Progress Software Revs Up to Higher RPM via Savvion - Part 2

Part 1 of this series began to analyze the recent merger of Progress Software Corp. [NASDAQ: PRGS] and Savvion Inc. With this acquisition, Progress has made a large leap into the business process management (BPM) space, from which has been notably absent. The article asserted that Savvion BusinessManager 7.5 [evaluate this product] is one of the most mature BPM suites in the market, with the ability to handle high volumes of workflows that coordinate people, data/documents, and enterprise systems.

The product’s architecture is standards-based, multi-tiered (i.e., with separate presentation, business process, and integration flows), service-oriented, and with well-documented application programming interfaces (APIs). Thus, like its Progress siblings, Savvion is relatively easy to interface to existing infrastructures and development environments, and even to embed into partner products.

Human- and Document-centric BPM Capabilities

Certain business processes (e.g., the end of financial period closing or a new account opening) require a lot more human involvement and intervention than others, whereby the participants can belong to different functional groups (e.g., sales, legal, finance, operations) within an organization. The process participants can even be external to the organization (e.g., trading partners), who must join hands to deliver products or services and, most importantly, an integrated and consistent customer experience.

A human-centric process management solution would focus on automating the human activities and gaining operational efficiencies by making the human participants more efficient. Some of the key features required for human-centric processes are good task management, role-based dashboardsdelegation, and collaboration capabilities. To that end, Savvion’s data visualization capabilities are intuitive and easy to use for business users.

In addition to dashboards and reports, other key visualization tools are the process modeler, the design time repository, and the analysis of process executions paths that were mentioned in Part 1. Savvion Process Modeler is a stand-alone business user-oriented process design tool, and models created through this tool can be viewed and extended through Savvion BPM Studio (as described in Part 1).

On the other hand, processes such as residential mortgage lending are document-intensive. Even though the business process involves the interactions of many people, it needs special document management capabilities such as managing the loan documents, home inspection records, home insurance records, etc. All of these documents need to be reviewed and stored in order to make a decision on the loan, which makes the process document-centric.

Savvion is able to manage the documents along the way and has the necessary functionality to check in and check out the correct document versions from the document repositories. These documents could be either text-based or images that need to be processed correctly. Some of the key features needed in this kind of processes are integration with imaging systemsdocument management systems (DMS), viewing of documents in process task forms, etc.

Many companies have already adopted a DMS and will want to continue to use their enterprise DMS, but some may want to have DMS as a part of their BPM system. To that end, Savvion both supports out-of-the-box interoperation with existing DMS, and has a native DMS.

System-centric Processes: An Apparent Synergy with Progress

The main focus of a system-centric process is integration of different enterprise systems and applications into a business process to orchestrate their execution based on the definition of the process. The process could be triggered by an external system, a human task, or another process, and will often interact with a number of systems to finish the tasks and bring the process to completion. Human participation might still be required for exception handling and special circumstances.

Take, for example, a network provisioning process in telecommunications where about 80 percent of the steps are performed by operations support systems (OSS)/business support systems (BSS). A BPM system will then run on the top of these systems, orchestrating the activities and raising exceptions when needed.

Since most of the process tasks are done by systems in this BPM usage pattern, exception handling has to be quite advanced and visibility is quite critical. If one of the systems in the chain fails, the BPM suite should be intelligent enough to take the next best action or call for human intervention. The system dashboards should be able to tell the status of the process; i.e., what activities have been completed and where the process is stuck and why.

Some of the features required are strong integration capabilities, the capability to interoperate with varieties of service oriented architecture (SOA) infrastructures, and the ability to raise and route exceptions to human participants. The Progress Sonic enterprise service bus (ESB) messaging and Progress Actional’s transactional visibility into underlying applications should certainly go hand-in-hand with Savvion in these usage cases.

Savvion: A BPM Connoisseur

Whichever way you look at Savvion’s BPM offering and knowledge, depth and comprehensiveness always surface. Savvion could be, to my mind, a textbook example of how well and thoroughly to design a BPM suite.

My first direct touch with the company was in early 2009 at Gartner’s BPM Summit, where Savvion’s founder and CEO, Dr. M.A. Ketabchi, had a breakout session about his company. Dr. Ketabchi (also known as Dr. K) exudes knowledge and has a colorful personality and (sometimes self-deprecating) sense of humor, somewhat resembling his counterpart Alan Trefler, the founder and CEO of Pegasystems.

