, organizations will need to challenge their traditional views of BPM technology. It's no longer just about streamlining highly structured processes. Today's dynamic BPM tools can transform an organization's processes down to the user level, empowering individual employees with the business capabilities that they count on in their personal lives.

Harry Clarke is president and CEO of HandySoft, a global provider of BPM, tasking, and compliance software and solutions for government and business organizations. You can contact the author at hclarke@handysoft.com