By Brett Stineman, Sr. Product Marketing Manager, EMC
In the never-ending quest to work more productively and increase efficiency, many
companies have implemented technological improvements that led to incremental
gains in their business operations. Many of these initiatives have come in the
form of individual applications aimed at improving specific issues within a business.
Does this approach result in progress? Yes. Does it have the capability to transform
business operations? No.
It is this transformative power that characterizes business process management
(BPM). Rather than simply chipping away at progress, BPM enables organizations
to boost employee productivity, reduce costs, minimize errors, streamline and
automate activities in order to reduce cycle times, and quickly adapt processes
in response to changing business conditions. It does this by providing agile
and flexible tools for designing, deploying and running processes that bring
together people and systems across functional and even organizational boundaries.
BPM further distinguishes itself by enabling organizations to enforce consistency
in the way they operate, and also to adhere to the ever-expanding body of compliance
regulations and laws.
BPM is coming at a good time for business managers who are under pressure to
increase the performance of their operations. These managers are asking themselves
three key questions: How is it possible to better understand existing processes
and transform them into improved processes? How can they scale a process over
time without having to add additional staff? How can a process be accurately
monitored once it is implemented?
As you will see, BPM is able to answer all three of these questions.
Evolution of Business Process Management
It should be noted that BPM has its roots in workflow automation technologies
that were used to help streamline and coordinate routine tasks and approvals
in highly manual processes. Over the last several years, BPM has evolved into
a much more sophisticated technology that far exceeds the more rudimentary capabilities
of workflow automation. Initially, BPM vendors were focused on process execution
and automation, orchestrating both human and system-based activities for complex
processes. Over the past several years, it has become apparent that more comprehensive
functionality is required to truly "manage" processes, so several
inter-related software technologies have come together under the category of
BPM suites: the integration of process analysis and modeling, workflow automation,
systems integration and business activity monitoring now enables organizations
to understand, orchestrate and optimize processes through their entire lifecycle,
as well as ensure that process performance information exists that can be used
to continually improve processes over time.
First, Understand Your Processes
Organizations tend to over-focus on quickly implementing BPM solutions for the
execution and automation of processes to the detriment of proper process discovery
and analysis. While there may be tactical reasons for the rapid deployment of
BPM into the production environment, greater efficiencies can be realized by
"discovering" the current state of the process, then using process
analysis and simulation to design the future, desired state. These capabilities
make it possible to drill down on each process step to better understand what
it does and how it fits within the overall process, and how it helps (or hinders)
the objectives of the process. Simply using visual diagramming tools to look
at the current and future state processes is not enough to enable meaningful
As part of the process analysis environment, advanced BPM suites enable users
to store processes in a centralized repository, creating a process knowledge
base that can be used to truly understand why processes exist, how they work,
and how they fit within the overall goals of the organization. After all, every
process should exist to help the organization achieve its objectives, and a
process repository is essential for identifying whether or not this is indeed
the case. In addition, this allows process information to be accessed by other
personnel and groups within the organization who may be looking to improve their
processes and are evaluating elements of other successfully designed processes.
By utilizing a process repository, critical information that may have previously
resided only in the mind of one individual or group becomes permanently available
to the entire business.
Automation is the Key to Scaling Your Business
As organizations grow, their operations tend to become more complex, and tasks
that were easy to maintain previously become more and more time consuming as
the volume of work increases. Management has two options to deal with growth:
either find ways to become more efficient or add people. BPM offers a way to
increase employee productivity, so that as business increases, the number of
employees does not have to increase proportionally. The key is using a process
engine to orchestrate each running instance of a process, coordinating and routing
individual process instances through the defined set of human workflow, rules-based
automation and system-to-system integration activities. The process engine can
also balance workloads using queue management, as well as ensuring each instance
is progressing through the process using deadline timers.
Fear is natural among employees who feel threatened when they are told their
business processes and job duties are changing. The advent of automation, in
particular, is chilling because it is typically associated with reduced head
count. With this in mind, it is important that employees understand that BPM
is not about eliminating their jobs, but enhancing their value to the company.
