10 Questions To Ask Your BPM Vendor


Printer-friendly version Email this CRN article

Over the last decade, organizations have implemented workflow and, more recently, business process management (BPM) systems to automate many of their key processes. They have re-engineered departmental processes, automated customer-facing processes, supported e-business initiatives and emphasized more complex applications such as mortgage processing, credit-card, HIPAA compliance, and trade and settlement processing. Unfortunately, the available workflow and BPM solutions were only as effective as their ability to be deployed rapidly for faster time to benefit. Certain ERP solutions offered hope in the form of completely integrated processes, but the reality was that ERP solutions required extensive analysis, customization and high implementation costs.

Recently, BPM solutions offering significantly advanced functionality have emerged. In addition to enhanced capabilities, newer solutions can be used to develop and implement more complex applications. As a result, BPM solutions are increasingly being looked at by organizations as frameworks to develop, deploy, monitor and optimize multiple types of process-automation applications, including processes that involve systems and people. But these advancements aren't perfect. Many are overly complex, have too many moving parts, and take too long and cost too much to implement.

Templates Offer Faster Deployment
Customizing BPM solutions to meet specific application requirements represents a significant investment in time and resources for most organizations. While 80 percent of a process is typically standard within a particular industry, the other 20 percent of the process is unique to an individual organization, and provides that organization with real value, intellectual capital and competitive differentiation. Some BPM vendors are responding to this need by going beyond rapid process application-development environments to offer template applications targeted toward specific recurring processes.

While it's inevitable that all BPM applications will require some customization, the extent of this customization and the time to deployment can be reduced significantly by choosing a template application offered by a BPM vendor. An ever increasing number of providers offer prepackaged horizontal and vertical applications that include an initial set of processes, process rules, roles and client interfaces. More advanced templates offer commonly used integration components, sets of business rules, monitoring, analytics and reporting tailored to the needs of that particular application. All of the vendors that offer such applications incorporate their best practices into the analysis, development and deployment of the template applications; the most advanced vendors also have implementation teams and approaches tailored to the specific horizontal or vertical applications. Examples of horizontal template applications include case management, customer service, accounts payable and accounts receivable, USA Patriot Act compliance and benefits administration.

Vertical applications are available for banking, financial services, insurance-claims processing, pharmaceutical and health- care industries. Examples of some of these applications and the vendors offering them include:

  • FileNet: The company has a horizontal case-management solution template that can be implemented in specific vertical applications such as loan processing.
  • Fuego: This firm offers pre-packaged process templates for financial services, insurance, health care, and manufacturing and horizontal-process templates for loan origination, credit issuance and credit processing.
  • Pegasystems: Pegasystems has horizontal applications for managing customer processes and exception management, vertical solution applications for retail and commercial banking, credit-card payment processing, health-care claims processing and health care services.
  • Savvion: Savvion has prepackaged process templates in multiple industries, such as manufacturing, electronics, aerospace, banking, telecom, transportation, government and automotive.
  • Staffware: This vendor has prepackaged process templates for insurance-claims handling, new business and renewals, credit-card, loan and mortgage processing, credit authorization, payment processing, and clinical trials and new product development for the pharmaceutical industry.
  • Quovadx: This company carries vertical-solution templates for disease and case management, transaction management in managed care, clinical trials and HIPAA-compliance applications.
  • Vitria: Vitria boasts HIPAA-compliant claims-processing and care-management applications.

It's advisable to proceed with caution when selecting a template application. Although many vendors claim to offer template applications, some of these templates are nothing more than applications that were implemented for some other customer and retrofitted for your needs. They do not utilize pre-built components and certainly do not offer best practices as part of the application or its deployment. In addition, while templates offer organizations the promise of speeding implementations and improving time to benefit, they may not be suited in environments characterized by the need to preserve a unique culture or innovative processes specific to the company. Organizations that seek out prebuilt templates as a means of driving down costs or reducing complexity of implementations do so at the risk of stifling innovation.

In determining whether to invest in template solutions or to pursue a more customized approach, organizations should ask the following 10 questions:

  • Does the organization operate in an industry or environment that is suited toward adoption of vertical-solution templates?
  • How well-defined are processes within the industry?
  • Do these industry processes involve recurring sets of actions or steps that are repeatable and consistent across organizations?
  • Has the industry moved to adopt standards?
  • Are industry players subject to strict regulatory or compliance requirements that mandate compliance?
  • Does the industry utilize unique metrics or key performance indicators?
  • Does the vendor have demonstrated capabilities in the vertical industry?
  • Does the vendor exhibit an understanding of the relevant business pains, market trends and issues prevalent within the industry?
  • Does the vendor's vertical solution feature process elements or tools that incorporate key requirements within the industry?
  • Does the vendor possess specialized vertical-industry experts or partner with industry specialists to allow organizations to adapt the templates to the unique needs of the organization?

