BPM: Impact Your Business

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Introduction



BPM provides a number of capabilities that require a different approach to planning, building, and managing a BPM initiative. You can adopt a traditional project approach, but then you would be missing out on these differentiating capabilities, thereby not realizing BPM's full potential. BPM is not just a collection of advanced tools to implement processes, but a sophisticated platform or framework that impacts the business in numerous ways. So, before you jump in and start planning a standard project approach, make the time to understand just what BPM can do for you.

BPM's differentiating capabilities

A good BPM platform changes the traditional project lifecycle in two ways: first, it opens up very powerful tools to accelerate the various phases of the project; second, it provides a management infrastructure that includes governance and communication. Putting a project on fast track helps the business realize value quicker. A management infrastructure ensures that the value of the new functionality does not degrade over time; in fact, with the adoption of an appropriate set of controls and a process improvement methodology, BPM fosters continuous process improvement.

In traditional project management, there is a lot of emphasis on making sure that the business analysts capture requirements correctly and specify them accurately; that design and architecture conform to the corporate technology stack; that development satisfies quality standards; and that the project does not exceed its budget.

BPM provides the tools and infrastructure that:
  • captures requirements very efficiently and in a way that is natural to the business.
  • translates them into IT specifications with minimal loss of intent.
  • performs impact analysis to identify how systems and applications are affected by the project.
  • provides an integrated development platform that facilitates near codeless development by providing a large set of controls, adapters, and rich technologies such as AJAX.
  • ensure a close match between the end product and the original requirements.

Therefore, a BPM platform shifts the focus from traditional concerns onto the next level of capabilities or competencies. These include developing a common, shared metamodel of the business, strong (but non-intrusive) governance of processes, collaboration, agility, analysis, and operational control. You should expect, even welcome, the new focus that BPM fosters. How do these new competencies influence planning, building, and managing a BPM initiative?

Planning for a BPM initiative

If you have a broad approval to go down the path of BPM, but you are yet to nail down the exact project you want to do, selection of a business process is the first step. You may discover that you really don't have enough information about your business processes. Perhaps the data about process performance is either non-existent or difficult to come by. Such lack of visibility frustrates eager BPM champions. In such cases, you can use anecdotal information to go after the most broken process. However, the best option in these cases is to implement Business Activity Monitoring (BAM) -- the one capability of BPM that provides visibility into business processes, aggregates real-time data into key performance indicators, and enables performance analysis. You cannot model and improve what you don't know.

BAM puts the company on the fast track to process improvement. Companies that implement BAM for the sole purpose of gathering performance data in order to improve processes are also pleasantly surprised to find that the metrics it provides are useful for operational management. In other words, BAM provides payback even before completing a process improvement project.

Change management is a very important aspect of planning for a BPM initiative. While this is true for any project, the innovative nature of BPM intensifies the challenge of change. Important tools that facilitate change management are stakeholder analysis and threats-versus-opportunities (TVO) analysis. Stakeholder analysis forces the project team to identify the key stakeholders and honestly assess their level of support for the project (ranging from 'complete opposition' to 'complete support'). One of the outcomes of the stakeholder analysis is a plan to influence the stakeholders and manage their support. A TVO analysis asks two critical questions: 'What threat do we face if we don't have the capabilities that result from this project?' and, 'What opportunity can we go after if we have the capabilities that result from this project?' By addressing both growth and risk, TVO analysis augments finance-based ROI analysis.

Setting expectations and charting out communications is the final key step in planning a BPM project. The BPM champion must set the following expectations with the stakeholders:

  • Stakeholders should expect a stronger focus on process modeling, information architecture, process analytics, governance, and metadata. This implies that project team members must be prepared to study the business processes in much greater detail than before.
  • Project artifacts will be stored in repositories that the stakeholders must maintain and reuse both in future projects and in the ongoing analysis of operations. For example, one outcome of such a project was that the project champion asked the stakeholders to nominate process stewards who would be responsible for the business process in question, not just for the duration of the project, but also for the continued operation of the improved process. As another example, stakeholders learned to demand references to metadata repositories in any conversation about business processes.
  • When a BPM project is completed, it leaves behind a strong process governance framework that puts the organization on a higher process-maturity level than before. Stakeholders must make process governance a regular part of their day-to-day operations.

The three key steps in planning (selection of a project, change management, and expectation management) are in addition to the standard project planning phases. A successful implementation of BPM shares with other innovative and disruptive methodologies (such as Six Sigma, Lean, and TQM) the need for these special considerations.

Building a BPM application

A BPM application is essentially a process-aware composition of a number of IT assets. The new competencies that BPM offers drive change in the usual steps of an IT project. A highly recommended way to start a BPM project is to measure the state of the business using data supplied by a Business Activity Monitoring (BAM) solution. This data, which takes many forms, can be used in each phase of the project lifecycle. The phases of a BPM project differ from a traditional IT project due to this 'measure first, improve next' philosophy.

