Business Process Management and Becoming an Adaptive Organization

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Companies seeking to incorporate BPM into their culture are integrating and optimizing end-to-end business processes that span traditional IT systems' boundaries. This trend mandates the adoption of process orientation and the exploration of BPM as a technology to orchestrate, optimize and increase the flexibility of business processes along with the overall integration strategy of the organization. However, the current BPM space is not mature, and getting started is difficult.

Janelle Hill has over 20 years of IT experience and is an industry expert on software infrastructure. She has held both technical and management roles in software architecture, database development, IT operations, and product marketing and sales. Most recently, Ms. Hill was responsible for the integration of MetaGroup’s Research organization with Gartner’s. As a Gartner analyst, Hill’s research agenda focuses on Business Process Management as a management discipline and as emerging technology to enable organizations to become more adaptive. Ms. Hill also contributes to Gartner’s research on core middleware, Service-Oriented Architecture and Web services.

According to Hill, the business issues driving the interest in BPM include:

  • The push for information transparency and security
  • A slower economy putting focus on internal process optimization
  • A desire to become a real-time adaptive or an on-demand enterprise
  • A process improvement culture existing with Six Sigma, Lean, ISO, BPM, or BPR

Hill pointed out that senior managers have the most to gain, but they also the most to lose with any process improvement initiative. Change is in the wind as markets rapidly change. Hill says that in this environment, when there is less predictability, the tendency is to "go tactical." However, this is the usual behavior of endangered species so she doesn't recommend it.

BPM is seen as a way to improve corporate performance goals by making the key processes better. These include:

  • Model breadth and depth of interdependencies between workers, systems and information
  • Integrating and automating the interdependencies for process optimization
  • Coordinating and managing end-to-end, cross-functional processes, not application silos
  • Adjusting organizational structure and incentives to foster new behaviors

Hill said that these process management theories are mature, but applying them and using the BPMS technology are not. The benefits of integrating processes include:

  • Reducing latency, streamlining the process
  • Reducing complexity, lowering the learning curve
  • Closing gaps at handoffs
  • Reducing error rates
  • Balancing resources to workload

Examples of the above benefits in use would be working with the new compliance mandates of SOX and HIPAA, call-center operations, supply-chain interdependence and B2B opportunities.

The questions of how and where to begin need to be answered right away. BPM initiatives should be driven by business goals.

  • Where does the work start and finish?
  • What tasks/decisions need to be monitored and managed?
  • What business events advance the flow of work?
  • How does business want to measure process improvement?
  • At which tasks/decision points is change most likely to happen?

Different processes have certain characteristics. Some are human-intensive such as product design. Others are document-intensive like an insurance claim. Loan applications are both, while a system-intensive example would be an ordering system. These processes differ in how they would be put into practice. The questions that need to be answered include:

  • What event triggers work to start?
  • When does work end?
  • Why is it done?
  • What is the resource concentration?
  • How is work sequenced?
  • What is the unit of work?
  • What is the process duration?
  • What is the skill concentration?
  • What is the degree of process standardization?
  • How many participants act on a single piece of work?

According to Hill, currently there is a great industry debate about the feature set needed for the composite applications sweet spot and the leaders will not emerge before 2007. The tool vendors are gravitating toward the middle, but it is very hard to tell the difference between some of these tools. If you don't understand your processes well, it will be difficult to select the right application or choose which of your processes would be best to automate first.

BPMS provide a set of interlocking technological components that integrate human activities with required data and systems and automate, measure, and manage the end-to-end workflow as it flows across the boundaries of the company. "BPMS is a development and runtime environment that unifies workflow, EAI, portal, and document/content management capabilities to enable end-to-end automation of business process, not applications," Hill said.

The payoff for being an adaptive organization is that adaptive organizations excel at managing complex business processes. To become adaptive, spend more time on establishing goals for adaptability. These include:

  • Identifying a business process improvement opportunity that maps to corporate adaptability goals
  • Pick a project that crosses at least three boundaries: application, people, and information
  • Model the interdependencies
  • Agree on success metrics
  • Focus on the future state

Hill said in an immature market, it is necessary to think strategically, yet buy tactically. Focus on good SOA design, extensible XML, multilayered models, and process analytics. There is currently no enterprise standard tool for process design, development or deployment. The tools should improve model portability and interoperability.

Jon Huntress

Special Events Correspondent


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