Midmarket companies may think that putting processes around purchase orders, claims or employee onboarding and offboarding is akin to having a business process management (BPM) strategy, but in fact those projects are really just traditional workflow management.
At least according to Forrester Research, which defines BPM as designing, executing and optimizing cross-functional business activities that incorporate people, application systems and even business partners.
An example from Forrester analyst Ken Vollmer: automating a manual mortgage application processing process, incorporating steps like having the loan specialist check a credit report. “Or you could even have the client go in through a website to trigger a BPM process that automatically goes and captures all the related information in 10 minutes, versus three weeks,” Vollmer says.
Now that all sounds great – but in the midmarket, companies are taking a more departmental or niche approach. It’s what Janelle Hill, an analyst at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner, calls workflow coordination as opposed to true BPM meant to redesign and transform business processes.
And in any case, midsized organizations aren’t turning to enterprise BPM, content management or repository technologies to do this work – tools like Documentum and FileNet, Lombardi Software and Savvion, webMethods and Oracle (each set aligned, respectively, with what Forrester calls document-centric, human-centric or process optimization BPM).
Instead, midmarket companies are relying mainly on Microsoft SharePoint to handle departmental and manual workflow processes such as approval processes for purchasing or travel, Hill says.
Vollmer agrees; he says Microsoft technologies were listed as one of the top choices for BPM by 164 architects surveyed last year. Now since Microsoft does not have a BPM package, the assumption is they are using SharePoint and BizTalk, Vollmer says.
On paper, Microsoft SharePoint, Windows Workflow services, InfoPath and BizTalk Server are appealing to the midmarket, but SharePoint was not built for BPM purposes. “People using SharePoint have to build a lot of the logic themselves, whereas a BPM tool has logic prebuilt,” Vollmer says.
Midmarket organizations may cite cost cutting and lack of skills and IT resources as the reason for not looking beyond Microsoft, but that’s not all. “Many [midmarket companies] are Microsoft-centric, and they follow and wait for Microsoft to do everything, whether it is new business applications or SharePoint,” Hill says. “The more they can consolidate and leverage Microsoft technology investments, the easier their lives become.”
In comparison with the features and functionality of, say, Documentum or FileNet, SharePoint is weak, Hill says. “There’s very much a mentality amongst midmarket companies that [SharePoint] is good enough; we don’t have to push the envelope or take a big risk and be the first to try things.”
Cost savings and cost cutting continue to be the No. 1 and No. 2 concerns for CIOs, so it’s no surprise given the economy that Microsoft technology, which is easily 20% to 30% less expensive than Java equivalents in the area of BPM and content management, wins out with midmarket organizations, she says.
Are you in that group of companies sticking with Microsoft for business process management? Do you have advice for peers for its usage, or regarding BPM in general? Is BPM a strategy that’s top of mind at your company this year, and do you agree with the analysts’ definition?