If the answers to these questions indicate that BPM template applications are the right approach for your organization, there are a number of products available to suit your needs. Doculabs' research has uncovered several BPM vendors that have taken the lead in offering vertical solution offerings. Most of the vendors surveyed exhibit an understanding of relevant business pains within an industry.

Quovadx, for example, offers the greatest depth, providing Adaptive Frameworks for fields such as life sciences and health care (provider and payer). These frameworks feature a set of reusable, interoperable components that address specific business problems and manage exception handling issues that arise in scenarios unique to these industries, such as ineffective patient recruitment, deadline tracking, quality control and supply-chain management. The solution also includes a set of process maps and specific tools that automate the clinical trial process and help manage compliance with HIPAA.

Pegasystems has undertaken the ambitious task of developing a set of industry solutions that address key vertical requirements in a wide range of fields, but have the potential for more universal adoption outside of these fields. The vendor has developed industry solutions in the areas of financial services (retail banking, commercial banking and card services) and health care, which accelerate the time to deployment by automating a set of common back-office processes while allowing organizations to manage exceptions by referencing the underlying rules engine of Pegasystems' Process Commander solution.

Fuego offers prepackaged templates for more than 60 different sets of processes across financial services, insurance, manufacturing and telecommunications. Fuego affords organizations a mix of straight-through processing and human intervention by taking a holistic view of business activity as a set of processes that may occur across multiple applications. Consequently, Fuego orchestrates these processes, utilizing an integration framework that communicates directly with the APIs of underlying applications and is not dependent upon the underlying messaging architecture of the application.

Staffware offers templates for the financial services, insurance, pharmaceuticals and telecommunication industries, including mortgage processing, insurance-claims processing, loan processing, credit authorization and payment authorization. They speed development by providing organizations with 80 percent of the key processes in place for these applications.

Savvion provides industry solutions in the areas of consumer packaged goods, health care and pharmaceutical, manufacturing and financial services. Its BusinessManager product delivers more than 30 prepackaged process templates (not full template applications) that incorporate best practices obtained through Savvion's partnerships to speed deployment of common vertical tasks, such as order management and claims processing.

Many other vendors tend to leverage the expertise of solution partners or professional-services firms to develop a proprietary set of process templates. Fujitsu turns to its own professional services arm, Fujitsu Consulting, along with partnerships with several key systems integrators, or embeds its workflow solution into third-party solutions offered by applications vendors such as Blue Martini, Interwoven and SSA, that develop specialized process maps. Similarly, FileNet turns to its network of business partners to develop specific vertical applications built on top of the horizontal case-management solution template, including a generic mapping of process steps and mapping that exist as starting points for more customized development.

If you're planning on moving ahead with a template application for BPM in your organization, Doculabs offers some considerations. Application implementations are not the same as template applications. Look under the hood of any vendor's application offering to determine if it has been implemented at one or two customers, and whether it is being developed again for you. Or is it a true template application with prebuilt components that offer a significant level of functionality that only needs to be adapted slightly to your unique processes? Ask the vendor about its experiences with other customers. Also, ask for the vendor's approach for customizing template applications.

Current industry focus is on financial services and insurance vertical-application templates. If you are involved with financial services, insurance or health care, you're in luck, because the majority of well-developed BPM application templates are in these industries. This is even more reason to evaluate the depth of the applications offered by vendors focusing on these markets. In the near future, organizations in the pharmaceutical, retail, manufacturing, government, and utilities verticals will need to look for BPM vendors with experience in implementing solutions in those markets rather than expect prebuilt applications.

Rapid time to benefit through less development and deployment time is the goal for BPM implementations this year. Interest in BPM strategy and solutions has greatly increased in the past six months, and BPM vendors realize they will not achieve adoption without an effective approach for rapid deployment. Template applications are one effective approach for achieving this objective.

As interest in BPM template applications grows, Doculabs anticipates that more vendors will enter this market in response to customer need for faster deployment. Our 2004 research program includes an evaluation of solutions from the major BPM vendors, and we look forward to seeing their product offerings in this emerging area.

Bill Chambers is a principal analyst, Dennis Shin is a senior analyst and Christine O'Connor is a technical writer with Doculabs (www.doculabs.com), a technology consulting firm that helps organizations reduce the risks associated with technology investment.

Printer-friendly version Email this CRN article