In Focus: Survey Says, 'Follow the BPM Template'... to a Point - InformationWeek

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In Focus: Survey Says, 'Follow the BPM Template'... to a Point

Are business process management (BPM) templates and frameworks useful and timesaving as advertised, or do they defeat desired BPM flexibility and quash company differentiation?

Many business process management (BPM) vendors offer templates, frameworks or even full-blown "applications" aimed at helping you jump start process automation and management initiatives. Are they useful and timesaving as advertised, or do they defeat desired BPM flexibility and quash company differentiation? Delphi Group recently completed a survey of more than 100 firms engaged in either using or evaluating BPM solutions. Though responses varied, several key points emerged. Among these was a majority view that templates offer an effective means for accelerating BPM deployments.

Does this mean survey respondents simply want to plug in the template and go? Not quite. The majority (44 percent) agreed templates save time, but only if they can be "significantly customized" (see below). In all, 98 percent of the firms surveyed responded favorably to the notion of templates, which should be of comfort to the many BPM vendors who have pegged their go-to-market strategy on pre-defined templates. Among all 111 users surveyed, about a third said they would "definitely" be more likely to purchase a solution accompanied by a template than a purely horizontal solution lacking any vertical or domain orientation. This camp jumps to over two thirds when adding those who said they would "sometimes" be more likely to opt for a solution with templates.

Can Pre-Defined Process Templates Be Used to Accelerate BPM Deployments?
30% Yes, they are effective for transferring process knowledge
44% Yes, assuming templates can be significantly customized
12% Maybe, but only for simple processes like expense reimbursement
12% Maybe, but only for standardized processes not unique to our firm
1% No, there are no viable standardized processes
1% No, there is no way templates would work

Source: Delphi Group; 111 respondents

In some ways, templates run counter to the very idea of BPM because the more elements of the process they prescribe, the more they might hamper flexibility, creativity and differentiation. Freeing processes from the limitations of legacy systems is precisely the problem BPM was invented to solve--thus the desire for customizable templates. In many cases, though, one could argue that processes aren't likely to become a source of company differentiation. For instance, one of the more popular examples is of templates designed to help firms with Sarbanes-Oxley Act compliance.

Nearly every BPM vendor offers some form of "SOX" template, ranging from a basic set of process maps to separately packaged/branded offerings complete with specific reports, GUI screens and validated processes such as those for managing the Sarbanes-Oxley audit processes. Among most firms, compliance with Sarbanes-Oxley is not viewed as an opportunity for building competitive advantage, but rather a business necessity; it's seen as all "stick" and no "carrot." It's not surprising, then, that respondents put SOX at the top of the list of templates that would be of most interest (see below).

Which Process Templates Would Be of Most Interest to Your Company?
13% Sarbanes-Oxley Compliance
12% General A/P (billing disputes)
12% New customer or service provisioning
11% Procure-to-Pay (supplier)
10% New hire/employee provisioning
10% Software development
9% Expense reimbursement
9% Order-to-cash (customer)
9% Underwriting or claims processing
5% Other

Source: Delphi Group; 111 respondents

What should you look for and look out for when it comes to templates? At one extreme, there are vendors who have a large number of relatively shallow process templates, which opens the question of commitment to any given market segment. Vendors who are truly focused on a specific industry vertical or business domain invariably offer a higher level of detail and expertise through their templates, going well beyond simple process maps to include integration adapters and basic components built on the core BPM platform.

At the opposite extreme are the few vendors who are going beyond the idea of templates into frameworks or more complete applications. In contrast to templates, which are typically delivered either as part of a professional services package or included free with the purchase of the core product, some frameworks and "applications" are sold as separately licensed products built on the BPM platform.

Some vendors offer both templates and process "apps," with the most obvious distinction being a specific product lifecycle, where support and upgrades are provided in exchange for an annual maintenance fee. Among survey respondents, only one in 10 indicated they expected to pay a maintenance fee with any process template they would buy. Further, while more than three in 10 respondents said they would "definitely not" agree to a maintenance fee in exchange for support and upgrades, nearly half were "neutral" on the idea. The framework/application approach is very new to the BPM market, so it remains to be seen whether it succeeds and wins over would-be buyers.

Delphi Group plans to publish "Business Process Templates: User Experiences and Expectations" on October 15, and the full report and a presentation on the subject will be shared at the company's upcoming "Business Process Excellence Summit" in San Diego, October 17-19. For more information, visit: http://www.delphigroup.com/events/05_bpx/index.htm.

About the Authors: Nathaniel Palmer is Chief Analyst at Delphi Group and Doug Henschen is Editor of Intelligent Enterprise.

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