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Buyer's Guide

by Craig Borowski,
Market Research Associate
Last Updated: March 11, 2017

Business process management: At first glance, this term seems to be a simple description of what bosses, managers and department heads do; they manage the processes of business. The term’s unstated implication is that processes are managed with the aim of increasing efficiency, profitability and/or competitiveness.

But business process management (BPM) is actually a technical term. It still carries some of the same implications noted above—the aim of BPM is to increase a company’s efficiency, profitability and/or competitiveness—but, as a technical term, it focuses specifically on the digitization of business processes. Software and application development play a central role.

(If you're looking for more generic software to simply manage a business, without the technical implications of BPM, that would just be business management software—not at all confusing, right? Don't worry, we'll clear things up.)

What Is BPM?
The 3 Types of BPM Software
Trends in, Direction of BPM Software Market

What Is BPM?

BPM is defined by Gartner as “a discipline that uses various methods to discover, model, analyze, measure, improve and optimize business processes. A business process coordinates the behavior of people, systems, information and things to produce business outcomes in support of a business strategy. Processes can be structured and repeatable or unstructured and variable. Though not required, technologies are often used with BPM. BPM is key to align IT/OT [information/operational technologies] investments to business strategy.”

With the definition out of the way, let’s see what BPM looks like in practice. Compare the following two scenarios to understand what distinguishes BPM from the ordinary and expected activities of running a business.

Two-Year Growth Comparison, With and Without BPM
  Over two-year period Result
Business A (Without BPM)
  • Grew from 50 to 150 employees
  • Changed offices twice, but changed none of its IT organizational structure
  • With each new hire, added one more workstation and purchased one or more additional software licenses
  • Underlying work performed by employees didn’t change
  • Company headcount grew by 200 percent
  • Did not actively seek ways to optimize business processes
  • Growth resulted in few economies of scale
  • Lost market share to competitors with more efficient business processes
Business B (With BPM)
  • Grew from 50 to 60 employees
  • Evaluated new IT in terms of business strategy and departmental goals
  • Switched from Gmail for support requests to an all-in-one customer service platform
  • Tied new service platform into R&D’s bug reporting system
  • Leveraged IT improvements to streamline employee workflows
  • Company headcount grew by 20 percent
  • Used IT purchases to streamline business processes
  • Productivity (profit/employee) grew 200 percent
  • Captured one-third of Business A’s market share

The 3 Types of BPM Software

As you might expect, BPM takes different forms and is shaped by a business’s size, segment and strategy. As a result, software used for BPM is available in many different forms.

You can focus your approach to the BPM software market by looking at it in terms of three general categories outlined by Gartner in a report by analysts Michele Cantara and Rob Dunie: “Select the Right Type of BPM Platform to Achieve Your Application Development, Business Transformation or Digital Business Goals” (content available to Gartner clients).

Gartner’s Three Types of BPM Platform
types of BPM platform
  1. Basic BPM Platforms: As the name implies, these are the most elementary platforms for BPM. They contain tools designed to ensure that new IT applications will lead to the desired business outcomes. These can include basic, user-friendly interfaces—for example, to help test and model workflows—as well as tools supporting the development of applications which increase efficiency.
    • Basic BPM platforms are often chosen by smaller organizations, and many are intended to be used by staff outside the IT department.
  2. BPM Suites (BPMS): BPMSs have a wider scope and include tools used by both IT and non-IT staff. (At this level, BPM initiatives typically require coordination between IT and other business units and departments.) They’re useful for organizations seeking continuous (as opposed to one-off) process refinement and improvement and include options to increase process agility and flexibility.
    • BPM suites are best for organizations that, in order to achieve their BPM goals, need deeper integration with their existing IT architecture.
  3. Intelligent BPM Suites (iBPMS): This category is the most advanced, adding advanced analytics, operational intelligence and rapid application development tools to the BPM and BPMS mix of tools. iBPMSs can increase the speed with which a company goes from insight to action, often with the creation of automated self-adapting, goal-directed processes.
    • iBPMSs are used by organizations that need to incorporate complex, real-time operational intelligence, both internal and external (from partners or customers), in order to effect significant process improvements.

Trends in, Direction of BPM Software Market

If we knew specifically which processes businesses would be managing tomorrow, we’d have retired yesterday… and we wouldn’t have written this Buyer’s Guide today. We can’t predict the future, but we have been observing BPM long enough to understand that these general trends in BPM technology and strategy are likely to continue.

  • Some businesses will fail with one or more aspect of their digital transformation strategies, not because the strategy or IT selection was misguided, but because BPM was not included in the planning. It takes a concerted effort between IT and departmental stakeholders to ensure that the dividends of digital transformation projects are distributed in the form of improved business processes.
  • Creation and exploration of deliberately unstable processes will increase, as companies strive to adapt their workflows and processes to changing customer needs and to a greater variety of more granular customer interaction scenarios.
  • Companies with strict organizational structures will have more difficulty realizing BPM gains and improvements, while more agile companies and those more comfortable with iterative process improvement will get the best return on investment from their BPM improvement initiatives.



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