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FAQ: Use smart process apps to boost process-management benefits

Associate site editor Caroline de Lacvivier answers frequently asked questions about using smart process apps for business process management.

Smart process applications are an emerging category of applications used to streamline highly variable, "human-centric" business processes. In a 2013 Forrester Wave report, Forrester analysts described smart process apps as "the future of applications."

While traditional business applications were primarily designed for predictable, transactional business processes, smart process apps are capable of handling more complex operational activities, such as human resources and billing.

Smart process management won't directly give companies a competitive advantage, but the approach offers plenty of indirect benefits.

That said, smart process apps are still in their infancy (Forrester is credited with coining the term in late 2012). Following are some answers to frequently asked questions about smart process apps' strengths, weaknesses and potential for smarter business process management (BPM).

What are smart process applications?

Smart process apps are a new and fast-growing kind of application software designed to support loosely structured, changeable and, above all, collaborative business activities. They cut down on the redundancies and inefficiencies inherent in operations that rely on people. In so doing, they tackle an area left unresolved by more traditional enterprise applications, which focus on transactional automation.

Why should business and IT professionals care about smart process apps?

Smart process management won't directly give companies a competitive advantage, but the approach offers plenty of indirect benefits. For one thing, they expedite the mundane, repetitive tasks that sap efficiency. For another, workers who used to focus on such tasks will have time to do other, more important things. In a SearchCIO article, Senior Feature Writer Karen Goulart discusses how smart process apps will play a central role in helping businesses meet growing demand for workplace agility.

In fact, Forrester Research Principal Analyst Craig Le Clair said this new breed of application will transform traditional approaches to BPM, dynamic case management and enterprise content management, among other functions.

How do smart process apps differ from traditional process apps?

The main difference lies in each of their end goals. Traditional process apps aim to diminish human involvement as much as possible. Full automation is the ideal. With smart process apps, people are central. The ultimate goal is to make people more productive and efficient in their daily business work.

What are some benefits of smart process apps?

For one thing, they're lighter than packaged apps. Not only are they quick and easy to deploy, they leverage mobility and provide strong analytics. They also consolidate data, giving all the different files a larger context and allowing workers to find information in centralized locations.

What challenges or pitfalls are associated with smart process apps?

This type of application is still an immature technology, so it doesn't yet have an established set of best practices. As a result, strong change management and training will be critical for the optimal performance. In addition, businesses will have to be willing to examine and change their processes for maximum success.

Another challenge: Not all vendors offer highly robust versions of the technology. At the time of this writing, many products are case-based, able to handle more structured tasks, but ill-equipped to tackle operational activities involving many people and variable tasks.

When should smart process apps be used?

Smart process apps should be used when it's time to change or upgrade systems quickly. Because these apps don't require customization, companies can implement the system much more efficiently than would have been possible with more traditional applications.

Additionally, smart process apps should only be considered for project-based, person-intensive operations. For businesses seeking to automate more structured processes, the traditional approach is best.

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