What is business process management software (BPMS)?
Business process management software (BPMS) helps companies design, model, execute, automate and improve a set of activities and tasks that, when completed, achieve an organizational goal. Taken together, these activities and tasks, which can be done by people and equipment and typically span business departments, make up what is known as a business process. BPMS is the technology product that supports business process management (BPM), a discipline aimed at improving business processes from end to end.
BPMS, sometimes referred to as a business process management suite, is a collection of technologies that include the following:
- process mining tools for the discovery, representation and analysis of the tasks that drive business processes;
- Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN) for diagraming business processes;
- workflow engines to automate the flow of tasks that complete a business process;
- business rules engines (BREs) to enable end users to change business rules without having to ask a programmer for help; and
- simulation and testing tools for observing how processes behave without having to code first.
In recent years, the market has seen the emergence of the so-called intelligent BPM suite (iBPMS), a term introduced by the consultancy Gartner Inc. to denote the introduction of sophisticated technologies, such as real-time analytics, complex event processing (CEP), business activity monitoring (BAM) and artificial intelligence (AI). The addition of these technologies made process automation more dynamic and data driven. These iBPMS products also typically include enhanced mobile, social and collaboration capabilities.
BPMS' increasing use of low-code/no-code (LCNC) technology means that businesses no longer depend solely on professional coders to optimize their business processes. Business analysts and even business users can work together with process developers and IT to discover, improve and transform their business processes using BPMS.
Why use BPM?
BPM assumes that businesses are run by processes and that an effective process is more than the sum of its parts. It recognizes that individual tasks that are optimized to meet the objectives of a specific business unit or organization could nonetheless undercut the goal of the overall business process. One of the aims of business process management is to support organizational leaders as they seek to achieve operational efficiencies through workflow management and other tactical decisions, while also making the overall process more effective in meeting organizational goals.
BPM is not a one-and-done project. Instead, it provides a framework for the continuous creation, analysis and improvement of business processes, including the ongoing clarification of the job roles and responsibilities of people involved in the process.
If executed properly, BPM improves a company's ability to respond to market trends, threats and opportunities. BPMInstitute.org, the largest practitioner-led community of BPM professionals in the world, states on its website that BPM focuses on end-to-end business processes in order to achieve three outcomes: "1) clarity on strategic direction, 2) alignment of the firm's resources, and 3) increased discipline in daily operations."
Benefits of using BPMS in process improvement programs
According to the BPMInstitute.org, implementing a successful BPM program helps enterprises achieve the following:
- accelerate time to market;
- improve cost, productivity and quality;
- improve customer service levels and satisfaction;
- simplify business processes;
- manage risks and meet compliance regulations;
- introduce new process designs faster; and
- cut costs and increase revenues.
BPMS tools form the operating environment that enables and automates the aims and benefits of BPM described above.
These tools help companies implement their business strategies by coordinating business process change and improvement across departments and even with external partners. They enable integration across enterprise systems and enterprise applications such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM).
BPMS tools collect data and run analytics to help companies ascertain which parts of the business process can be automated or changed.
Deployed correctly, BPMS tools also enhance the productivity and morale of employees by automating manual tasks, addressing process bottlenecks and providing them greater visibility into how their work fits into a larger process.
BPMS is considered one of the technologies that helps companies achieve their digital transformation initiatives by providing tools that manage the optimization of existing business processes and the creation of new ones.
Features of BPMS
Standard features found in BPMS suites include the following:
- process engine for modeling processes and web applications;
- data collection and business analytics to enable smart process changes;
- content management system (CMS) for securely storing files;
- collaboration tools, including social collaboration software; and
- cloud or on-premises deployment.
That said, the feature sets of BPMS products are evolving rapidly as vendors scramble to respond to their customers' need to automate both complex and simple processes quickly, make changes in real time and use emerging technologies, such as robotic process automation (RPA) and AI to gain a competitive edge.
Dan Morris, a BPM expert who has written on BPM tools, described the ideal BPMS architecture as a "composite environment" that can "support very rapid change, be technology-agnostic, support automated application generation and allow applications built in any platform to be seamlessly integrated into the solution."
