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Delivering Adaptive Discovery for Business Process Management

Written By: Hans Mercx
Published On: October 13 2006

Automating processes through business process management (BPM) solutions is not where the benefits of the solution end. Because the processes people use internally change rapidly, the BPM solution should adapt its processes accordingly. The ability of the BPM solution to adapt to the ever-changing environment within organizations provides the advantage of delivering increased productivity, and faster cycle times with fewer errors.

BPM solutions generally follow one of two approaches: human-centric, or system-intensive. BPM suites that have to deal with changing processes and work habits are often solutions that have high human-centric involvement. Human-centric BPM involves work done by people while interacting heavily with underlying databases, business applications, and documents. Human-centric systems thus focus on processes such as claims processing, mortgage approvals, and customer service. System-intensive processes, on the other hand, often involve high-volume, repetitive transactions which require no or minimal human interaction. These transactions take place between different applications. This article focuses on the human-centric BPM solution, and how it adapts to process changes.

Automating Processes

Automated processes represent the first step within BPM, and provide the primary business cost savings. The initial legwork captures and documents the inputs and outputs of the current workflows within the organization. After documenting the processes, organizations should analyze the processes to determine which should be eliminated, which should be automated as is, and which should be reengineered to improve processes and workflows within the organization.

Describing the processes in detail, rather than automating them, is the challenge. Discovering all the rules, flows, and exceptions takes a long time and much effort, resulting in delays to deployment. Even though the automation aspect is not trivial, once the processes are defined (together with the rules, roles, events, conditions, and scenarios), process automation is relatively straightforward. The difficulty comes afterwards, when the solution becomes part of the organization's culture and its people's habits. Processes need the ability to adapt to change, so in order for a BPM solution to fulfill these requirements, it should incorporate flexible out-of-the-box functionality that responds to business agility and environmental changes.

Automating processes often requires programming skills. BPM solutions already have built-in, out-of-the-box functions and features that enable the automation of processes, and these simple workflows require minimal technical skills, which enables business analysts to create workflows without interference of information technology (IT) departments. This results in accelerated deployment within the organizations.

Figure 1 shows how BPM reduces inefficiency and business costs, resulting in savings. The vertical axis shows the cost of doing business, and the horizontal axis represents time. Initially the business cost is high, but after the automation process and the deployment of these processes, the business costs will drop significantly, due to better process efficiency, which in turn will result in direct savings.


Figure 1.
Source: Ultimus Inc.

There are complex processes that take more time to develop, to optimize, and to execute within the organization. A longer development time for complex processes, and the "analysis paralysis" of the long discovery period will lead to slow deployment of these specific processes within the organization, resulting in a longer adaptation phase and a longer time frame before the savings are realized, as figure 2 demonstrates.


Figure 2.

Source: Ultimus Inc.

What happens after the deployment when the processes are in place and the BPM solution is implemented? While BPM deployments typically take less than six months, the life cycle of the BPM solution after deployment will be much longer. Organizations will need to see how actual users will adapt to these changes, so the time after deployment becomes a significant element of the BPM life cycle.

Adoption

The deployment of a new solution within an organization to optimize processes, increase efficiency, and reduce costs sounds simple enough. Unfortunately, this doesn't always reflect the reality. The human part of the processes is extremely important in the phase after the deployment, as the actual people executing the tasks have to use the new way of working, by adapting to the solution and the workflow. Workflows should reflect natural ways of performing tasks, to make sure employees actually use them. Otherwise, the results are workarounds, poor execution, and low adoption rates for the BPM solution (this is represented in figure 3).


Figure 3.
Source: Ultimus Inc.

Adaptation Organizations want to accelerate the deployment and adaptation of automated business processes. The challenge is that processes within an organization change frequently. As soon as a process is deployed, people will change the process, enhance the process, or overcome exceptions to the processes as found. Consequently, BPM systems need to be highly adaptable. Systems should be able to meet the changing demands of the business. Otherwise, employees will be forced to work around the system. Users often will develop workarounds of the automated process to meet their needs, or even will revert back to their old way of executing the tasks, resulting in poor adaptation of the processes, thereby diminishing the potential savings. Figure 4 illustrates the effects of poor adaptation.


Figure 4.

Source: Ultimus Inc.

About Ultimus

Ultimus, headquartered in Cary, North Carolina (US), is a leader in adaptive discovery for BPM solutions. Indeed, Ultimus has developed a patented technology called Adaptive Discovery. This technology simplifies the discovery effort, shortens deployment cycles, and enables process changes to be implemented quickly and easily. Adaptive discovery shortens the effort required to deploy a successful BPM solution by continuously improving and adapting processes.