In any case, the main messages of Dr. K’s presentation were that BPM values are delivered through business process analysis (BPA), BPM system tools, and business process improvement (BPI), and Savvion caters to all of these aspects. Moreover, Savvion supports all conceivable usage scenarios of BPM systems.

Namely, most BPM practitioners understand some of the aforementioned common usage types of BPM systems, i.e., human-centric business processes, system-centric (integration) processes, and document-centric processes. Most of the real-life business processes have all three elements in them, but some are heavier on one versus the other two.

In its white paper Understanding Usage Patterns An Enterprise BPMS Must Support, Savvion identifies and describes four other equally important usage scenarios that are not very well understood by users and not well supported by many other BPM vendors. These are the following: case management, rule-based (decision-intensive) processes, project-oriented processes, and event-centric process management. Savvion claims to be the only BPM provider that can currently accommodate all of these seven usage scenarios.

Rules-based (Decision-intensive) Processes

Wherever there are business processes that can branch out in many directions, there will likely be business rules. For example, when we are applying for loans or insurance plans at financial service institutions, there are rules to determine our eligibility for a loan, rules to determine which service agent gets assigned to process our loan, rules to determine which loans we can even apply for, rules to escalate any issues that might emerge, rules that determine which process path an instance would take, etc.

These rules are not same for everyone and require different sets of functionalities to describe and use with processes. Decision-intensive processes require the process participants to make business decisions based on data and on business rules engine output. It becomes even more challenging when these rules change frequently and managers need to keep updating their decisions based on a repository of rules, policies, and regulations.

Some of the simple rules can be described as part of the process description via the decision gateways (e.g., if-then-else). But there could be rules that are more complex, i.e., hierarchical in nature, and thus need to be maintained outside of business processes. In that case, the company needs a BPM system with a strong business rules management system (BRMS).

Within a BRMS, users can define their rules independently of processes so that they can use them in any process. Users can change the rule parameters at runtime and have the agility to keep their business relevant with changing markets and regulations, without necessarily changing their processes.

Savvion BusinessExpert is the business activity monitoring (BAM) and business intelligence (BI) component of the Savvion BusinessManager suite. Business Expert supports real-time analysis of in-flight processes and dynamically suggests changes to process conditions and rules to keep processes running optimally.

The BusinessExpert portal consists of the Metrics Manager and Analysis Assistant sub-modules, which allow users to create relevant business metrics and interactive multidimensional reports via a Web browser. The BusinessExpert engine processes events generated by the Process Engine for information relevant to the metrics and analyses created by the business user and presents the information to the user via dashboards. Users can add new process metrics on the fly in the runtime environment to gain insight into current process execution data.

Case Management

Case management is a common BPM usage pattern that requires a cross-section of BPM and customer relationship management (CRM). As analyzed in my recent blog post, Savvion has delivered case management capabilities via specialized required out-of-the-box functionality.

This usage pattern demands much more sophistication as it must support customer contact centers with hundreds or thousands of customer service agents/advisors (CSAs) working and resolving cases, trouble tickets, orders, inquiries, or fraud reports in a variety of service industries in the private and public sectors. Process instances are generally short-lived, possibly ending with one call (first-time resolution), but the volume can be daunting.

Volumes of cases to be processed become even higher for business process outsourcers (BPOs) who manage the processes on behalf of multiple customers. Features such as intelligent task routing through multiple channels, communication, and integration become very important for case management. Providing an integrated, 360-degree view of the customer is very important too, as the CSA needs to know who is calling, what the client might be calling about, what he/she has called about in the past, and what the value of this particular business is to the company—even before the CSA picks up the ringing phone.

Some other key requirements for case management are efficient agent portals, advanced task-management capabilities, enterprise search across systems, ad hoc processes creation and modification, collaboration, and integration abilities with BI/analytics software. Moreover, computer telephony integration (CTI) and interactive voice response (IVR) technologies help to deliver a more compelling solution.

The business insight part of the equation remains tricky due to the fact that enterprise-wide information is fragmented yet critical to maintain process performance. Since responsive processes require the right information, in the right form, and at the right time, the upcoming Progress Enterprise Data Services offering, as part of the vendor’s Responsive Information Management (RIM) blueprint should help to drive Operational Responsiveness. Progress pledges to deliver the fastest and most flexible data access and integration platform for unifying, delivering, and exchanging enterprise information

Part 3 of this series will analyze the remaining two extraordinary BPM usage patterns that Savvion brings to Progress and possible resulting synergies. In the meantime, please send me your comments, opinions, etc. I would certainly be interested in your experiences with the BPM software category in general and with Savvion and Progress in particular.
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