Progress Software Revs Up to Higher RPM via Savvion - Part 3

Part 1 of this blog series began with an analysis of the recent merger of Progress Software Corporation (NASDAQ: PRGS) and Savvion Inc. Progress has this way made a large leap into the business process management (BPM) space, from where it had been notably absent. The article summarized that Savvion BusinessManager 7.5 [evaluate this product] is one of the most mature BPM suites in the still-evolving market, with the ability to handle high volumes of workflows that coordinate people, data/documents, and systems.

Part 2 then analyzed Savvion’s capabilities with regards to the three common usage types of BPM systems, i.e., human-centric business processes, system-centric (integration) processes, and document-centric processes. Moreover, in its white paper “Understanding Usage Patterns An Enterprise BPMS Must Support,” Savvion identifies and describes four other equally important usage scenarios that are neither very well understood by users nor well supported by many other BPM vendors.

Savvion claims to currently be the only BPM provider that can accommodate all of these seven usage scenarios. Part 2 also analyzed the case management and rule-based (decision-intensive) processes, and Part 3 now continues with the project-oriented and event-centric BPM usage scenarios.

Project-oriented Processes

One usage scenario that I haven’t seen among many other renowned BPM systems’ capabilities is Savvion’s ability to handle project-oriented business processes (Pegasystems has only recently released its Project Management Framework offering). Indeed, how often have companies wondered whether to use project management or process management tools? Perhaps in an attempt to make projects executable, some companies might have implemented a BPM system, only to find out that they have lost the functionality to which they had become accustomed within project management tools.

A project-oriented process is one that needs to complete its execution by a certain target time and date (deadline) using a set of pre-allocated resources. Some of the many possible examples of project-based processes are new product introduction (NPI), software implementation, a cell tower construction for telecommunications, and a new movie DVD release processes. The process must be monitored so that it meets pre-defined project milestones while it is in execution to ensure that the completion by the target time and date is on schedule.

The process is typically partitioned into phases where completion of each phase is an indication of the progress toward completion of the process. The total resources used to date are also monitored while the process is in execution (work in progress [WIP]) to ensure that the cost of the completion of the process does not exceed the expected amount.

Existing BPM systems do not meet the requirements of these processes because they do not provide a convenient way that is familiar to project managers to define, analyze, and manage such processes. Furthermore, in existing BPM systems, project concepts such as milestones, phases, and resource allocation are generally missing.

On the other hand, there are also many projects that have alternative paths of execution that depend on certain decision points in the project. Some paths may involve reworking of the tasks previously completed. Rarely is a project a one-off event; more often there may be multiple similar projects (instances of the process) in execution at the same time, with different timelines. It is a dynamic process that requires near real-time monitoring of the overall project at every phase.

To that end, Project Portfolio Management (PPM) systems do not really meet the requirements of these more complicated projects. A process execution tool is needed that generates the necessary tasks, keeps track of who has done what and when, provides real-time visibility into the execution of the processes, and allows reporting and analysis of the process steps that have been completed.

In conclusion, traditional BPM and PPM systems each only partially address the requirement of managing project-based processes. In the absence of a tool that provides both BPM and PPM functionality, project managers responsible for these projects may resort to either BPM or PPM systems. However, since BPM systems do not meet PPM requirements out of the box (and vice versa), project managers end up spending a lot of time and effort enhancing individual BPM or PPM systems, foregoing their requirements, or settling for inferior solutions.

A solution that provides the combined functionality of both BPM and PPM is needed to meet the requirements fully. Hence, there are significant benefits in extending a BPM system to include PPM functions, and the Savvion BusinessManager suite of products has been enhanced to support projects. A project-oriented process can be defined using the Tabular Process Definition feature within Savvion Process Modeler, as mentioned in Part 1.

Project milestones, phases, and resource allocations can be specified as part of the process definition. The Tabular Process Definition feature, which currently has patent pending, automatically generates a process diagram from the tabular format of the process description. The resulting models that define the process are then ready to be turned into executable applications without any conversion or modifications

Once the process is made executable, project participants will receive their project tasks as specified in the process. Up-to-date project status, including information about resource utilization and bottlenecks, will be available to project managers automatically and in real-time through dashboards and reporting tools.

Extensive analysis of the various aspects of the completed projects, as well as active projects, are made possible because Savvion’s BPM system maintains the information about who did what and when during the execution of the project. Interface to Microsoft Project is available as required.

Event-centric Process Management: Where RPM Kicks Its Tires

But the last BPM usage scenario is where the most apparent synergy might take place between Progress and Savvion. The full integration of BPM into Progress’ portfolio is the cornerstone of the strategic roadmap Progress laid out at its early March 2010 Industry & Financial Analyst Conference in Boston.

Namely, while Progress has been helping enterprises become operationally responsive, Savvion has been evolving its BPM capabilities to enable continuous business improvement (CBI) better. In his presentation at the analyst event, Savvion’s founder Dr. M.A. Ketabchi (also known as Dr. K) said that prior to the merger Progress had approached the BPM problem from bottom up, while Savvion haddone so in a top-down manner.

Dr. K asked the audience "What percentage of processes within enterprises run on a BPM system?" The answer was less than 5 percent, although more than 80 percent of processes need improvements. It would be counterproductive to re-implement any business process to improve it. This suboptimal practice breaks away from the notional idea that “Model, Deploy, Execute, Monitor, and Improve” is the proper cycle for achieving process management and improvement nirvana.

