The Most Unexpected Success Factor for BPM in Shared Services

Jim Collin’s classic book “Good to Great” is a study of eleven Fortune 500 companies that vastly outperformed their peers over an extended period of time.  This seminal work distills the handful of factors that account for these companies outstanding success.  I re-read the book on vacation and it gave me the idea to analyze the success of Appian’s shared services clients to understand what differentiated the “great” implementations from the merely “good” ones.

Some quick background on BPM and shared services – business process management software is being rapidly adopted by shared service groups and business process outsourcing (BPO) companies to help them differentiate their offerings and provide better service.  Discussions in several LinkedIn groups show a consensus that the relatively easy gains have already been captured.  These have come from process specialization, combining operations for scale, and moving work to lower wage geographies.  Gains going forward are most likely to come from highly flexible information technology systems that make it easy to adapt internal processes to rapidly changing client needs and support continual process improvement.  Creating these systems through business process management software is proving to be a great advantage as it puts the development capability in the hands of business users, minimizing the reliance on IT staff and allowing for short cycle time for changes.  BPM could very well be the “next big thing” for shared services.

Appian clients have adopted our BPM software in classic shared services functions such as financial operations (e.g. order-to-cash, purchase-to-pay, and record-to-report), IT business processes, human resources (e.g. recruit-to-retire), and procurement.  BPO clients are using Appian to develop systems to rapidly take on new business, provide superior service through flexibility, and reduce training needs and staff turnover by masking client system differences behind a common interface.  All have achieved great success as measured by substantial improvements in key operational metrics.  But the extent of success varies based on how rapidly and widely they deploy BPM.  What allowed some clients to expand BPM rapidly while others, despite demonstrable success, expanded slowly?

I summarized my findings about these clients success with BPM in a new white paper titled, “The Five Characteristics of Highly Successful BPM Deployments in Shared Services and BPO.”  Of the five characteristics, the one that surprised me and appeared to most directly affect the adoption rate was “making the link to competitive advantage.”  The “good” implementations did all the things you’d expect such as choosing projects that are not too big or too small, ensuring executive support, and focusing initial projects on easily measured ROI.  Those projects achieved success, but didn’t usually spark broad deployments.  The “great” companies had rapid deployments which drove substantial transformations and outstanding results.  The difference?  Choosing initial projects that showed clear impact on the organization’s competitive advantage.  Good deployments tend to be limited to a functional area with a goal of cost reduction or service improvement.  Great deployments stretch across functional boundaries and result in creating new strengths.  The double-barrel action of exposing multiple groups to more effective and more responsive process, placed in a context of strengthening the company, made the difference.

Case in point is Crawford & Company.  Crawford’s initial application was to revamp core processes in their RepairNet business unit in the UK.  That implementation touched many parts of the company – claims processing, contractor selection, accounting, invoicing, and reporting.  The implementation was a big success, increasing efficiency and improving customer service which made this business process outsourcing company for insurance more competitive.  Higher profits soon followed.   This highly visible success paved the way for Crawford to adopt business process management software from Appian throughout Crawford’s entire worldwide organization.

At Appian, we are dedicated to our client’s success.  “Good” is just not good enough.  We truly believe business process management software can transform a company and make it substantially more competitive.  We look forward to working with you to achieve outcomes that are clearly “great”!

Evan McDonnell

Vice President of Solutions