Cloud-based BPM pioneers describe steps for success

Cloud computing may be among today’s hottest IT trends, but executives faced with deciding whether to try cloud-based BPM face plenty of concerns about data security, privacy and other issues. That’s why it’s important to start with a clear strategy.

The first step in developing that strategy, according to early adopters and industry experts, is knowing the business’s processes inside and out—and understanding what improvements you want to make.

“The lesson I’ve learned is that executives and managers know BPM as a buzzword,” says Neal Lohmann, former vice president for business transformation practices and enterprise business architecture at MetLife and co-founder of the CoVis Inc. consultancy. “The word ‘BPM’ gets their attention, but they really want to know how to make [business processes] more effective.”

CHART ALL BUSINESS PROCESSES
“Do a very detailed mapping of your business processes,” advises Carsten Svensson, business process management lead for King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia. “Make sure you have a business case in place and make sure your user community is aligned.”

KAUST mapped every aspect of its admissions processes before moving them from an internal system to a cloud-based system. “If you haven't documented them to the smallest level, then [later] you'll find something you took for granted,” Svensson warns. “The more you document, the less of a problem it will be.” Don’t expect to do to the work overnight, he adds: “You need to set aside a lot of time for it and do a lot of testing.”

In KAUST’s case, that scrutiny helped addressed another of the university’s concerns: what would happen if the school later turned to another vendor. By thoroughly documenting its processes (and keeping the legacy system as a last-resort backup), KAUST can more easily migrate to another vendor if the need arises after implementation.

IDENTIFY CANDIDATES FOR THE CLOUD
It’s especially important to decide what is—and what isn’t--going into the cloud, Lohmann says. "Too many companies are saying, ‘Let’s do BPM’ and not creating a cloud strategy,” he says.

To fully leverage a cloud-based BPM platform, executives must be very clear about which processes that they want streamlined, agrees Abhishek Agrawal, a principal of psHealth, a London-based consultancy.

When it comes to BPM in healthcare, psHealth has found that end users typically don’t naturally think in terms of processes. For that reason, building on a cloud-based platform allows psHealth’s BPM specialists to more easily create prototypes to show end users what new systems would involve. For instance, doctors working on case management are more likely to understand changes and make their needs known if they see prototypes.

THINK ABOUT STARTING IN-HOUSE
With large companies, it makes sense to build a BPM system in an internal cloud available only to employees. “It’s less risky,” says Lohmann, noting that internal clouds can be completely controlled by the company creating them.

From a regulatory perspective, for example, a bank would still own its data, no matter where it outsources its data management. These internal clouds could be accessed from any computer with a web browser, instead of the application running locally on the machine.

Smaller companies, however, can use customer-facing cloud systems to create a competitive advantage--at least, until their competitors architect similar systems or use the same services.

CONSIDER CLOUD SECURITY AND COMPLIANCE ISSUES
Moving to the cloud may mean giving up some control over data security. It’s also important to make sure a cloud-based platform complies with all applicable regulations. When you choose the right service, though, security becomes less of an issue.

Data privacy was definitely a concern for KAUST, because, of course, much of the information that students submit is considered highly sensitive. For that reason, in picking a vendor, “you’re not likely to just go with any mom-and-pop that sets up a website,” Svensson says. “For us, it was important to go with someone who had a strong track record.” As a result of choosing such a vendor, KAUST uses U.S. best practices in data privacy, including the Federal Trade Commission’s Fair Information Practice Principles, which describe the practices organizations should use to collect, use and safeguard personal information.

Health information is even trickier; in many cases, data storage and protection are regulated activities. In fact, one of the biggest cloud-related challenges that Agrawal faces is convincing clients that their data is not only secure, but compliant with all applicable regulations.

BUILD IN LEARNING TIME
Building on a BPM platform involves a learning curve, Agrawal notes. However, with the platform psHealth uses, the company was able to build a case management system for a U.K.-based client in about a month--after the client had spent more than 18 months and the equivalent of more than $1.5 million trying to get its own system off the ground.

KAUST began using its cloud-based admissions system following three or four months of adjustment and hard work. Admissions staffers participated extensively in meetings to document and reach consensus on processes and sequences, which were then aligned to the software’s functionalities. But overall, the implementation was “surprisingly smooth,” says Svensson.

And despite that period of transition, admissions department staffers are much happier with cloud-based BPM than they were with the previous homegrown solution, which Svensson admits was unpopular due to its complexity. As just one example, users had to click through multiple screens just to view an attachment—a problem resolved in the new system.

REAP CLOUD’S BENEFITS
Bottom line: Moving processes to the cloud is worth the effort, according to the pioneers who have already nestled their processes offsite.

First, the financial benefits of using the cloud over an in-house hosted system can be enormous, Agrawal says. psHealth licensed a BPM platform from a U.S. vendor, then built custom systems for its healthcare clients. “The initial cost to get access to a robust, scalable industry-wide platform goes down substantially when you use cloud,” he says. By starting with the platform, multiple user groups can use the asset. In most cases, a client will start with a relatively small project that involves workflow or case management, but will build on the platform several months later to solve another problem.

KAUST not only benefits from knowing what the monthly costs are but also from freed-up hardware capacity, according to Svensson.

And in both cases, the cloud-based BPM applications have been easier to set up than in-house systems would have been—and users liked the change.

But, again, when it comes to moving processes to the cloud, starting from a well-planned foundation is key to success.

“Develop a complete cloud strategy from a service perspective,” advises Lohmann. “You don’t want to be halfway into the cloud. You want to put in a cloud strategy where you can select the criteria [and decide] where you differentiate your company and where you don’t want to differentiate.”

READER FEEDBACK: This feature discusses the importance of know exactly which processes you will—and won’t—move to the cloud. Which processes have you migrated to the cloud, and which have you kept in place? ebizQ would love to know. Contact Site Editor Anne Stuart at editor@ebizq.net.



About the Author

Christine Parizo is a freelance writer specializing in business and technology. She's based in West Springfield, Mass. Contact her at christine@christineparizo.com.

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