Much has been written about the need to maximize efficiency in our globalized, competitive environment. Doing so requires operational optimization through business process management (BPM). Yet BPM faces challenges:
- Increasingly stringent regulations dictate requirements and place constraints on process flows.
- Mergers and acquisitions drive the integration of disparate processes.
- BPM cuts across all departments and job classifications. Therefore, BPM solutions must cater to a broad range of skills and experience levels.
- By definition, BPM has implications for every process in the enterprise.
BPM-driven actions can seriously impact - positively or negatively - workflows, customer and supplier relations, and IT infrastructures.
Process optimization, as achieved through BPM, requires transparent operations that allow a full understanding of all process inputs, outputs, workflows and constraints. Thus, the modeling of what is done, who does it and which systems are touched by which processes - along with automating these models - are not luxuries. They are operational imperatives.
BPM offerings fall primarily within two categories: business process management suites (BPMS) and business process analysis (BPA) offerings. Both categories include numerous products with valuable features. However, these solutions have notable limitations:
- The user interfaces of the multiple products typically used in a single organization are usually not integrated and, thus, less productive than they could be.
- An interface might serve one type of user well, but, because it is employed across the enterprise, others will likely find it difficult to use.
- The tools usually dont do a good job of integrating all of the information generated by detailed enterprise architecture analyses.
- The linkages between BPM products and increasingly popular model driven development (MDD) solutions used for implementation are nonexistent.
Overcoming these weaknesses requires a BPM platform that provides:
- Multiple interfaces tuned to various user capabilities; this includes provisions for Microsoft Visio users, a Web interface and portal and Windows support.
- Multiple implementation pathways to BPMS workflow engines as well as to enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM) and other mission-critical applications.
- Strong, seamless integration to enterprise architecture and model-driven development solutions.
- Broad support for modeling notations and interoperability.
Because processes have many touch points and typically involve nuances and vague complexities, process experts can be line staff with significant tenure, managers, subject matter experts, business analysts or IT staff. Additionally, the modeling exercise itself has many stages that typically include creation, review and approval of the model. This suggests that modeling requires team and/or workgroup reviews. Organizations can employ widely used modeling tools, such as Visio, to tap the community knowledge gained through these reviews and repurpose it to fulfill BPM objectives.
A process model documents process flow and allows it to be examined more closely. The model can then be used for simulations that reveal fundamental performance characteristics and allow an analyst to predict resource utilization, anticipate bottlenecks, analyze costs and identify redundancies. The simulation also reveals impacts on systems, data and associated applications that must be taken into account prior to the implementation of the new or changed process.
Organizations may have thousands of processes, ranging from informal activities to highly regulated procedures. Thus, the first step typically taken on the road to optimization is to prioritize key processes. Teams then focus on those processes that have the greatest impact on the organization.
In larger organizations, the probability that a single workflow engine, typically based on business process execution language (BPEL) or a proprietary approach, will optimally serve all of an organizations requirements is very low. Consequently, most organizations benefit from rendering workflow or process automation via multiple paths. This makes the use of standard modeling notations, such as BPMN, iDEF and UML essential in order to ensure model transportability and interoperability. Standard model notations also permit the exchange of industry reference models that provide generic business process templates. Organizations can then quickly adopt industry best practices by tailoring a template to their particular need.
A Rigorous Discipline
BPM can help to make organizations more effective and efficient, but it doesnt just happen overnight. BPM is a rigorous discipline that, to be done properly, requires considerable skills, knowledge and tools. Without those elements in place, unintended consequences may outweigh the benefits.
The technology platform for BPM goes beyond modeling and execution engines. It must encompass enterprise-wide modeling and accommodate all users, and the platform should integrate process analysis with enterprise architecture and data modeling. Finally, modeling and architecture of processes should link to multiple workflows and process automation, supporting popular BPM execution suites, ERP and CRM applications, and custom and legacy applications, enabling agility and reusability by fully supporting model-driven development and SOA.
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