It is not uncommon for companies poised to adopt business performance management to lack a vision - a comprehensive, long-range picture - of how BPM can truly help their enterprise.

We frequently meet IT executives at informational workshops or Webcasts on the subject of BPM. Some have the impression that BPM is no more than a business intelligence (BI) add-on, and some have the mistaken expectation that it will be priced as a reporting tool rather than an enterprise-wide information system. This misperception becomes readily apparent when otherwise sharp IT professionals visit their preferred Internet chat rooms and post inquiries such as, "I want to build a BPM dashboard on top of our existing enterprise resource planning [ERP] system. Should I choose Company A or Company B?" The core issue is that technology is only one part of an overall BPM solution.

On the surface, BPM is often seen as a different kind of reporting, merely a way to beef up Excel analysis. Underestimating BPM's possible payoff goes hand in hand with inadequate sponsorship and support from senior management that relegates BPM to a small IT project to be dealt with in the back office. This tends to result in failure to involve end users in the early stages of requirements definition and a poor grasp of the business issues. Before you know it, a company is charging into vendor selection, putting technology selection ahead of proper requirements definition and the opportunity to enhance internal processes.

In this scenario, the budget approved by higher-ups is not likely to match the task. In fact, it is common for organizations to begin with a long list of desired functionalities and an anemic budget to cover it all. As a result, we often help a company find the fit for their budget and that typically means accepting trade-offs. In this case, it is important for companies to make the right trade-off decisions. Usually it is best to sacrifice some functionality, not the number of seats. For example, they might give up an improved financial consolidation system in favor of a getting a wide population of users up and running with an effective planning and budgeting system.

On their own, IT project managers who don't have a vision for the full range of potential benefits often need to boost the budget after the project has already started. Worse, they may be at risk of implementing a tool that becomes another point solution in a single-department silo, ignored by the rest of the enterprise.

In other cases, we have seen a project leader attempt to address a specific departmental or functional pain. This could be in response to edicts from senior executives in the form of requests to "enhance marketing analytics" or "fix the budgeting process." While these are valuable initiatives on their own, when addressed independently they can fall short of reaching BPM's full potential. If these projects are not undertaken as part of a plan to integrate with other systems and a vision for expansion at a later time, they will most likely be orphaned when someone implements a more comprehensive BPM solution down the road.

What can you do about this? It's not a bad idea to run an in-house educational session led by someone with experience who can share best practices and benchmark data from your peers at other companies in the same industry. Coax as many C-level executives as possible to this workshop. Even better, get them to take a lead in inviting their colleagues and choosing the right mix of attendees from IT and finance.

It is normal that gaps exist in understanding the impact BPM can have in an organization. BPM is new, evolving and relatively mysterious. An educational process can be the first step to get the executive sponsorship your project will need and to assure the technology you select will fit with the overall organizational direction. More importantly, you'll be a hero for improving overall company performance because end users will adopt and use the applications you deploy. 

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