To the back office and beyond: New frontiers for BPM (Transcript)

Business Process Management used to be one of the domains of the back office as it helps companies speed up processes like order processing, account origination and regulatory compliance. But in this PEX Network interview, E. Scott Menter, Vice President of Business Solutions at BP Logix explains why this is rapidly changing BPM starts to move closer to the front office and is enabling new ways for companies to interact with their customers.

Editor's note: This is a transcript of a podcast and has been edited for readability.

PEX Network: You have made quite an amusing video about how BP Logix is not THAT BP. But you are not obviously in the business of deep sea oil drilling. Can you tell us a little bit more about what BP Logix actually does?

E. Scott Menter: I sure can. I have to say that the idea of working in a company that has gigantic machines instead of software that holds some appeal. BP Logix has been around since 1995 selling enterprise software products and, for most of the last decade or so, we have been in the BPM space which is business process management.

BPM is no longer just for the back office…

What we are doing is selling software that helps businesses and other types of organizations automate, control and improve their operations. We offer a product called Process Director, which has won a number of awards and the core of that offering of a BPM platform.

PEX Network: Turning specifically to business operations and processes: it has been a volatile and subdued economic environment for quite a number of years now. What do you think 2014 really holds in store businesses and more specifically for Business Process Management?

E. Scott Menter: We have really seen an inflection point and I think it is going to be a fantastic year. We are seeing a ton more energy on a lot of fronts. IT spending is up, mobile and cloud deployments are up, we are seeing more innovation in the BPM space.

The overall software M&A activity is up meaning that there is less money on the bench, there are more people who want to invest on the sell side with more innovative solutions and on the customer side with finding and implementing them.

It is at this point in terms of BPM that the model has really proven itself. The initial advantage of this year, at this stage of development is that nobody is going out on a limb by investing in BPM. In fact, Gartner a year ago pointed out the opposite that if you don’t make a BPM investment that you can expect trouble down the road because your competitors will pass you by. All of those things combine in interesting ways to give me the impression that it is going to be a fantastic year.

PEX Network: like doing an oil change on your car. It is one of those things that sometimes it can be hard to justify investing in but at the same time if you do not invest it can lead to really serious problems down the road.

E. Scott Menter: People tend to view any significant IT investment as maintenance or overhead or something they have to do. One of the nice things that is happening now is that BPM is not only that anymore. In other words it is not just about maintenance or keeping up but it is actually about finding new ways to touch your customers and new ways to do business. When looked at from a front office or P&L perspective then all of the sudden it gets a lot more exciting. It is all contributing to what looks like a pretty good year.

PEX Network: What kind of solutions are you seeing most interest in from perspective clients?

E. Scott Menter: One of the bestthings about BPM - and one of the hardest things to communicate about – is that BPM is essentially a platform. It can do anything – you just need to decided what to do with it. Typically, though, you are not just building a customer a platform and walking away. Instead, you work very closely with your customer to figure out what problem they are trying to solve and to help them solve it and that is implied by your question.

There are some perennial favourites that will just never die. These are things like invoice processing, capital expenditure requests, on-boarding (of a customer or employee). These things will never die. They are popular; virtually every organisation needs them and BPM is very well suited to these types of services.

But we are seeing a trend for BPM to move out from the back office out to the edges of the business. This is being driven by mobility. For instance, if you think about sales people and field techs with iPadsin their hands visiting work sites, quoting customers and doing all of the things that they do, going out on projects and so on, then you realise that being able to extend BPM out to those people gets you a lot closer to your customer and a lot closer to what is generating revenue for your business.

You can even go one step further then this and go directly to your customers and embracing them within your business processes. In a sense you have wrapped your arms around the customer, around the sales person, around the support people and around the back office all through this one solution.

When you talk about BPM and process automation that is one end of it like when you go and do maintenance on the car, but when you talk about really including your customers, sales and support people in with your back office to ensure a continuing cycle of processes that is a whole new animal and one that is becoming increasingly important.

