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In this Q & A, Peter Schooff speaks with Forrester Research Senior Analyst Clay Richardson about building more intelligent, more dynamic BPM using process analytics.

PS: As an introduction, exactly what is process analytics?

CR:
Process analytics, as Forrester defines it, is the use of data or analytics--basically, business intelligence-in events to change processes and adapt processes in flight. It's really this combination of business process management, business rules, business intelligence and complex event processing that can be used to make processes much more dynamic as they're executing.

Sometimes you'll hear us refer to process analytics as "adaptive processes" or "self-healing processes." We also hear customers talk about process analytics as "self-optimizing" or "learning" processes.

So there are many different terms, but it's really this combination of different technologies that make processes much more intelligent.

PS: How is process analytics enabling transformational business process initiatives?

CR:
When we look at the history of process transformation or transformation within organizations, a lot of it was more around [this approach]: Send out the hoard of business analysts to analyze what's going on in the organization and identify opportunities for transformation. Usually, when we talked about transformation, it really came down to this massive activity or effort within an organization to actually identify the transformation opportunities and then do them.

When we start talking about predictive analytics, it's really less about having a large team of people going out and trying to figure out what needs to be done. It's become more focused on "Let's look at the data and actually correlate the data with real time, with what's going on with the business processes, and start making some intelligent decisions." So you're seeing organizations use this process analytics capability to actually do more real-time transformation. Instead of waiting a period of months or years to figure out what needs to be done, the process is learning on its own and kind of evolving as time moves forward. In some organizations, this means identifying very critical insights into their processes to actually impact change.

The example I like to use is Wal-Mart. I was reading an article on Wal-Mart, about how they were able to change some of their supply-chain process based on analyzing trends around what people buy during [natural disasters such as] hurricanes. It doesn't sound too positive per se, but the idea was they were able to start looking at these trends and actually adapting their supply-chain process to begin making buys and actually invoking purchases based on the weather. These are some examples of how customers are using process analytics to transform some of their core processes like supply-chain management.

PS: Very interesting. What capabilities exactly are needed to deliver process analytics?

CR:
Two or three years ago, Forrester introduced what we call the "three Bs:" business rules, business process management and business intelligence. At the time, it was more of a visionary concept of these three things coming together. When we laid it out, we were basically saying that we see that there's a need out there for these capabilities. But we really didn't hear a lot of customers say, "I want these 'three Bs.'" We really were saying that we could see there's a natural connection between these three things.

To be effective with process analytics and predictive analytics, you really have to have first, business process so [that in] real time you can control and manage and change, in some cases, what's going on with the processes in flight. So you have it modeled out, it's actually executable, users are interacting with it, it's tied into systems. So the first thing is business process management. The second piece is business rules. The key there is the business rules allow processes and, really, solutions to change on the fly based on specific policies or specific events. So business rules are essential to this in terms of the adaptability and flexibility. But then, the BI piece, the business intelligence, being able to actually glean insight, whether it's through reporting, but more importantly, through events and actually monitoring events and tying those events to rules and then back to process, is really essential.

So those are the three key ingredients when we talk about the "three Bs." We're seeing more customers adopt complex event processing as a key piece of this model around the "three Bs"--business rules, BPM, and business intelligence.

PS: It seems like there's been a lot of uptake and a lot of adoption in the "three Bs." Why would you say that's happening now?

CR :
When we put this research out two or three years ago, we really didn't see a lot of adoption over the first couple of years. And what really happened in the last year is the recession. And a lot of companies woke up to realize, "You know what? We have to have better control. We need to be able to adapt and change on the fly."

[Harvard Business School Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter has] laid out this idea that because of the recession, companies have to not only think outside of the box, they have to think outside of the building. Part of that means having enough information and intelligence tied into your process that you can adapt and change on a dime.

I like to look at the great recession as almost like the movie "Titanic." The great recession was like the iceberg that a lot of organizations hit. They didn't see it coming. They basically got blindsided. In a lot of cases, companies sank. They basically went belly-up because they didn't have the insight--but they also didn't have enough control over their processes or business rules to make changes to the processes to be flexible and adaptive.

Moving forward, we're seeing more companies [demanding that] "I need great insight and visibility into what's going on in the organization. But I also need to tie that visibility to my actual processes and also to the specific business rules." We're hearing more companies demand this almost as a survival strategy. Some are taking it to another level; they see it as the competitive differentiator. Going forward, we expect most companies to have some sort of combination of these three pieces to be able to push the levers and operate within this new dynamic environment.

This Q & A was excerpted from a more in-depth ebizQ podcast. It has been edited for length, clarity and editorial style.



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 pschooff@techtarget.com.

More by Peter Schooff

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.

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