BPM: a viable alternative to CRM?

24th Aug 2004

"Achieving customer satisfaction and loyalty has long been the holy grail for the vast majority of businesses, and the idea of technology that can deliver both at the switch of the button is the ticket to fame and fortune for those that can deliver it," says Laura Mooney, Director, Corporate and Product Marketing, Metastorm.

Application vendors have been falling over themselves to produce such a system, and customers have been falling over themselves to purchase these various solutions, in the hope that they can simply plug in, switch on, and deliver huge ROI figures and happy customers in equal quantities.

However, for many companies who have purchased what they assumed would be the answer to these challenges, the reality is far from the dream. Not only are many of these customer relationship management systems far more expensive than they first appear, there are a number of hidden costs and complications that come as part of the package. In many cases consultants are required to implement the solution to fit each organisation’s specific needs (and consultants are inevitably an expensive resource), and integration with disparate legacy systems is often far from simple.

Also, as with most things, an attempt to solve one problem leads to the uncovering of more problems – and before you know it, your simple CRM solution has evolved into something far more complex and expensive than you ever imagined. The reason for this is that customer relationship is not simple – it involves not only customer communication but visibility into the key information needed to service that customer – information that is often locked up in purchase order systems, accounting systems, inventory management systems, audit documents that pass from regional office to HQ, and the list goes on.

Finally, the ultimate reason that many packaged CRM solutions fail to fully meet expectations is because they are designed to address a generic set of customer management processes – and as you well know, your business is far from generic. Your core business processes are unique, your IT framework is unique, and the way you service your customers is unique. Attempting to solve a unique process problem with a turnkey generic solution is destined for failure.

So what is the answer to this? No one wants to implement an expensive, complex, time-consuming software application only to find that it wasn’t what they needed in the first place and have to rip it out and replace it with another system. But if the perfect solution does not exist, what can you do instead? Before jumping feet first into a CRM implementation, Business Process Management (BPM) should be considered as a viable alternative.

Business Process Management been hyped recently for a number of reasons – most notably for its rapid implementation and flexibility to adapt easily to changing process. While many sceptics will say that BPM is just a re-branding of old-school workflow, BPM is actually much more robust than linear workflow and in many cases offers more flexibility than a full CRM system.

While BPM is not a packaged application as such, it is flexible in nature and is easily aligned to the business problem at hand. In many cases, it is the people who are actually going to be using the system who get to design the process – right on their own desktops - rather than a team of external or internal ‘experts’ who are expensive, do not really know the business, and are never going to use the system.

The thought of having business people design their own solutions might sound like a recipe for disaster, but the real advantage of BPM lies in its simplicity and real-time impact. BPM allows the users to ‘map’ processes and systems in a route along their lifecycle, and stages are easily identified and labelled. Each stage in the process is linked to the next, using a desktop architecture that is easy to visualise and test, integrates with the applications and data you already have in place and, best of all, the entire solution can be built in as little as a few days.

Another key advantage of a BPM system is that it ties together the departments and processes that make up your business, while allowing you to analyse and apply intelligence to the outcomes. The data mountain is growing every day, especially in the current climate of legislation and regulation, and there is very little point in gathering information if you are not going to use it to your competitive advantage. Likewise, there is little point in analysing and testing your processes and business systems if you are not going to use the experience to make changes for the better and to solve problems as you go along.

While CRM is of course designed to streamline and analyse those customer-centric processes that are integral to your business strategy, BPM goes much further, steamlining the gamut of your organisation, analysing and allowing you to make changes on the fly, and integrating between departments or applications while adapting to change and growth.

It may sound like I am encouraging you to throw away existing CRM systems that have cost an enormous amount of money and time; this is of course not the case. While BPM is an alternative in some cases to CRM, it is also ideally suited to working alongside an existing CRM system to enable it to integrate with other systems and adapt to the changing climate of your business. BPM can be integrated with existing technology quickly and cheaply with almost immediate ROI.

For any company embarking on the journey toward purchasing and implementing a traditional CRM application, I would encourage you to take some time to think about BPM - it might suit not only your immediate customer management needs, but also provide you with much greater value in a shorter period of time. I think you might be pleasantly surprised.

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