Recently, I had an interesting discussion with a client on using CRM as a Business Process Management (BPM) tool. The client had been using Dynamics CRM and wanted to understand if/how could her CRM fit with the current BPM tools deployed within the organization.
To provide a measured response to the question, it is important to have base agreement on what truly is BPM. As per Handbook on Business Process Management, BPM is holistic management approach focused on aligning all aspects of an organization with the wants and needs of clients. It promotes business effectiveness and efficiency while striving for innovation, flexibility, and integration with technology. BPM attempts to improve processes continuously. It can therefore be described as a "process optimization process." It is argued that BPM enables organizations to be more efficient, more effective and more capable of change than a functionally focused, traditional hierarchical management approach. The handbook further states that “many BPM articles and pundits often discuss BPM from one of two viewpoints: people and/or technology”.
In light of this definition, the case for Dynamics CRM Online being a BPM tool is strong enough provided we have the right function to target. Take a simple scenario:
One of the customers I worked with wanted to holistically look at their case management lifecycle and achieve process optimization. Just like any other BPM tool, the solution involved defining, modeling, analyzing, improving and controlling. CRM was not only a good fit but also extremely cost effective since all people, process and technology interactions happened inside their CRM application.
On the other hand, I worked with a customer who was interested in optimizing their proposal generation processes using their CRM platform. While technically possible, it was definitely not the best fit since many users and processes were happening outside their CRM application.
Continuing the conversation, let us take a look at what BPM specific capabilities are provided by Dynamics CRM Online. In the latest release, Dynamics CRM Online 2011, there are 2 main options:
Workflows are automated or manual processes that typically run in the background and do not require human intervention to complete. You can create workflows without any coding by using the CRM Online user interface. Workflows have been around since the earliest release of the product and essential to the BPM story.
Dialogs are one of the most exciting set of innovation to be included in the latest release CRM Online 2011. Dialogs allows us to create processes that can take inputs from users and then take relevant actions – all in an interactive and engaging fashion. More than anything else, Dialogs seem to have provided the missing link to the BPM story of CRM Online as it lets the unstructured processes in CRM be structured and optimized. A very good example that I came across recently was enabling the customer service agents use dialogs to enter case details. Without any coding (read this as no additional cost), the users were able to have a interactive and guided process around case entry thereby reducing time to train while increasing the data quality. One thing to note – Dialogs need human intervention – in other words, triggers are not supported for Dialogs. You can read more on Dialogs here.
Plugins make up the 3rd leg of the CRM’s BPM stool. Dialogs and Workflows are both non coding options. Plugins on the other hand, are coded custom business logic that can modify the standard logic within the CRM application. Workflows and Dialogs typically leverage the standard logic. Plugins also provide a much better handle on reusability since they can be executed across different events and entities. You can read more on Plugins here.
The goal of this article was to make you aware of the several components in CRM Online that can be leveraged for BPM type of functions. If you are implementing CRM Online in your organization, considering CRM to drive BPM functions is recommended. You do not pay additional costs, you can do a lot without any additional code development and you have a cloud based solution – well secured and managed in MSFT data centers.