EDITOR’S NOTE: In this Q & A, consultant Jeff Kaplan speaks with ebizQ’s Peter Schooff about cloud-based BPM. Kaplan, founder of the ThinkStrategies consulting firm, talks with Schooff about cloud BPM trends, considerations for choosing and deploying the right cloud-based products and common mistakes to avoid. Their conversation, excerpted from an accompanying podcast, has been edited for clarity, length and editorial style.
ebizQ: To kick things off, would you say BPM is a good fit for the cloud?
Better than ever. In the past, there were a number of people who felt that business process management was too complex to be “ported,” so to speak, into a cloud-based or a Software as a Service
[SaaS] type of solution. But now, many of the SaaS offerings have as a feature a business process orientation, which allows the solution to be basically configured to fit within a specific organization's business processes.
So as the state of the art, or the even the science, of SaaS evolves, its ability to accommodate and to address the complexities of business processes within even large-scale enterprises is becoming more and more powerful.
ebizQ: Looking at the market, are there currently stand-alone cloud BPM solutions out there?
There are. As a matter of fact, there's a growing number of them in our Cloud Showplace, which is an online directory that ThinkStrategies founded a few years ago. We have dozens of various types of stand-alone as well as integrated cloud business process management solutions listed within [the site’s BPM].
Again, it's very interesting to note how the features and functions of those various offerings continue to evolve to make them much more user-friendly. In fact, what we're seeing in addition to stand-alone SaaS offerings is a growing assortment of Platform as a Service
[PaaS] solutions, which can allow organizations to basically start from scratch in building a solution to meet their business process management requirements.
ebizQ: You mentioned integration. Can you elaborate on whether cloud vendors essentially embedding BPM into other solutions?
It's kind of akin to what we see in the business intelligence
, or BI, space. There are a number of SaaS vendors who are offering up full-fledged solutions aimed at end users or enterprises, while there's another segment that wants to embed that BI functionality within third-party Software as a Service and even traditional apps.
The same thing holds true here in the BPM space. There are a fair number of providers who are offering solutions aimed at the end-user enterprise, while others are offering the capability to embed their functional capabilities into third-party apps. In either case, what it gives the customer is a greater assortment of alternatives to meet their specific business requirements.
ebizQ: How should a corporate decision-maker should evaluate all of these alternatives for BPM in the cloud?
The good news is that they have plenty of choices. The bad news is that they may be overwhelmed with the variety of choices at their disposal.
What we tried to do with the Cloud Showcase
is sort out the solutions not only by type of application, but by type of industry. So one thing that a corporate decision-maker ought to do is see which of the cloud BPM alternatives has been designed to meet their specific industry requirements.
Secondly, they may want to look at the level of sophistication and scalability of the solution so that they can determine whether it's a good fit based on the scope of the requirements in their organization. There will be some—we’ll call them “simpler”—BPM-type solutions aimed at smaller organizations. At the same time, there are some that are very sophisticated that could deal with the complexities of a large-scale enterprise. So matching up those features and functions to the size of your organization and the complexity of your business processes would be important.
The third issue is always around the track record and success and the specific case study examples that a vendor can offer that can give the corporate decision maker greater confidence that that vendor has been able to truly deliver on their promises. That's obviously the bottom line.
ebizQ: What are some of the reasons BPM might not be a good fit for the cloud in every case?
I'm a guy who looks at everything through cloud-colored glass, so to speak. And as a proponent and advocate for cloud-based alternatives, my bias is always around “not the cloud,” as opposed to “why would the cloud be the wrong idea.”
But there are organizations who still harbor some insecurity about the security issues associated with the cloud. And if they do have those concerns, whether it's for compliance purposes or for cultural purposes, they may find that a cloud-based alternative isn't the right fit for them. Therefore, they probably will want to hold back until they can get more comfortable with the concept.
But for more and more organizations of all sizes across nearly every industry, we are in seeing decision-makers getting more comfortable with the cloud alternative. Not only because of the upfront cost advantages and the ease of deployment, but because they're finding that with the flexibility and the greater accessibility of these applications across a more dispersed workforce, it really does fit better into today's organizational requirements.
ebizQ: What is the best way for a company to test and implement a cloud BPM solution?
That's probably one of the greatest advantages of today's solutions: the whole idea of “try before you buy” and the ability to have greater visibility and transparency into these applications before you make a big bet on rolling it out across your organization.
First and foremost, there are online trials for almost all the leading cloud BPM solutions available today so that you can get a feel for how the cloud works and how it might fit your organization.
Secondly, there's no need to make a big bet even after you've made a decision to move ahead with a particular solution. Instead, you can pilot it in an isolated or limited deployment and see how it fits in that real-world situation.
Then, if you're comfortable, incrementally roll it out across your organization to basically manage specific business processes one at a time—again, mitigating your risk in the process. As it proves itself across those multiple processes, then make plans to deploy it more organization- or enterprise-wide to meet the broader objectives of the organization.
ebizQ: One last question: What are some of the biggest mistakes you've seen in enterprises going into the cloud with BPM?
One speaks to my past point, which is that sometimes they will jump too quickly onto a single business process management solution that may not have been the right fit for their organization. As a result, they get turned off entirely to the cloud alternative because they just happened to pick the wrong pony, so to speak. That's the first issue we see.
Number two, they may jump into it too quickly, without being organizationally prepared to properly utilize the tool, and therefore not taking advantage of all of its features and functions. As a result, they'll find themselves not getting the same level of utilization and value that they originally were hoping for.
The nice thing about these cloud-based solutions is that you can measure the utilization and track how it's being used in ways that were not possible before. Many of the established vendors who have a critical mass of customers are also measuring the use of their applications in such a way as to provide key performance indicators [(KPIs)] to their user bases. That way, they can benchmark their performance and have greater guidance as to how they can maximize the value of these solutions.
So what we think organizations should do is take advantage of their vendors and gain that greater insight so that they can take full advantage of the solutions to meet their business objectives.
Has your organization adopted cloud-based BPM? If so, how’s it working out? If not, why not? ebizQ’s editors would love to hear your opinions and insights. Contact editor@ebizQ.net.
About the Author
Peter Schooff is a former contributing editor for ebizQ, where he also managed the ebizQ Forum for several years. Previously, Peter managed the database operations for a major cigar company, served as writer/editor of an early Internet entertainment site and developed a computer accounting system for several retail stores. Peter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.More by Peter Schooff
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