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Over-investing in BPM Technology

Friday, May 22, 2009 by Slaughter Development

In an eWeek article, Laura Mooney advocates “investing” in business process management software.  Unfortunately, making yet another technology purchase will only contribute to the methodological problems in an organization.

Weak points in this argument appear in the original article:

Why cut [costs] blindly when there is a software application that will immediately improve process efficiency and employee productivity across the board? Business process management (BPM) software is designed to automate and improve people-intensive business processes—the processes that are often the most manual and therefore the slowest and most cost-intensive.

These two sentences are filled with dangerous assumptions and problematic claims. Consider the following points:

  1. “Don’t cut costs blindly” - Reviewing your options carefully is sound advice, not just about reducing expenses but for any major organizational changes. Ms. Mooney immediately suggests instead of blindly slashing overhead, companies should place faith in new software. Taking swift action without careful examination is always bad. Why oppose blind cost-cutting yet support blind software-purchasing?
  2. Software that immediately improves process efficiency and employee productivity” - Virtually all software systems should eventually improve productivity, but not until after all data is migrated, all personnel are sufficiently trained, all major bugs are identified and resolved, and everything runs smoothly. This transformation may take weeks, months, or even years. An increase in overall work output will not be instant, and in fact there will likely be a decrease in productivity during the transition. Change always requires extra time to adjust.
  3. Software designed to automate and improve people-intensive business processes” - The existence of extensive, well-organized public libraries do not make people smarter. The development of low-calorie, health-conscious meals do not make people thinner. Likewise, no BPM software product will automatically make employees more productive. Stakeholders must find enthusiasm and support to implement positive changes to workflow. The people, not the software, will improve operations.
  4. Processes are the most cost-intensive part of business - Actually, the most expensive part of your operation is probably elements which are not traditionally characterized as business process. How much time do employees spend battling email, listening in on conference calls or attending meetings? How many use tools without proper training? Most of the everyday costs and frustrations with business are tactical, not strategic. Acquiring BPM software sidesteps an important conversation about where stakeholders see waste and aggravation at work.

At Slaughter Development, we do not sell one-size fits-all software solutions. Transforming the processes in your office will not magically occur if you buy an expensive, off-the-shelf product. Change requires commitment and passion, and the most effective agent for change are the employees themselves. Don’t be afraid of costly BPM solutions because you probably do not need them. Instead, reach out to a firm like Slaughter Development to focus on the everyday opportunities to work smarter.

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Like this post? Here are some related entries from The Methodology Blog you might enjoy:

Improvements Without Technology - A recent project with a major institution created tremendous workflow improvements. Ulysses Leaning helped Harris Bank improve business processes without technical changes. Read on »
Untangling Technology - The New York Times recently reported on the rise of usability professionals; individuals dedicated to making technology easier to use. Curiously, these experts are nicknamed “untanglers.” Read on »
IBM Buys Lombardi - Technology giant IBM has made another acquisition. This time it’s Lombardi, an Austin, Texas-based software company whose fantastic product is totally unknown to the people who need it most. Read on »
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