BPM and big data: Exploring the relationship between two key technologies

Editor’s Note: In this Q & A, consultant Steve Weissman speaks with ebizQ’s Peter Schooff about the relationship between big data and BPM. Weissman is principal analyst at the Holly Group, a consulting firm specializing in content, process and information management. The Q & A, excerpted from a longer podcast, has been edited for clarity, length and editorial style.

ebizQ: Everyone’s talking about big data today. How does that impact BPM?

For those who know me, you'll know how unusual this is, but I actually have a two-word answer: It doesn't. I mean, I think the two can exert a gravitational pull on one another. But in terms of what they actually are about, I actually don't think big data and BPM are really part of one another at all.

ebizQ: So let's look on the other side. How would you say BPM impacts big data, if it does?

Well, let's look at it in terms of core capabilities. BPM, to me, is the glue that holds systems together and processes together and people together. We’ve all heard that song and dance in different ways for many, many years, and that's because it's true. For it to be maximally effective, it needs to be carrying something of value.

So to me, the intersection between BPM and big data is that big data then becomes the material that's being carried by the substrate, if you will, that is BPM.

In other words: Big data gives BPM something to route around. That's overly simplistic, perhaps. But the truth to it, at its core, that they really do different things. The value one provides in some ways reflects the value the other provides, because, in an operational sense, they rely on one another. But in terms of business practices and underlying technologies, I think they're actually quite different.

ebizQ: So, then, what is the key to making big data useful in an organization?

Well, there you have a point of intersection, because it's the same thing that makes BPM useful. In terms of the practicality, the data itself has to be useful and that intersection is that BPM can operate at its maximum efficiency and effectiveness. But if it's carrying bad data, then what good is it?

So really what you're talking about is an overall process that says: We’ve got to get our arms around all the data that makes our organization go, and make sure that data is clean and that's its reconciled across those data sources and that the meta-tags are consistent so the right stuff can be found when its needed.

[That way,] the BPM system can then go find what it needs and bring it to where it needs to be go. But again, I think the core competencies are somewhat different, even though they are perhaps joined at the metadata, if you will, since neither of them has a hip.

ebizQ: Everybody is also talking about intelligent BPM. How are big data and intelligent BPM related?

I think they're related under the umbrella of analytics because they both require analytical tools applied on an ongoing basis for them each to be really effective. And, in fact, they can share that data, that metadata, by using it as trigger points.

For instance, [it might involve] looking at the big data in a supply chain database and understanding that if a certain inventory level gets below a certain threshold, it needs to trigger a process so that the factory for it can be resupplied. So working together, they can be very effective.

But again, I think they are different animals. The commonality is analytics and the intersection is that something can happen as a result of those analytics.

Look at satellite telemetry. There's really nothing more mission-critical then the behavior of a satellite in orbit. But capturing and analyzing that telemetric information is quite distinct from getting that information back off the satellite through some process to get it to the controller's workstation. They're heavily dependent on one another for the mission to succeed. What they have in common is that analytical set, but they do two different things and they're each required for it all to work properly.

ebizQ: What would you say are some of the biggest mistakes companies make around big data and BPM?

Oh, without a question it's confusing the two. Every time there is a new buzz phrase, or a hyperbolic balloon that somebody floats, this happens. That's not unusual, so I'm not at all being critical at anybody who is focusing on it to see what all the noise is about.

What I hope is that people understand that these two different technologies are indeed two different technologies. Don’t lose sight of the fact that you’ve got to apply them, assuming that they're relevant to you in a way that actually furthers your business objectives.

In other words, don't adopt one or the other or both just because they happen to be hot. Make sure they're actually going to do something for you. Otherwise, you can find yourself spending lots of time and lots of money and ending up, at best, where you are today.

READER FEEDBACK: Have you used big data and BPM together in your organization? If so, ebizQ editors would like to hear about your experience. Contact Site Editor Anne Stuart at 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 pschooff@techtarget.com.

More by Peter Schooff

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