BPM provides the ability to eliminate redundant and highly repetitive tasks,
so that employees can focus on higher-value activities. This also enables the
business to grow without having to add a proportional number of employees, so
the goal is not about replacing workers with software but instead about increasing
employee productivity. Once they understand that BPM enables them to take on
new and productive responsibilities, their fear will dissipate.
Do You Really Know How Well Your Business is Performing?
After making sure that processes have been designed correctly, then using a
process engine to manage the process, the next logical step is to monitor process
performance. Business Activity Monitoring (BAM) is designed to provide real-time
insight on processes, by pulling process execution data and comparing the data
against key performance indicators (KPI's) in each process activity. When key
performance indicators are outside of their defined thresholds, alerts are generated.
These alerts are available through graphical dashboards, and they can also be
delivered via email - in addition, alerts can be used to trigger remediation
activities and sub-processes. Through KPI alerts and performance dashboards,
users can view the status of individual orders going through the process, as
well as view overall performance of the process.
Using BAM in conjunction with process analysis, it is possible to create a
process optimization loop, where performance results are compared against process
simulations to find where further refinements of the process will enable improved
performance. It is important to remember that BPM is not a "once-and-done"
solution - rather, it is focused on continuous improvement and adaptation based
on changing business conditions.
What To Look For In A BPM Suite
Given the evolution and expanded meaning of BPM, customers should consider
the major capabilities below, which have been cited by various technology analysts
as key BPM suites functionality, when short listing BPM products.
Process design and analysis - Process modeling tools should provide
functionality that allows both business analysts and process developers to work
collaboratively on process design. From the business side, the modeling environment
should allow process design to include relevant business meta-data, such as
process and task objectives, the roles of people interacting in processes, manual
vs. automated activities, cost and task time information, and key performance
indicators that will allow for proper monitoring of the process. From the IT
side, the modeling environment should allow process design to include technical
implementation details, such as systems-based integration mechanisms and human-based
workflow details; it should also include the ability to create the interfaces
that people involved in the process will use for completing work tasks. From
both perspectives (business and IT), the design environment should include a
process repository that will provide information on processes across the enterprise
and process analysis capabilities, such as dynamic visual and contextual mapping
of processes, a simulation engine and ad hoc reporting.
Standards-based integration - Because BPM systems interact with multiple
applications, they need the ability to use standards-based integration protocols
to connect with external systems, applications and data sources. In addition,
they should comply with prevalent industry standards and BPM specifications
such as BPMN (Business Process Modeling Notation), XPDL (XML Process Definition
Language), and BPEL (Business Process Execution Language). Integration with
EAI products, directories such as Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP),
and external business rules engines will also aid integration efforts.
Process orchestration - The process engine that is part of a BPM suite
needs to be able to manage both human workflow and systems-based activities
equally well. This means having functionality to balance workloads using queue
management, deadline enforcement of time-critical tasks, rules-based automation
capabilities, and system-to-system integration mechanisms. In addition, look
for the ability to effectively deal with long-running processes, scale to meet
high-volume applications and incorporate group collaboration activities within
Business activity monitoring - BAM capabilities within BPM suites provide
organizations real-time access to process performance information, while also
monitoring key performance indicators so they can monitor the status of their
processes to make them more efficient and to improve customer service.
Information management - BPM-run processes must be able to access relevant
information to properly perform their various tasks and activities. Because
such information often includes structured data as well as unstructured content
(images, emails, documents, etc.) the ability to handle both directly within
the process is crucial to BPM effectiveness.
Templates - As with workflow and other technologies, templates accelerate
deployment. Vendors that offer out-of-the-box process flows for vertical industry
business processes like mortgage loan origination, or horizontal ones like invoice
processing cut customers' time-to-market and customization costs.
BPM helps customers improve the efficiency of their business operations and
the productivity of their employees, while providing the ability to control
processes consistently and reliably across multiple organizations, systems and
applications. With BPM suites, organizations now have the ability to manage
and optimize processes using an integrated set of analysis, modeling, orchestration
and monitoring technologies.
About the Author
Brett Stineman is Senior Product Marketing Manager at EMC Corp.