Digital transformation is a frequent buzzword in business today, but there’s considerable debate about how to define it, much less how to achieve it. Most definitions agree on a general outline: Business transformation is the widespread integration and application of digital technologies in ways that lead to fundamental changes at all levels of operation.
One thing that’s evident is that digital transformation isn’t the same as simply digitization. In June 2016, technology and business strategist Dion Hinchcliffe was quoted as saying: “Digitization was ‘paving the cowpath,’ using digital tools to automate and improve the existing way of working without really altering it fundamentally… Transformation is more a caterpillar to butterfly process, moving gracefully from one way of working to an entirely new one.” Or maybe to unmix the metaphors, the transformation is more like blazing an entirely new trail.
Business process management (BPM) has long been associated with the “paving the cowpath” activities of the business world—automating existing processes that previously were done manually to achieve operational goals such as improving efficiency and reducing costs. While important goals, they remain at the operational level. They don’t rise to the strategic levels that characterize digital transformation.
Recently, however, we’ve seen the emergence of BPM technologies for businesses that offer greater flexibility, ease of use, and the ability to interoperate with other classes of business software. As a result, the use of BPM process-based platforms can now be taken seriously as a way for companies of all kinds to advance strategic ambitions such as improving customer satisfaction, enabling the creation of new services, forging new supply and distribution chain relationships, and boosting revenues.
Executives are often unaware of the emerging capabilities of BPM, so they still aren’t considering BPM technology as part of their digital transformation efforts. Instead, what’s happening is that the growth in strategic uses of BPM platforms is occurring almost automatically, or at least without a conscious push by company management.
Consider these three quick examples:
A major U.S.-based publishing company deployed a flexible BPM application to manage its advertising programs. The publisher’s goals were classically operational: help employees work more efficiently with advertisers, reduce costs, and improve margins.
Employees soon found it was easier to provide advertisers with the information they needed, faster—and advertising customers began expressing greater satisfaction with the level of service they were receiving. Without knowing it, the publishing company was using its BPM system to reap strategic benefits.
The publishing company’s executives then went a step further, turning the faster feedback from their advertising customers to build new value-added products that represented increased revenue for the publishing company, as well as providing important value to the advertising customers. These benefits all belong to the realm of strategic value.
In the insurance industry, the use of BPM technology started as a way to automate the process of handling insurance claims, which were largely managed manually. The goals were to make the claims process faster and more efficient—a purely operational goal for a BPM application.
Quite quickly, insurance companies realized that their initial BPM projects were enabling them to provide better service to their customers. They could build new user interfaces that allowed customers to submit claims online, which most people prefer. Beyond that, they could use the time they saved from automating the manual processes to create and offer new kinds of insurance services to both existing and prospective customers.
An energy agency in Europe turned to a BPM platform to automate its energy reporting and forecasting, especially as more variable solar and wind power joined its mix of energy generation and distribution systems. Their BPM applications helped improve the data integration processes, making it faster, more accurate, and more secure.
By reducing the time that operators had to spend on analysis and reporting functions, the agency was able to offer its final Transmission System Operator (TSO) customers more complex analyses using up to 10 times more data. This new level of reporting provided significant strategic value to the energy agency’s customers.
As these far-flung examples demonstrate, BPM solutions originally adopted for strictly operational reasons are now able to help further strategic aspirations, as well. Yes, BPM is still helping to boost productivity and efficiency while cutting costs, but it’s also having a measurable effect on more sophisticated strategic goals: improved customer satisfaction, higher revenues, the ability to develop and deploy entirely new products and services, and even new modes of product and service delivery. These strategic gains clearly demonstrate the potential role for BPM in larger digital transformation endeavors.
Miguel Valdés Faura is the CEO and co-founder of Bonitasoft. Follow him @MiguelValdes on Twitter, or contact him by email at miguel.valdes[at]bonitasoft.com.