Preparing For Next-Generation BPM

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BPM technology serves as a new, critical layer in business architecture. Companies need BPM technology that does more than to simply automate workflow processes and help integration. The next generation of BPM software will provide much more functionality and real advantages for business.

Sharyn Leaver is a Senior Analyst at Forrester Research and a self-professed skeptic of new technologies. Despite this, she is bullish on the next-generation BPM software because it promises greatly increased business agility. The key factors are the practical solutions that change and enhance business processes.

Two years ago the BPM business drivers were integration and automation. Businesses are now demanding flexibility and visibility and the next generation will provide this. Users want flexible tools that can adapt to real-world systems. Many firms have gone deeply into the RFP process with packaged applications only to discover that they didn't work because of their inherent inflexibility. Nobody wants software that locks them into rigid processes; they want the flexibility to accommodate their customer's needs.

The technology in this space is evolving, with firms adopting integration tools and standards around Web Services and messaging. Everything is easier than it was three years ago as new process standards emerge.

Leaver defined BPM software as that which is used for- "…designing, executing, and optimizing cross- function business processes that incorporate systems, people, and partners." The biggest benefit for the new technology is in the middle area above the transaction level.

Next-generation BPM is moving away from design and automation toward process orchestration, which manages all process phases including design, automation and optimization with continuous improvement. The design tools can tap sophisticated repositories and discover new services. Automation engines have to understand both people and systems, adapt to unstructured processes, and incorporate complex business rules. Most BPM systems available today treat systems and people differently, understanding the systems part much better than people. The rules engines and BPM engines need to merge. The problem is that rules engines are quite complex and frequently change. Several vendors are starting to integrate the two.

Optimization is replacing monitoring. Monitoring and analysis tools provide aggregate views. The optimization features incorporate external business data and simulate real business impact. "These tools need to work hand-in-hand with business intelligence tools. There is absolutely no business reason to have one tool for analyzing data and another tool for analyzing processes. You need both and you need them together," Leaver said.

The process of preparing for a BPM implementation is made easier when there is a commitment to service-oriented software. Users must drive this process. Business processes need to be orchestrated and the infrastructure services created.

The disciplines are:

  • Standards-based, with no barriers to sharing data
  • Loosely coupled, with no worry about how the data is used
  • Shared services, such as registration, shipping, and data encryption

When creating the infrastructure services, Leaver recommended not trying to fine tune proprietary systems. Instead, push vendors to create WSDL interfaces for commonly used services and build standards-based interfaces for high-priority applications. She emphatically cautioned against the tendency to re-engineer some business processes before implementing BPM technology. Firms that re-engineer never seem to get past that stage.

To select vendors:

  • Document your mission-critical processes. Decide whether they will be automatic or manual, static or changing, structured or ad hoc, and involve complex calculations or basic logic.
  • Take stock of your current architecture and skills, including your process modeling tools and integration technologies, your business intelligence tools and your development skills.

Forrester has ranked the existing companies that can help with these issues. According to Leaver, there are no leaders but there are several strong players. No enterprise-wide implementations have occurred to help define a leader, but they are coming soon.

The next-generation BPM software makes business agility practical, and is defined by the orchestration and optimization features. What firms must do to prepare for the next-generation is to prioritize their process and architecture requirements.

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