When evaluating a Business Process Management (BPM) / Business Process Applications (BPA) platform how do you pick through the fluff, and really evaluate a vendor for what they bring to the table? In an evaluation, they will all show some great technology, and many slides of logos and company success. But here are four focus areas for evaluating vendors that can really mean success or failure in the BPM realm.
Ah, the large IT project. Or dare I say minefield? Any technical project that revolves around critical business process is laden with risk, and there are some key high risk areas in the BPM realm. So let’s take a quick look at some key areas that can mitigate your project risk when evaluating these types of technology:
What is the integration story? One of the most time-consuming portions of an enterprise project can be the integration with existing systems. You will routinely hear “Oh yeah, we can do that”, from BPM sales folks when in discussions about integration and data. The top BPM vendors have a solid integration framework that requires NO CODE, and provide out of the box links into core business systems (MS SQL, Oracle, Salesforce, SharePoint, Windows Active Directory, Exchange, etc) through configuration. Make sure you take a deep look here, and demand to see how it works.
Does the technology match your internal skill set? It happens. At some point in the BPM journey, you will require some type of customization, it is just inevitable. Maybe a small tweak here, some custom code there. So take a look at your BPM vendor’s core technology. The top vendors fall into one of two categories today: Microsoft or Java. Are you a Microsoft shop, with developers that can utilize C# and .Net? Or do you Java? Having to bring in outside resources can really impact your project, so make sure the tech is a match.
Is the product NO CODE or CODE, CODE, CODE? There are some really powerful BPM products on the market, but many of them are just frameworks. Any time you step out of the box, they require customization and dev time. There are others that have a core theme of avoiding code, and focusing on configuration through deep feature sets. Obviously, the less code required, the faster you can roll out your solution and start realizing gains. Make sure you look at your requirements, and really hash out what can be accomplished without the need for custom code.
The Foundation for Digital Business
Typically, organizations seek BPM/BPA platforms for a specific use case, and to solve a core pain point. They can be so focused on today’s problems that they don’t look beyond the initial project. Really, when you make an investment in the platform, you are building a foundation for all future process initiatives. So here are some key focus areas, and questions to ask:
Does the technology support reuse? One of the core advantages of many BPM platforms is a focus on reuse. Data, Views, Reports and Forms can all be placed in a library for reuse later. An example might be a data connection that brings back employee information from Active Directory and places it into a form section or view. This is a common form/workflow bit of information that can be reused over and over. With each project, more and more of these reusable components are built, and can be leveraged for follow on projects. Dig deep into the vendor’s reuse story in all 4 pillars of the BPM tool set: Data, Forms, Workflow and Reports.
Does the vendor have application accelerators or templates? Reinventing the wheel is not fun, and in many case just not necessary. Your vendor should have a core set of basic business application templates to drive value and a quick return on your investment. Below are some of the most common use cases that should be included:
- Leave requests
- Expense claims
- Travel requests
- Ad hoc Tasking
- Incident Management
- New Idea Submission/Process Improvement
Are cloud services supported? You may not be in the cloud today, but in time, at least some portion of your business will be in the ether. Make sure there is support from a data perspective for basic services, like Microsoft’s Office 365 and Azure, as well as services like Salesforce. In addition, definitely examine the vendor’s story around web services integration.
Agility and Flexibility
One of the core benefits of any BPM product should be agility, but what is your definition of agile? And how do you know if you are? Here are some key questions for making sure your vendor will drive agility through their BPM technology:
Who can design and build business applications? Opening up your BPA world beyond developers and IT can have a serious impact on business efficiency, and put the power into your department personnel’s hands. But is the technology suited for doing that? Really it comes down to what design interfaces are available, and who can use them. Take a deep look at what is available from a process desinger perspective. Here is an article with more information on this topic: BPM Design Interface Requirements and Personas
Out of the box, what type of process insight do I have? One of the core benefits of any BPM/BPA tool is process insight. Viewing a set of real-time processes in motion can let you identify bottlenecks and make changes real-time, providing the ultimate in flexibility and agility. Make sure there are visual process analysis tools available to all.
Is the NO CODE theme pervasive? Ok, I know I am beating a dead horse on this one, but avoiding technical debt in your BPM tool is so critical to remaining agile and flexible, and should always be a core tenet.
We often over-evaluate the technical aspects of our desired solution, it is just the nature of technologists, but one area that is most often overlooked is your BPM vendor’s story around people. Technology works…any vendor can prove that, but people are an extremely important element of any project in all phases. Below are some questions you should ask:
Does your vendor have a Center of Excellence (CoE)? Taking the time and effort required to build a BPM/BPA CoE is a serious investment in the tie between technology and people. It is a valuable component in the mapping out of your project, involving the right people in the process, and how to train your people for success. I would not consider a vendor if they did not take the time and effort to build one. Here is an example: BPM and BPA CoE
Does you vendor have an active and vibrant community online? People love to share and help, and online communities are a true indicator of how your vendor views its customers, partners and employees: as a valuable resource. Get an account on your vendors community, and see if it is thriving, or stagnant. Was the last post from 2012? Another great indicator of your vendor’s commitment to people.
Does you vendor use Condition of Success (CoS)? Defining conditions of success beyond the project plan and technical aspects, but with a people focus is critical. This is an exercise your vendor will perform that is a listening exercise, to align expectation across the board, and ensure the project stays on track.
Is there an investment in post sales support? There absolutely needs to be a department within the company that supports the customer post sale. I am not talking a sales rep, or a support line, but a specific and separate Customer Account Management team that does quarterly reviews with customers to make sure things are on track.
Just some questions to help in your BPM/BPA journey. Thoughts?