Ultimus started with a workflow module, but has created broader functionality than other companies such as Lotus Software, and offers small businesses (and even large enterprises) an organization-wide automated workflow solution. Founded in 1994, Ultimus has grown from a workflow solution into a comprehensive BPM suite. It has created its solution completely on a .NET environment, and is one of the leaders in .NET BPM solutions.

Ultimus' worldwide business operations consist of a network of more than 85 partners in 60 countries, with over 1,500 customers. Its solution is localized in twenty languages, with local offices all over the world, and a 24x7 support group is available. With its solution, Ultimus is the only BPM solution provider with a human-centric focus tackling both the automation and the adaptation cycle.

The Adaptive Discovery technology helps discover when a change occurs within a certain business process. This is the most important part of the adaptive discovery process.

The Ultimus BPM Suite is a mature seventh-generation enterprise-class application. The Suite provides an easy-to-use collaborative environment that includes all components of BPM (see Business Process Management: How to Orchestrate Your Business). Ultimus has architected the product to add value across the entire BPM life cycle, to enable rapid automation and integration, as well as innovative adaptive technologies that ensure it can readily adapt to change.

The Ultimus BPM Suite features Ultimus Process Designer for modeling and design, Ultimus BPM Studio for development and automation, Ultimus Director for adaptive rules management, Ultimus Administrator, and Ultimus Reports. Ultimus worked hard to create a distinctive value proposition with its Adaptive Discovery, but now it will need to work on its marketing to sell this value.

How Does Adaptive Discovery Work?

Adaptive Discovery allows automated processes to be deployed without complete process maps and definitions. The initial stage of the BPM project still remains the same, however. Both business and IT representatives are part of the team, defining the business processes (including the tasks, data requirements, inputs, and outputs) as well as user interfaces (UIs) and interactions. Time benefits are seen in more dynamic processes, as adaptive discovery is used with the ability to define the details while a process is executed (as in exception handling). With adaptive discovery, the actual deployment of the process can be faster within the entire project scope, resulting in both time and cost reduction. These benefits are shown in figure 5.


Figure 5.
Source: Ultimus Inc.

Adaptive Discovery enables the organization to implement processes based on the information it already has at hand. In other words, Adaptive Discovery does not require the organization to know the unknown from the beginning. As the process evolves, the BPM server detects when required information doesn't exist. Upon this event, the BPM server notifies the process expert. The process expert adjusts the workflow process, creating the rules and exceptions based on the information provided, and defines the actual workflow to complete the process. Ultimus Director defines, modifies, and tests these rules graphically. Once the rules are defined, Ultimus Director publishes the information to the BPM server, and the process continues, with the right actions attached to these rules. When this event reoccurs, the process will automatically have these rules available. Of course, the process expert can create new rules and exception handlers at any time, not just upon incidents—all changes can still be made through Ultimus Director.

Benefits of Using Adaptive Discovery

Adaptive discovery reduces deployment time, increases user-friendly workflows, and reduces costs. IT departments, business users, and the organization itself will realize the benefits of this approach. The involvement of IT departments with defining and automating processes is limited, as the IT department only has to focus on infrastructure, data elements, forms, integration, etc. For business decision-makers, design time is cut back dramatically, as not all rules or exceptions have to be defined up front to deploy the processes. Decision-makers, or process experts, have the ability to change processes directly, as well as the ability to adapt to changing procedures within daily business routines as and when the need arises. IT departments and business departments can work together on implementing the overall BPM solution, but in a way that allows both parties to do what they do best.

Conclusion

Ultimus' BPM Suite provides users with the ability to handle exceptions, manage change, and enable collaboration through its human-centric BPM suite and its adaptive discovery capabilities. Organizations should realize that not all processes can be handled by business process experts, especially when there are database connections within workflows. The IT department shouldn't allow business owners to change fields or to make changes in databases. Furthermore, even though adaptive discovery sounds ideal with respect to faster deployment of business processes, organizations should be aware that the initial phase of defining processes should not be taken lightly. Simply redesigning processes can already reduce costs. Since redesign doesn't give rise to the same requirements as adaptive discovery, all elements and information should be known to the analysts.

Ultimus has trademarked the term "adaptive discovery," but that doesn't mean no other companies can adapt to changing environments. Leading companies such as Pegasystems, Lombardi, and Appian have the ability to adapt processes and even business rules to changing environments. Different companies have different solutions, with their own vision on how to adapt to ever-changing environments, in terms of both processes and business rules.

For organizations selecting BPM solutions, remember that there is life after deployment. Take into consideration how easily the solution can adapt to change, as just automating processes isn't sufficient to benefit from all the capabilities of BPM. Adaptive discovery should help organizations with faster deployment, and adaptation to changes within environments—all of which benefits organizations in terms of efficiency, cost reduction, and process improvement.

 
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