The CFO and his team are responsible for the financial health of the company, which entails everything from keeping track of sales, purchases, payroll and operating expenses to compiling data for the IRS and government regulators and overseeing investment strategies to ensure future growth. So to effectively manage the money, they not only have to have visibility into how the operation is running, but also the ability to analyze pertinent data to make informed decisions about the financial well-being of the company.
According to finance leaders and industry experts, a well-designed business process management (BPM) system can enable the CFO to successfully make these crucial decisions. But for many finance executives, it can be a challenge to figure out effective BPM best practices and create strategies to buy, implement and use BPM tools.
Try BPM tools before buying
First, companies should create a sense of urgency for change in the organization before moving forward with BPM projects, said John Jeston, managing partner at Management By Process in Australia, and a former financial controller.
Then when it comes time to choose a BPM tool, it's important to incorporate a demonstration into the review process, said Glen Katlein, a partner at B2B CFO Partners LLC, a Phoenix, Arizona-based firm that provides CFO services to emerging growth and mid-market companies. Katlein explained that companies should provide software vendors with actual examples of desired results and ask to work through company-provided scenarios with the vendor's BPM tools.
"Too many times vendors say their products will do something, and you rely on the thoroughness of the questions and the vendor saying 'It can be done.' But you didn't truly test or see the vendor's ability to do it," said Katlein, a former senior vice president of finance and line of business CFO at Citigroup (previously Associates First Capital Corp.) as well as a former vice president of finance and region CFO at Bank of America. "That's the biggest mistake I've seen happen."
Organizations should also have a standard set of questions that they ask each BPM software vendor being considered, said Mary Lay, a certified public accountant and formerly the CFO at Meret Optical Communications Inc.
While Lay, also a partner at B2B CFO, encourages companies to research vendors online, she warned against getting caught up in flashy features and letting business outcomes fall by the wayside. "Don't go with the first one that looks like it has all the bells and whistles because it may be a great product but it might not work for your company. You have to sit down and analyze [your] business needs and where you want to take it in five years," she said. "Look at what type of processes will help increase your business."
If companies don't have the expertise in-house to determine the best product, Lay suggested pulling in trusted consultants who can do the research and talk to vendors in their language. "Then the consultant can come back to the CFO or whoever's driving the [BPM] project and say, 'I talked to six vendors and here are the pros and cons of all of them, and let's sit down and make a decision,'" she said.
Obtain user buy-in before BPM implementation
Another BPM best practice: After selecting a product but before customization and implementation, the executive driving the BPM project should form a team that consists of key users who will participate in establishing the BPM objectives, Katlein said. This team will also serve to get user buy-in to the objectives and design.
"Once you have user buy-in … then you [can] get user reps on the team sharing responsibility for implementation," Katlein said. "At [one company I worked at], we went through a process of meetings with users to share the corporate objectives, ask for input on those objectives and get input on the design, which also takes into consideration giving a test case to the vendor. So we did that design process before going too far with our vendor."
Lay agreed that buy-in from employees throughout the organization is crucial in a successful BPM project.
"It's very important to get the users in on it, so they buy into it, because if management just says, 'We're going to use this tool and it's really going to make your life easier,' it will backfire," she said.
Provide adequate end-user training for strong adoption
Another best practice, Lay said, regardless of whether finance or IT is driving the project, is for the entire company to be involved to ensure a smooth implementation.
"If you don't include everyone, you'll miss somebody and it's going to do something to that person's job that will impact the company, and you won't even know about it," she said. "You'll think everything is great, but that employee will come back and say, 'This information that I use every day or every week is gone.'"
Jeston said once a company has redesigned its new business processes, it has to ensure that the people most affected by the change are committed to making the change happen and that everyone in the organization accepts the new processes.
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Another key to a successful implementation is comprehensive training so that users feel reasonably proficient with the new process before they're expected to use it, Katlein said.
"You can have a great implementation, and then you roll it out to all your employees and they want to know how to use it," he said. "Having key user buy-in into the design that those users share with their colleagues … will go a long way toward other users accepting the change. Then by offering training and allowing time for them to be comfortable with it before they're expected to use it has a significant effect on acceptance."
Lay added another BPM best practice: The person training users should be a representative of the vendor or a consultant who is certified in the software.
"The managers need to be trained at one level and the users need to be trained at another level," she said. "But you need to have the training done by the people who know the system inside and out."
About the author:
Linda Rosencrance has written about technology for more than 10 years and has been a reporter for more than 20. A former Computerworld reporter, she is a freelance writer in Massachusetts and also an author of several true crime books.