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Microservices Journal: Article

BPM Without Barriers

The foundation of BPM includes time-tested technologies for managing both workflow and system interaction

Business processes manage the operational flow of business and when optimized achieve cost containment and flexibility as they need to be efficient and able to adapt to changing business conditions. The art of planning and implementing process management requires all the best cross-functional project management skills one can provide and tools that facilitate the task. Yet when trying to improve the management of processes, the business is often constrained by tool limitations that impose additional artificial barriers that impede success. These barriers result from design considerations and limitations of the capabilities, performance, and scalability. This article details these barriers to BPM and what is required to minimize or eliminate them.

Process Management and Technology
Process management has long been inspired by the latest available technology. Recall that Henry Ford was able to streamline the auto assembly process, which increased the efficiency of workers dramatically and brought the cost of the car down so that more people could buy cars. The technology inspiration for improving this process was the meat-processing conveyor. Regardless of whether the technology improvement has been mechanical or computer driven, process management has consistently leveraged it for increased benefit. The recent introduction of social networking and cloud technology will similarly deliver benefits to improved processes. Given the never-ending technology evolution, why then do product barriers to achieving success with BPM exist?

Process Management Barriers
It helps to consider the genealogy of business process management solutions. Business process management has roots in two mature proven technologies: Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) and human workflow. These types of solutions have been available in some form for many years. EAI primarily enables system-to-system interactions and processes, where workflow simplifies human and document-centric processes.

The good news is that BPM has embraced and evolved these two mature, proven technologies; however like all technologies that at one time competed for acceptance there is often functional overlap and confusion as to appropriate usage.

Barrier: Perceived Process Separation
Often the discussion about processes and the technology to manage them is categorized by process characteristics such as human, system, document, and decision-centric that then leads to the appropriate tools to manage them. From a pragmatic perspective, this doesn't make sense since all these process types often coexist in a single enterprise process. Supporting multiple process technologies requires additional skills and impacts productivity, total cost of ownership, and efficiency. Separate technologies, whether in a suite or in separate products, create disjointed, inefficient tools and are not practical for the processes of today that incorporate multiple process characteristics.

Figure 1: Composite processes include all types of process styles

Barrier: Integrating the integration tools before managing the process
One byproduct of the evolution from separate tools for different processes is the lack of cohesive integration among tools to enable a unified process management solution. The result is that too much time is initially required to integrate these components before any meaningful work can be done optimizing the process. Service-oriented architecture (SOA) helps the integration challenge in an important way.

SOA is focused on organizing IT infrastructure with the goal of greater efficiency through reuse and agility with the use of services. It is a response to proliferation in systems, technologies, communication protocols, databases and data models. The strategy is to hide this complexity behind a set of business services and provide an infrastructure that standardizes how these services communicate and how they are managed. The result of such an initiative is that IT can respond faster and build new solutions for the business faster and cheaper. But the SOA transformation project itself predominantly benefits IT.

BPM, in a complementary way, is focused on directly optimizing business performance by looking at business processes. This approach is about achieving additional insight into operating procedures and work processes and using this insight to control quality, increase efficiency and drive continuous improvement. The goal of a BPM initiative is stated in business terms (% faster customer service, % reduction in costs, etc.), and these results can be measured directly by the resulting BPM solution. In essence, BPM provides business with greater efficiency and agility.

With the two working together to improve both business and IT efficiency and agility, it provides synergy enabling the enterprise to achieve even higher levels of value. BPM certainly can work without SOA by directly integrating systems, but working with SOA provides additional benefits and the integration between the two simplifies the task and delivers increased benefits.

Barrier: Business and IT Collaboration
Business process management enables the efficient management of change. Change in markets, change due to competition, a change in organization from an acquisition, or a change in available technological solutions. People and organizations in IT and the business are naturally wary to change as it impacts work ownership, control, and even job security. Communication and collaboration throughout the process lifecycle are necessary to avoid the potential impact of miscommunication. The tools most widely used for this are email and external collaboration systems. Email is a poor choice as it lacks process context. Each and every message in the inbox relates to a different context. Users often try to establish context using folders and rules, but usage and the benefit varies across the community of process participants adding uncertainty to the collaborative process.

External collaboration systems centralize communication and collaboration whether it is through a wiki, portal, or some other site paradigm. The drawback is that without integration to the process management system and to the management of all types of processes the context is missing and the usefulness of this collaboration is limited.

Barrier: Complexity Limits Tactical BPM success
Business process inefficiencies exist throughout the enterprise and can increase costs of both strategic and tactical processes. Strategic process initiatives often redeploy an organization's resources in a transformational way to provide competitive advantage. It may mean supporting a change in the organizational vision, objectives, and the strategy to achieve success. Defining a new company direction, acquiring another company, and adapting to market dynamics or obsolescence are examples of how strategic change requires redeployment of resources and greater process efficiency. This is the traditional sweet spot for BPM where processes span multiple functional silos and applications. An example is the employee, customer, or partner on-boarding process. But what about process challenges that impact just one functional system?

