If you've been reviewing the new process automation features in Dynamics CRM 2013, you may be wondering if there is still a need for a BPM (Business Process Management) Suite to manage CRM processes. The simple answer: for advanced processes, yes.

Dynamics CRM 2013 has introduced some exciting new features around process management:

  • Business Process Flows for all entities: a way to map out the stages each entity goes through until completion (no automation, rather a guided, manual process).
  • Synchronous Execution Option for Workflows: this way workflows can get executed right away instead of in the background.
  • Business Rules: rules you can set up on UI forms that change form field data based on user actions.
  • Actions: Behind the scenes actions triggered by other events (requires coding).


So with these new features, can businesses which require complex/advanced workflows accomplish what they need to accomplish without using a third party tool, such as a BPM suite? The answer: not quite.

What can you do with CRM + BPM, that you can't do with CRM alone?

The answer is several things, but here are the main ones:

1. Multiple Paths:

A BPM suite that includes a visual workflow canvas enables you to create workflows with multiple pathways of logical flow. This scenario is a must for many workflow applications. Once you have several pathways that split, you need a BPM tool to set this up.

2. Loops:

Handling loops properly, such as an approval cycle, requires a BPM tool. Using a BPM tool, you have full control over the behavior of data within the loop, and exit conditions.

3. Modeling

The benefit of a BPM's Visual Workflow Canvas for 1. and 2. above goes beyond functionality. The ability to model and map a workflow on a visual canvas gives process developers a much better view of their process. It makes workflows more intuitive and understandable, and enables business users to model workflows based on flow diagrams that are subsequently implemented by developers. The step after step process and BPF features of Dynamics CRM 2013 are still linear 1D frameworks, and do not reach the 2D modeling capabilities of a BPM suite.

4. Integration

This is the real difference. A BPM suite enables you to create CRM workflows which integrate with your other systems, such as ERP, SharePoint, DBs and other LoB systems. Using BPM software, this integration can be accomplished via GUI, with out-of-the-box connectors, as opposed to in CRM alone, which can also be set up for integration, but only via expensive coding projects. For mid-large sized enterprises, integrating Dynamics CRM with such external systems is a must, as integration connects, as opposed to isolates their CRM from the rest of the organisation. Many advanced, and even more basic CRM processes need to be integrated with such systems in order for the business to function.

5. Unstructured Processes

BPM Suites (specifically iBPMS - Intelligent BPM Suites, as defined by Garter), now include the very practical capability of being able to modify the flow of a process while the process is executing "on-the-fly". BPM Unstructured features include dynamically assigning tasks, changing process flow to another branch based on human decisions, automatically changing flow based on real-time analytics, and even choosing from a set of sub-processes on the spot. These features are not part a standard CRM functionality, and they are only available in leading BPM products. For many organisations, they give users the agility they need in order to make processes relevant and effective.

6. External Triggering and Access for Common CRM Scenarios

Many CRM processes need to be triggered or available via external portals, such as a company website or customer service portal. A BPM Suite includes the ability to create web forms that are published on such portals and out-of-the-box Web Service, WCF and other Listener activities that can trigger processes according to actions on external portals. This functionality is crucial for common CRM scenarios, including:

  • Web Form-to CRM Lead Automation
  • Customer Service and Ticketing on a Support Portal
  • Internal Company Portals which are linked to CRM Activity

There are additional capabilities of a BPM suite which provide much needed functionality above and beyond the out-of-the-box process features now included in Dynamics CRM 2013. They include process analytics, discovery, mobile, social and error handling tools to name some. These tools are the bread and butter of BPM suites, and that's no wonder - BPM is still the leading way to manage business processes. Of course, you can always code your way through these capabilities in .NET using CRM alone, but for many features that come out-of-the-box in BPM, it would take teams months if not years for developers to implement in CRM, not to mention the cost of maintenance and upgrades.

Fortunately, there are BPM suites that integrate with CRM. PNMsoft SCE specifically integrates within Dynamics CRM 2011 and 2013 as an imported solution. You can manage SCE processes within CRM, and you can design and customise them with a great visual workflow canvas. Here's more on SCE: http://www.pnmsoft.com/technology/bpm-for-dynamics-crm/. Here what it looks like inside Dynamics CRM:

So to sum up, for basic process functionality, it's best to keep things simple and within your CRM. For advanced workflows which travel across your organisation, include complex logic, loops, branches and other systems, CRM + BPM is the way to go.

That's all for now,

Eli Stutz

Head of Knowledge and Collaboration, PNMsoft