Toward more intelligent operations: BPM in Action event highlights

BPM is now front and center for many organizations, acknowledged by business leaders and experts alike as a necessary ingredient for business growth in the resurgent yet still highly turbulent global economy.

At ebizQ's latest annual BPM in Action virtual conference, some of the industry's most forward-thinking BPM proponents explored emerging developments in the cornerstones of BPM in the 2010s: business event processing, business rules management, decision management and dynamic case management.

The converging roles of business intelligence and event processing were explored in detail by W. Roy Schulte, vice president and distinguished analyst with Gartner Inc., and co-author of "Event Processing: Designing IT Systems for Agile Companies" (McGraw-Hill Osborne Media, 2009).

Moving to an event-driven business culture requires a significant shift in the way organizations are structured and managed, Schulte said. Previously, organizations have been set up along the lines of the military's "command-and-control" structure, designed as a way to see through the fog of war. The challenge now, in Schulte's view, is employing the right kinds of tools and organizational structure to be able to see through the "fog of commerce." Real-time operational intelligence, incorporating data feeds from both external and internal events and driven through analytical systems, is the key to such visibility. To get there, enterprises need to "embed business intelligence directly into business process, prescribing various activities, what's happening at the moment," Schulte said.

That approach is something that quickly gets the attention of upper management, he added: "The notion of intelligence inside of companies is pretty well accepted." But turning this information into actionable analytics is another challenge.

To get to a state in which processes deliver business value, companies need to look at the rules being applied to those processes. Kathy Long, president of Innovative Process Consulting, discussed the importance of achieving a "collective view" of process and rules. She explained why organizations need to employ an approach combining processes and rules, and why managing rules often is a critical component for attaining significant results in key business processes.

"Eighty percent of the benefits seen in processes will come from changes in rules," Long said. That's because even through business processes may be applied across the enterprise, individual departments and business units often have their own rules attached to those processes.

For example, the simple process of paying cell phone bills may differ from one place to another within the same company. Because bills are sometimes handed off from one department to another before eventually landing in accounts payable, it may take 15 days for a particular bill to finally get paid. By applying consistent rules across all departments about what constitutes acceptable cell phone charges, an organization can shorten that process to less than one hour, Long said, demonstrating the process used. "This is where most of our [improvement] opportunities are," she said. "This is where we get reduction in cycle time."

The key: "Understanding the relationships and the connections between the rules and the processes," Long said. "When we do that, then we can get phenomenal results out of our projects."

Embedding more efficient rules within business processes can also lead to better organizational decision-making. However, many companies don't know where to start when it comes to making intelligent decisions based on available actionable data, according to James Taylor, CEO and consultant with Decision Management Solutions, and co-author of "Smart (Enough) Systems: How to Deliver Competitive Advantage by Automating Hidden Decisions" (Prentice Hall, 2007). In Taylor's view, the first step toward smarter and more effective decision making is simple: "Begin with the decision in mind, and work backwards."

This requires figuring out what kinds of decisions are made within the organization, Taylor said, adding that the most important decisions don't necessarily come from the CEO's office. Instead, the repeatable decisions that are made every day in customer contact centers, during sales trips and on production floors are the ones most likely to set the company in a new direction. "While these decisions don't individually contribute a great deal to your bottom line, they make a huge cumulative impact," Taylor said. "They may have relatively low value. But if you do thousands, or hundreds of thousands, per day, they have a cumulative impact."

Another emerging trend in the BPM realm is the return of case management as a key element, as related by Forrester Principal Analyst Craig Le Clair. Dynamic case management helps introduce human management back into production-oriented processes because of the growing need to manage costs and risks, said Le Clair, also author of "How to Succeed in the Enterprise Software Market" (IRM Press, 2005). In addition, in industries of all types, "today's jobs have matured, they're less structured, they're more ad hoc," he said. "In the last two business cycles, we automated a lot of production tasks out of existence; we off-shored a lot of labor. The workers that are left have to have more diversity of knowledge. You really need technology support to do these tasks."

About the Author

Long-time ebizQ contributor Joe McKendrick is a writer and independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. He writes ebizQ's Business Transformation in Action (formerly SOA in Action) blog and is a frequent speaker at industry events.

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