This is often the domain of tactical BPM solutions where the business pain is still significant but the project scope may be smaller and the time frame for value more immediate like, for example, compliance with new regulations. All enterprises have both tactical and strategic challenges, yet the urgency of tactical requirements often consumes them. BPM is often thought of as a solution best suited to strategic processes because the time-critical nature of tactical projects may be too rigorous for the complexity introduced by a BPM system and its disparate components.

Barrier: BPM Tools for Only the Tech Savvy
The market for BPM, now in its second decade of adoption, has expanded from early adopter tech savvy enterprises to mainstream companies that are more conservative and risk averse. This natural progression requires that products evolve to suit the changing needs of these businesses. BPM tools that require substantial integration just to manage all types of processes fail to address the need of this expanding market. Difficult-to-use tools that inhibit business participation also constrain adoption across the enterprise, which makes collaboration and process management success challenging.

Breaking Through the Barriers to BPM
As an established technology and business solution, there are many best practices that articulate how to best approach the typical challenges of increasing efficiency with BPM. However, these primarily address the practice of BPM. To break through the barriers previously discussed requires a more integrated, easer-to-use approach:

  • Unified BPM to reduce complexity, cost, and time-to-value
  • Easier-to-use tools for business users and increased use by less tech savvy enterprises
  • Faster time-to-value for greater use in both tactical and strategic projects
  • BPM that reduces complexity and manages all types of processes
  • Unified collaboration across all processes and in the context of BPM
  • Synergy with SOA to reduce integration and complexity

These characteristics enable streamlined management of processes regardless of the styles of processes they include. A unified offering eliminates the pre-integration task of tools that undermines the focus on process improvement. Unified collaboration enables communication in context and richness of choice for how participants work together. A streamlined, unified process management system reduces complexity and time-to-value, enabling greater use in tactical projects that provides the additional benefit of building the infrastructure for strategic change and success. A unified approach reduces complexity and increases ease-of-use. Tools designed for all audiences of participants increases the usefulness for all members of the process life cycle and enables task delegation to those in the business responsible for corresponding business responsibility. These BPM solution characteristics all help the achievement of process management success and, more importantly, an enterprise transformation to a more efficient, agile, and manageable business.

Oracle BPM Suite 11g
Oracle BPM Suite 11g has been designed to eliminate these barriers with a unified approach that reduces complexity and with unified tools that empower process life-cycle participants. It is comprised of three functional areas. A unified process foundation reduces complexity and simplifies process management with pre-integration of process subsystems. User-centric design simplifies process modeling and interaction for all process participants that are part of the entire process life cycle. Social BPM interaction simplifies and extends collaboration providing new ways to communicate and align the business and IT.

Figure 2: Oracle Unified BPM Suite 11g

Summary
The management of business processes has consistently leveraged improvements and innovations in technology to enable increased efficiency, business visibility, and agility. The foundation of BPM includes time-tested technologies for managing both workflow and system interaction. The evolution of the tools used to manage processes while delivering greater benefit has often introduced artificial barriers that constrain success. These barriers include the type of process capabilities, poor integration of components, inconsistent collaboration void of process context, complexity that limits the use as a tactical solution, and tools designed for only tech savvy companies.

Oracle has recognized these challenges and designed a solution that eliminates these barriers to BPM success. Oracle BPM Suite 11g simplifies the BPM effort with a unified solution that manages all types of processes with a unified process foundation, user centric design, and social BPM interaction. One unified design simplifies use and removes complexity. It is a complete solution that empowers tactical solutions and innovation today and can scale, as the business need requires it. It enables more effective collaboration in the context of BPM and greater communication flexibility with social communication.


Sidebar: Win with Tactical BPM
Technology moves quickly and it is natural to be unaware of some of the changes that could impact our business. The ability to manage tactical process challenges on a schedule required for tactical success is one of them. There is a persistent view that BPM is best only for addressing strategic process challenges. This is consistent with the solutions of the past but not reflective of unified process management technology that today can reduce complexity, time-to-value, and cost which is so critical for tactical requirements. The use of BPM for tactical initiatives has a number of benefits:

  • These are often less complicated processes involving fewer enterprise systems
  • Enables IT to demonstrate success with BPM by addressing business validated problems
  • Usually has substantial return on investment due to the business pain
  • Builds the infrastructure, skills, and knowledge that enables strategic change with BPM for the future

Next time the urgency of tactical challenge comes knocking on the door, consider how you can address it with BPM and achieve both short term and long term business benefit at the same time.

More Stories By Dan Tortorici

Dan Tortorici, Director of Product Marketing for Oracle Business Process Management products, is a domain expert in enterprise business process management and enterprise software. His experience in the private sector as a customer of enterprise software technology has given him a pragmatic perspective in the application of technology to address business challenges.

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