Forrester Research took note of the evolving nature of BPMS in its 2019 Forrester Wave report on BPMS vendors, describing the market as "in transition" and asserting that "most vendors have dropped the moniker BPM" because of its association with "expensive, complex projects that took many months, if not years, to demonstrate value."
Indeed, the consultancy has since renamed BPM as digital process automation (DPA) and divided it into two types: DPA-deep to describe BPMS' traditional focus on automating complex processes and DPA-wide to refer to process automation that is simpler, broader and less expensive.
According to Forrester, companies in the market for DPA-deep capability should look for BPMS vendors that can:
- handle "complex, long-running processes across multiple variables, like local [regulatory] requirements and security," as well as support for high-volume transactions;
- provide support for emerging technologies, like RPA and AI, which may require "building, acquiring or deep partnering;" and
- offer "a modern application architecture" that accommodates cloud-first customers and includes support for the microservices and serverless computing increasingly utilized by process developers.
In addition to being able to handle complex, long-running business processes and incorporate emerging tech, modern BPMS products also feature LCNC development platforms that can be used by professional developers and business users alike to optimize business processes.
Examples of business processes used in BPMS
The business processes where BPMS tools can really help tend to have one or more of these characteristics: They span departmental boundaries, rely on multiple technologies, are bound by compliance requirements and regulations, are long-running and are prone to frequent change. Examples of the business processes that can be improved by BPMS systems include the following:
- account management
- budget tracking and management
- claims management
- compliance management
- customer orders
- employee onboarding
- inventory management
- invoice processing
- performance monitoring
- project tracking
- workflow tracking
BPMS vendors and markets
BPMS specific tools that were popular a few decades ago in the days of service-oriented architecture (SOA) have given way to more nuanced BPM capabilities built on cloud platforms. Key advances include improved workflow automation, new ways to build process models and better capabilities for translating BPMN and BPM+ models into running processes and applications.
The evolution has been years in the making, said Donncha Carroll, a partner in the revenue growth practice of Axiom Consulting Partners. "A decade ago, iBPMS vendors started to add AI, advanced analytics and reporting to their solutions, making them more 'intelligent,' but these systems were inflexible, required a lot of support from IT and developers and became more challenging and costly to maintain over time."
Now more companies are choosing cloud-based SaaS BPM platforms that incorporate low-code functionality and require little or no involvement from IT. This has effectively shifted control from technical resources to business process owners and managers. The result is that more people can access BPMS suites and increase the scope of what can be done. Modern BPMS, in other words, removes the translation layer between the business problem and delivering the right technical solution.
Along with these technical improvements and the democratization of BPM, BPMS tools have expanded their traditional focus on efficiency and cost reduction to also address customer and employee experience enhancement. This makes BPMS an integral part of the digital transformation initiatives many businesses are investing in today.
Another recent development is the incorporation of BPM features in major software platforms. Buyers should be aware that enterprise software platforms that include BPM capabilities tend to be narrower in scope in terms of what they can manage than BPM-specific tools, according to Carroll. As process complexity increases, ERP systems with BPM capabilities become less valuable because the functionality they provide is more limited, he said.
Categories of vendors that offer evolved BPMS products
Many of the traditional BPM vendors have evolved their platforms to take advantage of modern architectures, LCNC development, RPA, process mining and AI capabilities.
Examples of established BPM vendors that have modernized their offerings include the following:
Examples of enterprise software vendors that have added BPMS capabilities through acquisitions or product development include Microsoft, ServiceNow and SAP.
Examples of open source BPMS vendors that have built BPM-related capabilities on an open source core of tools for modeling and implementing business processes include RedHat, JBoss, Business Suite, ProcessMaker, Camunda and Bonitasoft.
Workflow software vendors are also extending their core workflow description, automation and management capabilities to support more rigorous business process descriptions, while ensuring ease of use for other users. Examples include BP Logix, Nintex, Kissflow, Webcon and Zoho.