PEX Network: That is a really interesting point that BPM is moving out of the back office and moving a lot closer to the customer. What’s driving that trend?

E. Scott Menter:That is true, it is an interesting trend and probably the most important one that we are seeing right now. The trend is simply that businesses are always looking for ways to leverage their existing technology or find new technology to meet their customers where they are, sell them more products and make them happier.

BPM has taken a few years to blossom in the back office and more and more people within organizations have been exposed to it all the way up into the executive suite. If you look at the early implementations there have been a lot of IT service requests. People may have seen a form or two but otherwise BPM solutions were for folks in the IT or accounting group. At times that has risen vertically throughout the organization, upwards and downwards, and you have seen desk workers get more involved in various kinds of processes all the way up to management being involved in approval processes but also getting management reports from the system and so on. The comfort level has increased internally due to the vertical spread of new technology and it started making people think about how to spread it out horizontally outwards towards the customers and to really turn BPM into a revenue generating tool and not just a back office tool. This is a nice case where you are able to get closer to your customers using technology which you already have and understand without having to go and figure out something brand new.

PEX Network: Turning more specifically to the BPM technology, one of the things companies need to do is purchase BPM software. What kind of advice would you give to organizations out there who are looking to purchase BPM software? What kind of things should they be looking for and what questions should they be asking vendors?

E. Scott Menter: That is a good question. There are two pieces to this. One is what should they be careful of and secondly, what should they directly be looking for?

You want to be careful of companies and products that are selling you BPM either as part of a huge suite that contains a ton of other things because then the focus isn’t there that you might want. Be wary to when the software itself comprises 15% of your total first invoice and the rest is in services. That is bad news because that is going to happen any time you need to change and add anything later on, and you don’t need those costs.

In terms of questions that you would ask – there are the questions you would ask any vendor, like ‘are you likely to be around in six months?’, ‘who else has been successful with your product?’, ‘what awards have you won?’ and ‘what do analysts think of you?’.

But besides those kinds of questions, BPM specific questions include things like can your system help me predict a problem that may occur or is it only going to notify me when I already have one? You certainly want the former if you can find it.

For instance, like almost everyone else in America we are currently buying new health insurance. One of the things that happens is that you have one plan that is $350 and another one that is $650 and you absolutely cannot tell the difference between them.

You can’t figure it out because it is all highly technical and nobody really understands it. The same thing happens in BPM where you see solutions you can buy that are ERP scaled where they are $2 million and eighteen months to deploy. Then there are products that are $100,000 and can be up and running in two days and be producing useful output in six weeks instead of six months.

What is really important for a customer to ask is what is the difference? If I am talking to a vendor that is peddling a $1 million product then ask why is it so much? If I am speaking with a vendor that has a less expensive product why is that, is there something the other guys can do that you can’t? That is important because that spread certainly exists on the market.

Another thing is - and I noticed this just recently in an online forum I participated in - that as a customer when I am using a product am I going to need programmers? In other words, are we going to hire a staff of three sharp programmers or data programmers or whatever it is to build my forums and/or build by workflows or reports or anything else or can I push that down a level to a non-programming paradigm where my analysts or savvy business users can do the configuration directly? It is a really important consideration that is overlooked and only discovered after the fact.

Another question: Can I move processes easily between data centre and Cloud? I might want to have another solution starting in the Cloud and moving it into my data centre later or vice versa. How hard is it going to be for me to do that? Is it the same binary, can I just export out of one place and into another or what is involved especially today where we are in that place where companies are experimenting.

Also the obvious one is will the solution support global devices that my users carry and in what way? Let’s face it, it may not present the same way on an iPhone as it does on your work station screen so what do I need to do to make sure all of that works? My mobile users need an interface that is suitable for them and that they are able to use it either online or off the network. Those are considerations different than a couple of years ago but they are the first questions that we get asked.