Building BPM on a Process Discovery Foundation: Part II of II

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To read Part I of this article, click here.

Discovering the missing processes

That is why many consultants warn about getting too far down the automated process discovery path before thinking through the big picture. If you depend too much on technology, you run the risk of making one of two mistakes, or worse, making both. You might:

  • Find a process flow within an existing ERP or email/spreadsheet-driven process set and replicate it even if it is not the best flow
  • Fail to automate an important process flow because it has not been automated already by less sophisticated automation tools such as email, and is therefore not discoverable

Tim Zonca, Director of Product Marketing at Serena, says Serena overcomes this risk by offering a hybrid of process discovery and lean BPM to help users proactively discover processes while achieving a rapid return. Serena recommends manual process discovery through two workshops. After the first, an application -- delivered on demand -- gets deployed. During the second session the user analyzes and improves on the living BPM solution.

T.J. Leavell, business development manager at the Modus21 consultancy, suggests a three-phase process. He says, "We do the first project and the client watches closely; we work together on the second project; then, third, the client is responsible for the project while Modus21 mentors." Modus21 is not wedded to any particular tool nor does it care if a BPM project results from the initial consultation. It has used Pallas Athena Process Miner, Bluespring process discovery software; and other tools. The key according to Leavell is not to "find out what your process flow is like first."

The integrated approach

Of course the usual suspect list of BPM suppliers plays an important role in the process discovery effort. But no BPM supplier pretends that one tool fits all.

For example, Kevin Haugh, VP of Product Management at Metastorm says most often a project begins with a "point of pain" which can leave no time for all the careful planning noted above. Even some of the process experts "might leave out steps because they are so expert." More often than not the experts point out others that are also involved but know only a very limited step in the flow. So where the obvious problem is (the "point of pain") may not be the best place to begin. Of course Haugh can afford to say have it your way because Metastorm offers the suite, freestanding discovery tools, its own consultancy, and relationships with other consultants.

Malcolm Ross, product manager at Appian, offers a similar multi-pronged approach. Appian has gone the route of a deep integration with the MEGA business process analysis (BPA) product. It is a layered approach in which a high level model and then an organizational/responsibilities roadmap leads to a BPMN diagram and then into Appian. Appian as well as other BPM suites I looked at offers a complete iterative roundtrip capability among the discovery, modeling, development and execution stages. Ross says Appian is "a suite supplier that subscribes to the pureplay approach."

Ivan Alexander, Fujitsu Interstage sales engineering director, also has the advantage of promoting a have it your way approach although currently its APD is offered via professional services engagement only. APD depends heavily on data sources to discover the process flow, especially undocumented and unstructured data. However, for privacy reasons the data is sourced from existing tools. APD accepts data from multiple systems and applications. A side benefit of not using a more typical automated process discovery tool according to Alexander is "You don't have to wait until the sniffing activity takes place." The discovery begins with the last n months of activity, not after the next n months.

Barton George, Lombardi senior Director of Business Development, overviewed the role of the popular Lombardi Blueprint SaaS-enabled modeling service in process discovery. Blueprint Process Discovery includes a series of social-networking-like capabilities and was introduced in the first half of calendar 2009. In one of its multiple available views, Blueprint Process Discovery works and looks like PowerPoint as opposed to IT-centric notation languages. This allows quicker easier involvement of line-department process experts. George realizes that this is not for six-sigma/simulation activity, but the result is a much better way to facilitate discussion between IT and line departments.

The legal/privacy/cultural aspects of process discovery

Jacob Ukelson of ActionBase writes on the ebizQ blog, "The easiest way to do process discovery...(besides being extremely intrusive) is also very difficult including issues of natural language understanding." That's why ActionBase -- as with Serena -- urges a hybrid approach to bridge the discovery gap and analyze and understand processes "in place."

But Ukelson's remarks raise an additional set of issues no matter which approach to process discovery is chosen. The actual process of process discovery has some likely labor-relations, legal and regulatory aspects. In the U.S., this includes adherence to such regulations as Sarbanes-Oxley and HIPPA as well as state-by-state privacy laws and enterprise-by-enterprise labor contracts. Typically in Europe the privacy and worker environment rules are even stricter. So before beginning your process discovery journey, add the legal department to the expert community.

About the Author

Dennis Byron brings three decades of analyst experience to his role as ebizQ's Community Manager for Improving Business Processes. This community covers Business Process Management (BPM), Process Modeling, Process Analysis, and Business Alert Monitoring (BAM), among other topics.

As Community Manager, Byron will blog and podcast to keep the ebizQ community fully informed on the latest news and breakthroughs relevant to enterprise BPM. Byron will be responsible for bringing you breaking news on BPM daily, writing feature articles and sourcing content from other analysts, industry associations and vendors for publication on ebizQ. Finally, each week, Byron will compile the most important news and views in an e-mail newsletter for ebizQ's ever-growing BPM community.

Byron is ideally suited to the job, as he has researched and analyzed all areas of IT and information-systems use for the past 30 years. Byron looks at BPM market dynamics backed up by facts, while taking into account the perspective of the IT and business person. He is a frequent speaker and moderator on business processes, which will also be one of his roles as Community Manager.

Byron was the ERP and Middleware Analyst with the Datapro division of McGraw-Hill and IDC from 1991 to 2006. In these roles, he was the primary analyst for Business Process Management. He has conducted over 500 specific information-systems case studies. He has contributed to Application Development Trends, IT Business Edge, Research 2.0 and other publications.

Byron is also the principal of IT Investment Research, which is aimed at institutional and individual investors in IT, or anyone who enjoys peering under the covers of "the financials," where large companies and emerging IPOs like to bury their most interesting facts. His main area of interest is investment opportunities in enterprise software.

More by Dennis Byron

About ebizQ

ebizQ is the insiderís guide to next-generation business process management. We offer a growing collection of independent editorial articles on BPM trends, issues, challenges and solutions, all targeted to business and IT BPM professionals.

We cover BPM standards, governance, technology and continuous process improvement, as well as process discovery, modeling, simulation and optimization, among many other areas. We follow case management, decision management, business rules management, operational intelligence, complex event processing and other related topics. We closely track important trends such as the rise of social BPM, mobile BPM and BPM in the cloud. We also explore BPMís use in functional areas, such as supply chain and customer management, and in key verticals, such as financial services, health care, insurance and government.

ebizQ's other BPM-oriented content includes podcasts, webcasts, webinars, white papers, a variety of expert blogs, a lively online forum and much more.