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Shelter from the Storm: How BPM Projects Can Meet Rising User Expectations

Mobile, BYOD and cloud have converged into a perfect storm of raised user expectation — and nary a corporate IT manager can escape the downpour. 

shutterstock_108962621.jpgThese three disruptive technologies have merged into a cyclone of demand for anywhere, anytime, any device access to enterprise applications. This powerful trend is revolutionizing customer experience, which in turn is driving significant changes in the way architects and process professionals think about business process design.

Business process management (BPM) software is a decade-old technology offering enterprises the ability to deploy automated, intelligent processes. The back office, mired in paperwork since the Industrial Revolution, has embraced BPM and its promise of efficient and compliant processes that eliminate handwritten forms, emailed spreadsheets and not-in-good-order documents.

As word of these benefits spreads throughout the organization, BPM is applied to a wider variety of business challenges, resulting in greater exposure and raising the importance of a well-designed user experience.

Unfortunately, user experience has not historically been a strength of BPM. Yes, BPM solutions often come with fancy form design tools, but corporate BPM teams, while heavy with process experts and business SMEs, rarely include user experience professionals. After all, a form is just a form, right?

Not anymore. BPM users, like other technology consumers, are no longer satisfied with the basic desktop interaction model around which most applications today were designed.

These users carry laptops, tablets and smart phones; they work in airports and coffee shops; they wander in and out of cell phone coverage areas and WiFi hot spots. They use browsers, but would rather use apps; they use email, but rely just as much on SMS. They are more open to change than perhaps any generation that preceded them, but are less tolerant of clunky interfaces and artificial limitations.

Designers of BPM-driven applications, then, have to adapt to this new reality by refocusing on user experience. In doing so, they would do well to consider how the three cyclones are influencing customer expectations:

BYOD

Electronic forms designed for the desktop look and behave quite differently on a smartphone or tablet. While some BPM products will automatically adjust form appearance based on display and form factor, it's better to custom design forms that look great on the devices your users are carrying.

That means that you'll need some way within the form definition to specify that things should be laid out one way on one device and another way on another — not every BPM solution will have this feature. Also keep in mind that some display technologies, like Flash, aren’t available on every device.

Cloud

The cloud has accustomed the user community to life beyond borders; as a result, that on-premises intranet-based BPM server you're running may no longer cut the mustard. Consider moving into the cloud — but be sure that your BPM vendor's cloud offering includes the same features as your existing installation. Pay special attention to addressing the matter of connectivity to your intranet's other applications and databases: this won't work the same way with a cloud app as it does now.

Mobility

Until the whole world is on WiFi, your users will occasionally find themselves without connectivity to your BPM server. Plan a strategy for dealing with your offline mobile users.

In some situations, the ability simply to approve or reject requests via email is sufficient (and is especially useful for executives on the go). Then again, consider an oil pipeline vendor sending techs into the field — well beyond civilization, WiFi or cell coverage — to identify potential trouble spots.

In these and similar scenarios, you'll want the ability for your offline users to access and complete dynamic forms, automatically submitted when connectivity is re-established. Offline form completion is still a pretty rare feature in BPM solutions, so talk with your vendor to understand when that capability might become available and how you can take advantage of it.

To take shelter from the perfect storm, you’ll need to empower your end users — be they co-workers or customers — to control their own experience. That much control is addictive. Once a technology consumer experiences the freedom of secure anytime, anywhere, any device access, she is loath to do without it. Until the business, in partnership with IT and the vendor community, can consistently meet these newly-raised expectations, the rain isn't going to let up.

Image courtesy of Elena Schweitzer (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Interested in reading more on BPM? Read E. Scott's Crossing the Business Process Management Chasm: Three Tips

About the Author

E. Scott Menter is the VP of Business Solutions for BP Logix, a provider of business process management (BPM) solutions to corporate, non-profit, and government organizations. In addition to technology leadership positions in financial services and higher education, Scott also spent over a decade leading his own identity management software firm.

 
 
 
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