Whether your company is a business process management (BPM) leader, or perhaps you're somewhere in the middle of the pack, or even if you're still trying to figure out just what BPM means, here's what Aberdeen Group says you can do to get to that next level of BPM maturity.

First, for those scratching their heads right now, BPM is loosely defined as the place where business processes and the technologies that can help make them more efficient intersect. The ultimate goal of any BPM effort is, of course, an improvement in how a company's management team runs its operations, getting there by gradual, planned evolutions rather than one big-bang revolution.

According to Perry Donham, director of enterprise applications research at Aberdeen Group, BPM offerings have traditionally been focused on one of two enterprise areas: integration or workflow. He notes that business integration products pull data from a slew of back-end business systems and make them available to other applications, while workflow products provide process modelling, automation and monitoring.
However, "Getting these two types of software to work together has traditionally been a challenge," Donham writes in "BPM Convergence: Workflow and Integration Meet in the Middle," a September 2007 report. "The result has been islands of BPM functionality scattered throughout the organisation, each serving a discrete function."

So, let's start with what the laggards should do. Donham advises two things. First, laggards need to document their business processes. "BPM is business process management, not an application," he writes. "Understanding your key business processes is the first step to any BPM implementation. Invest the time to understand the flow of information through your enterprise." Second, get some outside expertise. Donham points out that the companies that Aberdeen identifies as "best in class" understand that management consultants are key to improving their processes and business. He notes, "Engage a consultant firm early in order to lay the ground for choosing a BPM tool."

Next, for those companies that Aberdeen describes as "industry average," Donham advises purchasing service-oriented architecture (SOA) tools. "When evaluating BPM tools for your company, make certain that they are SOA-enabled," he writes. "Retrofitting a non-SOA application into your SOA-based BPM solution later on is needless work." He also advises this group to deploy dashboards to business execs: "In addition to providing business analysts with insight into running processes, deploying dashboards helps business users understand the value of their BPM investments, something that the 'industry average' group struggles with."

And for those "best in class" companies, Donham recommends two steps to make their BPM efforts even better. First, he advises them to focus on what he calls "event-driven" BPM. "Event engines will help bring your BPM efforts into real time," he writes. "Being able to monitor and manage discreet transactions as they happen within a process will bring insights into how to further optimise the workflow." Next, he says that they should establish a repeatable ROI model for BPM projects that's based on what happened in previous efforts. Identifying and tracking operational costs are a great place to start, he notes, because they are simple to measure. He adds, "A clear ROI will make it easier to get critical buy-in from business units for the next project."

Lastly, Donham warns CIOs to not fall into what he calls the "technology trap" with their plans. "BPM requires expertise and commitment on the process side as well as the product side," he writes. "Research shows that the 'best in class' companies are using converged BPM products as a natural extension of their existing BPM practice."