Financial software, like any technology tool, is only as good as the way it’s used. You can have the most sophisticated business infrastructure in the world, but if your employees aren’t using the systems correctly or according to company policies, it’s a big waste.
Training employees properly and monitoring their performance is obviously important in any organization, but it can be particularly challenging for small business owners who have only so much time in a day and wear many hats.
Automating processes, especially those that affect your cash flow, can help tremendously. Many small businesses do have policies and procedures in place for financial business processes — submitting and processing expense reports, for example, or issuing customer returns — but the challenge lies in enforcement and accountability. That’s where business process management software can help.
What Is BPM Software?
BPM software tools let you create custom software applications to support your specific business processes, without the need for a programmer. These tools grew out of the concept of standardizing manufacturing processes, but are now are used widely in areas like finance, human resources, and product management.
They allow you to standardize any business process by mapping out the steps of the process; documenting each step, including any decisions and action required; defining roles; and assigning activities to specific job descriptions or employees. The resulting applications can be as simple or as complicated as you want — for example, the lengthy checklist/interview process that you go through when you apply for a mortgage over the phone is a custom BPM tool, but you also could create one to simply make sure employees properly enter items into QuickBooks.
How Can It Improve Existing Systems?
BPM software can be used for almost any financial business process, including purchasing, order entry, refunds, customer credit, collections, or the actual accounting/bookkeeping processes. Any area in your business where more control would prevent mistakes, lost revenue, or additional expenses can benefit from business process management. Other benefits include:
- Speed: There’s no need for an employee to remember what to do or to stop and ask;
- Efficiency: It prevents skipped steps;
- Accuracy: BPM reduces errors;
- Compliance: Avoid deviation from company policies and any regulatory compliance requirements;
- Monitoring: Know who did what (or didn’t) and when. Make sure employees adhere to procedures. Identify and address any breakdowns or areas for improvement.
Most BPM solutions can be integrated with your existing systems like CRM, sales management, and e-mail. There are custom templates to get you started and consultants that specialize in these products if you do want expert guidance.
Although many BPM companies, such as Appian, cater to larger enterprise clients, there are several companies offering products designed specifically with small businesses in mind. Vacava RapidBiz, Intalio BPM Business Edition, and ProcessMaker are all geared toward smaller companies that may not even have an in-house IT department.
Finally, implementing a BPM solution doesn’t have to be an enormous financial investment. ProcessMaker is open source software (with paid support plans available) and Intalio BPM starts as low as $30 per user per month.
Laura Leites is managing editor of SmallBizTechnology.com. In addition to writing about technology tools for SMBs, Laura produces SmallBizTechnology.com’s live and virtual events, including the Taste of Technology Small Business Series. Since 2005 she has been using technology to help small businesses grow and market themselves through her company, Workstation Business Support.