A major problem is that processes all too often span multiple disparate enterprise systems and that without visibility into what the actual process is and how it is performing, one cannot improve it. One possible solution is to model that process in an end-to-end manner (even though it might actually mean multiple sub-processes spanning multiple applications) and to monitor that composite process via a consolidated dashboard with intelligent event correlation and data mining capabilities that would allow users to improve their processes.

Take the example of a company processing orders in their order management system: the process is already implemented but they want to have better visibility and improve the process. They can model the process and tie that model to the underlining order management system events and gather important information in context of the process. Now they can analyze the performance of the system, such as how many orders are delayed, where the bottlenecks are, resource utilization, etc. With this information they can make improvements without re-implementing the process in a BPM system.

Some of the key features that are needed for this BPM usage pattern include an easy-to-use modeling tool, ability to connect to different systems and “listen” to their events, a complex events correlation engine, advanced dashboarding and charting tools, and business intelligence (BI) capabilities. The Savvion MMI (Model Monitor Improve) feature provides these capabilities, whereby users can get an explicit view of their process while modeling it. Then, they can monitor the process and improve it without the need to re-implement and make it executable in the BPM system again.

In addition to data-based rules, there are event-based rules that need complex event processing (CEP) and correlation to reach a meaningful conclusion about the process after a business rules engine detects certain events. For example, if a cellular phone service provider customer has generated a couple of trouble tickets, has not sent payment, and has declined an offer for a new free phone, the system can conclude that the subscriber is an unhappy customer and that his/her churn propensity is high.

The company can use this information to either provide the customer with incentives to continue his/her service or let him/her go if the customer's lifetime value is low. Some of the key feature requirements for this rules-based BPM usage pattern are a solid data-based and events-based rules engine, rules development environment, rules repository, and the ability to manage rules at runtime from a portal.

New Progress’ Charter: Operational Responsiveness

At the abovementioned Analyst Conference, Progress Software’s President and CEO Rick Reidy started the event with the main theme of Operational Responsiveness, i.e., ensuring visibility, the ability to sense & respond, and improve business processes. The so-called "ooze" slide that presented software spaghetti (or “hairball” in NetSuite’s lingo) over a number of disparate enterprise systems is how the business is run. Progress strongly believes that it can now help with processes, events, and data, especially in the following three industries: Financial services, Telecommunications, and so-called TTL (Transport, Travel, and Logistics).

Rob Levy, SVP and Chief Product Officer, then continued on by explaining the notion of Operational Responsiveness: where business processes and systems are responsive to changing business conditions and customer interactions at the moment they occur. In other words, Progress pledges to enable enterprises to achieve the highest level of business performance by providing the highest level of business visibility, responsiveness (the ability to respond and apply corrective actions), and continuous BPI with the most complete and accurate data and without disrupting the current infrastructure.

The noble idea is to anticipate what will happen in the business, rather than to merely react to what has already happened. The new imperative is to focus not only on what is happening, but also on what will happen. Levy presented how this might work via some examples in Progress’ industries of focus:

  • Airlines -- Continuously anticipate problematic events and re-prioritize around high-value travelers

  • Telecommunications -- Dynamically up-sell based on customer activity, context, and location

  • Financial Institutions -- Investigate potentially fraudulent activity while it’s happening

With an end goal of operational responsiveness, Progress has grouped its portfolio of products into the following logical groups with the “responsive” moniker:

  • Responsive Process Management (RPM): includes Actional, Apama, Savvion, and Sonic

  • Responsive Information Management (RIM): includes DataDirect Connect, DataDirect Shaddow, and Enterprise Data Services

  • Responsive Business Application (RBA): includes ObjectStore, OpenEdge, and Orbix

Enter Progress RPM

Dr. John Bates, Progress Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and Head of Corporate Development, who came to Progress via the successful Apama acquisition, then zoomed onto RPM. He began with the assertion that operational responsiveness is a must have due to cost and competitive pressures and customers demanding it.

Thus, there is a critical need for operational responsiveness in an “evolve or perish” manner. Vanson Bourne’s October 2009 Survey of 400 major companies in North America and Western Europe resulted in a majority of companies citing the following:

  • Responding to real-time information is critical to the business

  • We must get closer to customers and offer more personalized service

  • We must price products dynamically, based on competitor activity

  • Immediacy of response can result in competitive advantage

Yet, the same survey discovered the harsh reality that operational responsiveness is hard to achieve, as only 8 percent of surveyed businesses currently respond to information in near real-time. Moreover, a vast majority of businesses reportedly hear about problems in customer service from customers themselves (after the fact), struggle from the information deluge caused by the Web, mobile, and social media channels, and cannot get a single view of process performance due to their IT environments’ complexity.

Conversely, three important possible benefits can result when companies are in control of the systems and processes that drive their organizations. First, they gain deeper insight into the operations and events that impact their business. Next, they become faster (and better) at pinpointing and responding to potential opportunities, challenges and risks. And finally, they bring about continuous improvements that drive greater profitability. For more details on Progress’ analyst conference, see this blog post from a BPM expert Sandy Kemsley.

The final part of this blog series will explain the lofty RPM idea in more concrete terms and examples. 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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