BPM: Technology or Philosophy?

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Trevor Naidoo, President of the Philadelphia/ New Jersey Chapter of ABPMP, gave a presentation in New York recently emphasizing that Business Process Management is more than just a collection of the latest technological tools. The promise of BPM is that it will make businesses more nimble through the design, implementation and monitoring of complex business processes. The technology available today does in fact enable this. However, organizations must first embrace the philosophy of BPM into its culture before the new technology can work.

BPM is currently defined, according to Naidoo, as a collection of technology solutions that focus on business process execution using workflow engines, EAI engines, and Web Services. At this time, the top ten BPM players are: FileNet Staffware Pegasystems Metastorm DST CommerceQest Fujitsu Ultimus Savvion Fuego

Automating inefficient business processes merely ensures inefficiency on a consistent basis, according to Naidoo. So BPM is more than just technology, it is also the approach and philosophy used to change an organization. One of the most difficult things to do is to chart and document the business processes you already have. This documenting must be done in order to achieve the benefits of Business Process Automation, and this first step is a difficult one.

In the BPM lifecycle, business strategy and decisions are made at the executive suite. Once the problems are identified and understood, the specifications for their solutions can be created. Following this, best practices for design, organization, optimization and control of the processes can be decided. And finally, the technology itself can be implemented.

Some legacy applications can be tied to EAI engines and others with Web Services, but there will always be some that cannot be integrated. A single process may touch many systems, and this is a difficult process to monitor. Each system may have its own tools, making end-to-end monitoring and the creation of business dashboards difficult.

The next step is process automation (EAI and BPA), along with customization. Monitoring flows continuously back to the top, and standards are key to making this happen. There needs to be strategic alignment around the chosen business process strategy for this to take place. The whole process is a philosophical concept, supported by technology.

Innovation needs to cover products, cooperation, and process. Collaborating your business processes with other organizations becomes even harder if you don't understand your own. These business-level decisions need to come from the top. Modeling the processes helps communication, but the modeling itself can be questionable.

Actual business processes, captured by interviewing the people involved, tend to be different then their descriptions in the business documentation. If the goal is to automate the business process, then the highest level of detail is needed.

Web Services and BPMs will simplify the spaghetti-like dependencies involved in most business processes. Technology solutions can help, but the philosophy needs to come first, Naidoo emphasized. Are we driving a business value? If so, the technology can be used to achieve a successful initiative. The methodology of change management is the key.

Is BPM a technology or a philosophy? It is both. In order for the technology to work, business has to embrace four aspects of business processes:

  • Business Process Design
  • Business Process Execution
  • Business Process Monitoring
  • Managing change to adopt this philosophy

The benefits are more nimble organizations, greater agility, higher performance, repeatable processes, and end-to-end process optimization.

Documenting actual business processes seems to be the most difficult thing to do. Since this falls on the philosophy side of the question, and has to come before the technology, it would seem that philosophy is the Achilles Heel in BPM. If an organization tries to implement BPM without embracing the philosophy, it will merely be automating inefficiency, according to Naidoo.

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