It's no surprise that business intelligence (BI) is top of the list again for CIOs. More visibility into operations, more real-time information, more knowledgeable employees - these are all critical to success. But leading organizations should not stop there. As business operations become increasingly more complex in the global environment, enterprises require enhanced BI at the deepest level - embedded within essential business processes. How is this accomplished? By combining BI with process or workflow design tools, you can create and implement "smarter" business processes that not only monitor and display information, but also anticipate the need for decision-making and supply just the right information to support those decisions during real-time operations. This is known as process-driven BI.If you analyze a typical business process, you will find that, fundamentally, business interaction is about events that occur and how businesses respond to such events. For example, a customer calls with an inquiry. A shipment is received. An order is placed. These are but a few of the thousands of events occurring every day within a typical enterprise. How well these events are handled is a true measure of business efficiency and customer satisfaction.

For example, how intelligently a business responds to the arrival of a shipment depends on many factors. Is the shipment on time, early, or late? Is the quantity correct? Does the shipment require special handling or packaging? Who should be notified about the shipment? Should payment be authorized or adjusted because something was missing from the order? In this simplistic example, an event called "shipment arrival" can trigger different responses that involve intelligent decision-making based on a variety of conditions.

With process-driven BI, decision-making is a fundamental aspect of any operational business process. As such, decision-making capabilities and analytics are embedded into the design of a process, not added after the fact or in reaction to processes that do not work efficiently. With this type of intelligent process design, the need for decision-making is anticipated as an integral part of each process, resulting in business processes that work smarter, not harder, in improving business efficiency and performance.

What Makes a Business Process "Smart"?

Typically, a business process consists of one or more events. An event is a message that indicates a real-world business event has occurred. Events may be high level, without application dependencies, such as request customer billing address; or they may be low level and application specific, such as "update billing address in SAP." They may be fire-and-forget notifications that a business event has occurred. Or, many events may be requests for which responses are expected.

As an event occurs and travels through its lifecycle within the enterprise, a smart business process will generate many possible outputs to each event, enabling people or other processes to take action as required. These outputs may include:

  • Alerts - providing users with notification when analytics produce certain results, allowing users to resolve issues as they unfold in real time.
  • Analytics - embedding analysis in order to inform users or determine how to automatically manage the process workflow based on results.
  • Data visualization - enabling users to view the process at multiple points throughout the event and decide how data is produced, delivered and designed.
  • Reporting - aligning BI with decision-making more tightly than ever before, enabling users to determine the precise events or conditions that trigger the need for a report.

Intelligent Process Design

To date, developers have been hampered by the lack of tools available with which to incorporate decision-making into the design of a business process. Combining integrated process design with BI had previously not been supported from a single design time environment; process design was the purview of one kind of programming tool and BI another.

The optimum solution enables business enterprises to build and manage their business processes end to end, the way real-world business processes run. Process improvement is achieved by designing processes that incorporate the intelligence necessary to create and disseminate information, make decisions, or take differing courses of action, depending upon the event unfolding. This intelligence is directly embedded into an operational business process and can be reviewed or modified in collaboration with a business process owner at design time from a single process design environment. Processes can be designed, tested and put into production holistically, not as piece-parts or afterthoughts, thus creating smarter and more cost-effective processes from the outset.

By creating and deploying the BI aspects of any process as services that may be treated independently, organizations eliminate the need to rip, replace or rewrite entire applications in order to improve them. Once prototyped, developers and nondevelopers alike can create and enrich these processes using graphical modeling tools without guesswork or materially changing the process owner's intent of how a business process should work or react to different kinds of events.

Efficiency at the Deepest Level

Combining operational BI with business process design and deployment arms your people and processes with the precise information they need to be proactive. By anticipating the wide variety of events that comprise every operational business process, employees can respond more decisively to events as they occur in real time, and business processes can interact smoothly with other related processes without requiring manual intervention. Fine-tuning efficiency at the business process level reduces costs, saves time, reduces errors and rework, and results in improved overall agility, responsiveness and profitability.