Author: Marcelo Andrieu, Appian
Processes—also sometimes referred to as workflows—are everywhere in your organization and come in all forms and sizes. They can be simple, like fulfilling an order, or very complex, such as developing a new product. Generally speaking, a process is a series of repeatable steps, tasks, and decisions that achieves an organizational objective. As organizations scale, processes can become increasingly complex, and managing them can be cumbersome.
To manage this complexity and promote agility, many organizations have turned to business process management (BPM). BPM is a people-driven discipline that helps organizations create and manage processes. It focuses on the entire process rather than individual tasks, which helps strengthen performance, KPIs, and outcomes—and results in fewer errors, happier customers, and lower costs.
Modern technology can facilitate a successful BPM discipline. Most business processes rely on applications. By using a unified low-code platform to build powerful business applications that automate rote tasks and connect people, systems, and data, you can seamlessly instill this BPM discipline into your processes. Work is completed faster, more precisely, and more effectively, while reducing human error, costs, and wasted time. One advantage low-code platforms bring is they provide intuitive process modeling tools that make it easy to embrace a BPM mindset and simplify complex processes.
In this article, I’ll explore how BPM and low-code make for a transformative combination.
What is business process management?
BPM isn’t a specific tool or software, but rather a broad discipline that emphasizes five stages of managing your processes:
BPM speaks to processes across all industries and job functions, ranging from lease tracking in real estate, to recording patient data in healthcare, and everything in between. But, as mentioned earlier, the complexity inherent in today’s organizations has made these processes harder and harder to manage. Truly successful BPM therefore requires tech solutions that are not only flexible but also offer enterprise-grade security and scalability as business needs evolve.
The challenges of a traditional BPM approach.
Organizations often use multiple software solutions across a given process and fill the gaps with manual interventions. This wastes employees’ time as they attempt to gather disorganized and disconnected data, navigate a diverse range of applications, manually copy and paste required data from one location to another, or collaborate inefficiently and without proper contextual information.
Processes supported by disjointed software solutions may ultimately get the job done, but they are inefficient, slow, and are more likely to result in significant errors. When employees have to work across multiple siloed solutions, new products and updates get delayed, revenue is held up, customer satisfaction dips, and both BPM efforts and the organization suffer. These processes are also incredibly difficult to measure, repeat, and improve as the business’s needs change. Complex business processes are necessary, but when inadequately supported by software, they can hobble an organization.
How low-code enhances BPM.
With low-code tools, BPM makes processes more efficient, more accurate, and can help reduce time spent on unnecessary manual tasks. Consider a hiring process. Typically, this includes document review, filing, interviews, and more. Organizing these activities into workflows with automated data processing and notifications can streamline the process. An application that automates key tasks throughout the interview cycle—from storing relevant documents, to recording candidate data, or messaging candidates when important documentation is missing, etc.—can spare HR the manual effort of chasing down this information. Candidates and new hires also benefit from automated delivery of information based on their stage within the interview and hiring process.
Ultimately, workflows combine these sorts of simple tasks that don't require human intervention with more complex tasks that can only be completed by humans. Low-code tools can be a tremendous asset in quickly building business applications that automate processes and allow workers to focus on more important matters. These applications are powerful enough to deliver positive impact and real business value at every stage of your BPM discipline.
To optimize processes, organizations first need to understand them in great detail. Traditionally, this requires pulling data from multiple tools, manually tracing the steps in each process, and speaking with the various stakeholders involved. As part of a low-code platform, process mining technology offers a better approach to discovery by using data science and machine learning to analyze systems and log files to create a clear map of what's actually going on in the process. This will help in focusing efforts on the areas most in need of optimization.
Once the existing process is better understood, and any flaws in it are revealed, low-code can be used to better plan out the process. Low-code platforms often include visual process modeling tools, which allow workflows to be “drawn” out, similar to a flow chart, with various components, connectors, and decisions representing the tasks within the workflow. Each element contains either built-in functionality or the ability to add the functionality with low-code objects to create the necessary action, whether through the automation of the tasks or by requiring human intervention. These visual modeling tools can also ensure that each task automatically incorporates business rules or industry regulations, thus putting any future or current compliance concerns to rest.
Once the workflows have been designed, it’s time to put them into action. Drag-and-drop modules and pre-built components improve the speed-to-build and effectiveness of these workflows and also make it easy to replicate them for future use. The pre-designed low-code components also ensure that applications look and work as intended on any device or operating platform without additional work or costs, thanks to cross-platform functionality. Finally, low-code connectors and APIs enable healthy integrations of data sources across all job functions and software platforms. This means that workflows designed with low-code tools can aggregate complete information and insights from various aspects of the business to track performance and improve decision making.
Measuring and analyzing performance.
The process mining tools used in the discovery stage are critical here as well for gauging the efficacy of your new workflow. These aren’t the only ways to measure and analyze performance, however. Low-code platforms can also help build automated tools to visualize process status and reassign tasks in real-time to ensure optimal performance. Plus, low-code platforms can surface data from any source, without formal migration, to allow for the creation of insightful dashboards and dynamic reporting based on unified, granular data and insights.
Enhancing and optimizing.
At this stage, it will be clear where there is still need for improvement. Even with an effective process, new business conditions or unexpected events might occur that demand rapid adjustment. In a traditional coding environment, this could take months to address, as individual developers must patch or re-write the code they developed, or build new apps entirely. With a low-code platform, however, organizations can aggregate past performance data, accessed data, and real-time process data for a full view of process health. Predictive analytics can then inform future processes, and can even be used to create smart, self-optimizing processes.
Low-code and BPM: a powerful combination
BPM as a discipline can help any organization fuel its automation strategy, but you can supercharge your efforts by coupling BPM with a low-code application development platform. With a low-code platform, each stage of BPM can be handled rapidly, without sacrificing security or function. Modeling tools allow for clear, intuitive workflow design, and low-code development makes building and executing those workflows much easier. One Forrester study found that low-code can even speed up app development by 17x, while reducing the cost of development resources by 50%. Ongoing maintenance is simplified with robust data collection in a central location and fast and easy adjustments to low-code components. Built-in and externally verified compliance and security functionality serves to future-proof your processes against a wide range of challenges, whether they be new government regulations, customer demands, or even a global disruption at the scale of the pandemic.
Business process management is a transformative discipline, but can struggle in environments rife with disparate systems, repetitive, manual tasks, and countless other inefficiencies. To run each and every process at its optimal level, organizations need low-code. With this powerful combination of ideology and technology, businesses can create efficient processes that enable unprecedented agility in the face of any obstacle.
Learn more about how low-code powers modern business processes in the BPM Guide.
Date: March 15, 2022