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Enterprises already know the challenges that come with customizing ERP systems -- particularly when it's time for an upgrade.
What they may not know is that intelligent business process management (intelligent BPM or iBPM) software can help connect their ERP system to other enterprise software and create temporary applications that minimize the need for extensive customization of the ERP.
As an increasing number of organizations seek to overlay their ERP systems with intelligent BPM products, experts advise that they concentrate on solving underlying business problems and modularize to the maximum extent possible.
The ongoing shift by vendors from monolithic systems to more modularized ERP platforms has created an opportunity for enterprises to overlay iBPM products on top of ERP, said Mathias Kirchmer, managing director and co-CEO of Philadelphia-based consultancy BPM-D. ERP vendors are beginning to view their applications as platforms that can be built upon, enabling other tools to manage processes, which opens up opportunities for enterprises, he noted.
"This is an opportunity to introduce a more intelligent way of managing processes, organizing the way you submit a procurement request or organize maintenance," Kirchmer said.
These can be handled with traditional ERP systems or by using more flexible automation approaches or even robotic process automation, transmitting the data simultaneously into ERP modules and other systems with iBPM.
One of the advantages of using intelligent BPM to solve these business processes instead of coding them into the ERP system is the emerging trend in iBPM to turn into a low-code environment.
"This is something these applications have taken very seriously as digital transformation has become more of a standard," said Matthew Tharp, chief evangelist at Bpm'online, a vendor of BPM software for CRM.
Many of these tools are built for the citizen developer, so the user need not be well-trained in ERP systems to create a custom process, he added.
Intelligent BPM powers complex processes
Frequently used processes that can be identified by business users are one place to take advantage of iBPM, and in some cases, they can be complex processes requiring multiple data feeds. One example of a popular process to tackle is creating and updating quotes in the ERP system and managing the rest of the process in a CRM application.
iBPM can orchestrate quote creation and management in the CRM system, integrating product inventory data from ERP in real time, Tharp said. ERP systems can often handle the quote-to-invoice process, but the built-in workflow isn't designed for the end user.
Additionally, iBPM assists to bridge the gaps between systems, such as accounting and tax systems, Tharp said. Not only does it pass the data back and forth, but it also adds a layer of functionality, such as creating a different view of the customer by pulling in data. The idea is to keep the process less focused on the paperwork and more focused on governance, accuracy and other business problems.
When it comes to handling processes with iBPM, the more complex a transaction, the better iBPM can work for it, said Greg Crouse, managing director at Navigant, a Chicago-based professional services consulting firm.
One example is a mortgage, which includes pulling together disparate data sources and getting approvals. As a result, the typical loan process that can take up to 30 days to approve, but using an iBPM system can bring the process down to literally seconds; assuming all the data sources, approvals and rules are included.
Previously, rules engines, data sources and other components would need to be plugged in manually to make decisions, which extended the process.
"What [intelligent BPM systems] do for us is integrate the rules engine and framework to do complex things," Crouse said.
Modularized applications ensure painless maintenance
When enterprises overlay their ERP systems with intelligent BPM applications, experts advise that they keep the applications relatively modularized to make maintenance easier.
Similar to old-school, service-oriented architecture principles, it's a best practice to have separate rules for different data sources, Crouse said. That way, if the data source for something like a satellite feed, changes, it's relatively straightforward to change it rather than reworking the entire rule.
Greg Crousemanaging director, Navigant
Modular rules are especially important as new data feeds surface. For example, an enterprise may want to use a different cloud-based data service or grab data from Google self-driving cars instead of Google Maps, Crouse observed.
As with many other IT projects, overlaying intelligent BPM on top of ERP systems isn't so much about the technology, but about using the technology to solve a business problem, and ultimately making things easier for the end user.
These experts recommend, choosing complex processes, keeping the rules modularized and avoiding extensive ERP customization. This, in their view, helps enable better decision-making in an organization without excessive human intervention.
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