Requirements: Business activity monitoring provides information about the performance of your business processes. It supplies hard data on your key performance indicators at a very granular level. This information can flow into the process modeling activities that predominantly drive the requirements phase. There is less emphasis on word documents and spreadsheets to capture requirements. Instead, the project teams focus on capturing the 'as-is' business process, and on specifying all knowledge artifacts that pertain to the process steps. These artifacts include business rules, price sheets, underwriting policies, escalation procedures, operating procedures, etc. Also captured are process flow parameters such as probability distributions at decision points. IT architects, who know the underlying applications and services, can document this knowledge and link IT assets to the process steps. When the BPM platform offers a good framework for supporting process improvement methodologies, process analysts can also capture the requirements for the improved ('to-be') process within the same process modeling environment.

Analysis: The analysis phase in a traditional IT project is inefficient and is typically restricted to IT systems. BAM makes the analysis richer and more meaningful for the business by supplying data about process performance, defects, categories of waste, efficiency of automation, and hand-offs. The result of this analysis is the design of an improved process. BPM's impact analysis capability shows how the improved process differs from the current process. A process repository allows analysts to search existing process assets and reuse whatever is appropriate. BPM supports rapid iterations between the analysis and requirements phases. This is essential because the analysis of the business process drives further refinement of the requirements.

Design: Business architects can search the process repository to select appropriate business services and map them to the process steps. IT architects take that same mapping, but dive deeper by mapping existing IT assets to process steps. These IT assets may be web services, third-party applications, human interfaces, legacy systems, adapters, databases, data warehouses, B2B networks, etc. A governance solution guides best practices in reuse and compliance with enterprise architecture, and is most effective if integrated into the BPM platform.

Implementation: The BPMS can easily translate the process models, with their rich content, into executable code. An IDE that integrates process modeling, workflow modeling, UI design, and EAI makes the development process very fast. Mature BPM platforms provide a complete development environment that includes pre-built controls based on sophisticated technologies such as AJAX.

Managing a BPM initiative

A BPM project should employ standard project management and risk mitigation techniques. Additionally, the project manager or the PMO must update the tollgates to incorporate checks that are specific to BPM. For example, to satisfy the requirements tollgate, an internal audit team should validate the process models and check them for completeness. Since one of the important ideas of BPM is cross-functional processes, the audit team must also check the process model to ensure that it is connected to upstream and downstream processes (which are, by definition, outside the scope of the project). Similarly, they should ensure that the business rules within the decision elements are well-specified and cover all the outcomes.

Apart from customizing the project methodology to take full advantage of BPM competencies, project managers can also use BPM's governance and metadata capabilities to manage the project. Governance ensures compliance with best practices and enterprise architecture, while promoting reuse of both process assets and system assets. Metadata repositories ensure that requirements, process steps, roles, and organizational entities maintain semantic integrity throughout the project lifecycle. For example, either the process data definitions must remain the same across process steps and system dictionaries, or the business analysts must perform semantic mappings.

BPM takes project management one step further by providing control and compliance of the improved business processes (which may be the result of several generational projects). Process control metrics and key performance indicators keep the new processes under control, in compliance to regulation, and in conformance to SLAs. They give operations personnel an excellent set of tools to monitor exceptions, notify, escalate, and perform predictive analysis.

Summary

A well-integrated, mature BPM platform serves as a value-added infrastructure for communication, collaboration, knowledge management, analysis, and continuous process improvement. When the BPM platform is built on top of a service-oriented architecture with a native integration infrastructure, rapid translation of requirements into implementation makes business agility a reality. By employing a 'measure first, improve next' strategy, companies can infuse process management techniques very effectively. BPM provides the business a sophisticated set of capabilities both for executing projects and for managing ongoing operations. To capitalize on the richness and diversity of these BPM capabilities, BPM champions must employ special techniques in the planning, implementation, and management of BPM initiatives.

Dr. Kiran Garimella is VP, Office of the CTO, webMethods, and author of a business novel on BPM, The Power of Process: Unleashing the Source of Competitive Advantage.

About the Author

Kiran Garimella is Vice President, BPM Solutions, Software AG, responsible for strategy and evangelism. He chairs the company’s BPM Advisory Council, a think-tank of independent, external thought leaders in BPM and closely related disciplines. He is a frequent writer and speaker on business, management and technology and contributes to three blogs on BPM. Dr. Garimella is the author of the 2006 business novel, The Power of Process: Unleashing the Source of Competitive Advantage, for senior managers and executives in IT and business. The book has been adopted as a supplemental text at the University of Florida and Georgia State University. Passionate about evangelizing new trends in management and technology, he has spoken at Executive MBA programs for Kellogg’s; Queen’s University, Canada; Notre Dame; the Equipment Leasing Association; and the University of Florida. Dr. Garimella was the Chief Architect for GE Healthcare Financial Services, responsible for BPM, SOA integration of enterprise processes and applications, and business activity monitoring. He also was CIO for GE Healthcare Equipment Finance, where he managed an annual budget of $12MM and a global IT staff. He has also been a senior business architect, project manager, partner, management consultant and assistant professor of business. Dr. Garimella holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry, an MS in Computer Science and a Ph.D. in Decision and Information Sciences from the Warrington College of Business, University of Florida. He is Six-Sigma Green-Belt certified and Black-Belt trained at GE. He serves as an advisor to the International Institute of Business Analysts.

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