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BPM: from the user's perspective

This article appears in the issue January 2006 [Volume 15, Issue 1]
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Business process management (BPM) is proving to be a versatile and valuable solution for companies across many sectors. Its use can grow incrementally, and eventually interconnect multiple functional areas.

O.C. Tanner is in the business of employee recognition, through products and services that help companies acknowledge the contributions of their workers. The goal of O.C. Tanner is not just to supply awards and certificates, but also to support organizations in developing a culture of appreciation that creates a sense of value on the part of employees. With more than 10,000 clients, the company faced challenges in establishing, tracking and maintaining its highly customized recognition programs. Growth of its management systems had not kept pace with its increasing business base--the company was getting by with a mix of Microsoft Access databases, Excel spreadsheets, manila folders and a custom Visual Basic workflow application.

Wanting a more robust system for its process management than was provided by the Visual Basic application, O.C. Tanner began exploring BPM solutions.

"When we started out, we did not know what BPM was," says David Berg, senior VP and CIO of O.C. Tanner. "We ended up evaluating 21 companies against our set of criteria." Based on the company's specific needs, the evaluation team found that Fuego was the best match. Consultants from Fuego advised the company to start with a simple process, but O.C. Tanner opted to tackle the new account setup process, a complex but critical part of the business.

In the course of defining its processes, O.C. Tanner also simplified them, in one case reducing a 50-step list to just four steps. The time to get a new customer on-stream dropped from 12 days to seven, and the process became completely visible, as well as more accurate. Next on tap for Fuego at O.C. Tanner is the processing of administrative files, such as lists of employees who are scheduled to get awards at a particular time.

"Developing a BPM system needs to be a collaborative effort," says Berg. "You can't just write specs and throw them over the wall. You need to sit with the businesspeople on a daily basis and learn their processes." He also points out that considerable development effort is required to make the most of a rich functional environment.

BPM fills an important gap in enterprise applications. "We do not address the same needs that ERP, content management or collaboration applications do," says Rick Mattock, VP of product strategy at Fuego, "but we touch all of them." Often, a problem emerges because those applications do not talk with each other, and BPM can help them work together.

Compliance and more

Blue Rhino sought out a BPM solution to support its financial compliance initiative. The company sells propane in tanks for barbequing, and also designs and markets outdoor appliances such as grills and heaters. Its tank exchange program is widely available throughout the United States. Relying on a relatively small IT staff, Blue Rhino wanted to document, implement and test a set of formalized controls in its financial department. For example, bank deposits needed to be verified by several individuals, and the routing needed to be visible. After reviewing a variety of options, the company selected e-Work from Metastorm, a product that has since been rebranded as Metastorm BPM.

Automation was a significant shift for Blue Rhino, which promotes a corporate culture based on trust and interpersonal relationships. In order to make the transition easier for employees, the controls imposed by the system were introduced gradually. At first, deadlines for responses were matched to existing habits, and then they were tightened as employees got used to the process.

In addition to achieving the day-to-day control over financial transactions that Blue Rhino wanted, e-Work has reduced the time requirements for the IT department during audits. The auditor is seated at the e-Work application and can view the routing and dates of various financial transactions.

"Compliance was made easy for Blue Rhino," says Tamria Zertuche, senior director of information systems at Blue Rhino, "because the system offers both visibility and self-documentation." The new compliance system has been well accepted in the financial department, and now other departments are interested in automating their processes. Examples include replacing two paper and fax systems, one for ordering materials used in point of purchase and installation for customers, and another for incident reporting.

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