Let’s face it, we’ve been living with ERP for nearly as long as we’ve been enjoying The Beatles. ERP began bubbling in the 60s, but the name was only coined by Gartner in the 90s, and now, seems like ERP’s all the rage.
There are software vendors who’ve been churning out ERP systems for decades, and they’re still chugging along. Present company included. We have all been enjoying the benefits of ERP to power every corner of our business, from the front door, to our customer’s door – and usually, all before lunch.
But what makes ERP tick? Workflow.
Workflow as a concept is not new. Even before the computer, there were procedures for handling operations within a corporate structure. Take the standard purchase order, for example. An employee notifies their manager that they require a particular item; the manager puts in a requisition, which, depending on their level of authority, may need to be bumped further up the chain until it’s authorized; it’s then handed over to the purchasing coordinator and finally, purchased. That’s workflow – plain and simple.
A workflow can be pretty straightforward or very complex. It’s a business process made up of several sequential tasks performed in a certain order or following a set of rules designed to achieve a goal. The better known processes for which workflows are commonplace, include order processing and fulfillment, sales cycle and campaign management, performance reviews, medical/insurance claims processing, expense reporting, warranty management, invoice processing, and more.
Enter BPM. Automated business process management tools that power your once manual workflows. Implementing BPM forces companies to evaluate their business processes. Questions like “What is the flow of a particular task, what possible scenarios exist, what rules need to be applied at each stage of the process, who is involved at each stage, and what level of authority should they be granted?” Creating a detailed blueprint of business processes, streamlining and regulating the workflow, leads to greater control. Amen.
Today, BPM and workflow functionality are an integral part of modern ERP. It makes sense to implement such process maps and controls early in the game to maximize the benefits of an ERP system. Some ERP vendors offer built-in workflow functionality, while others offer third-party BPM integration. Built-in workflows are known to be more efficient and reliable. While third-party solutions can do the trick, it’s critical that BPM and ERP are in sync, that they understand the technology and processes they’re controlling, and why. Crossed wires, so to speak, are not the basis for any long term relationship between BPM and ERP.
Workflows involve people, not machines. The people involved at all levels of the process should also be involved in the initial mapping out of the processes before they’re implemented. While mapping out the process, you may discover new and better ways to perform tasks or gain insights. BPM tools breathe, giving life, as it were, to ERP. Be it the defining and modeling phase, or collaboration during the definition process to improve system performance as a whole or for individual employees, BPM fosters a sense of “ownership” in each employee. This makes everyone responsible for their part in the process.
BPM tools lay the foundation for ERP systems. They control the flow of information between individuals or departments and direct it to the next processing stage according to an established workflow map. A good system should enable managers to monitor the progress of any process in the organization, handle and escalate exceptions, and generate reports that can be used to enhance performance.
The “perfect recipe” for ERP? Automated business process management tools must be at the top of your list when when shopping around for your next ERP solution.