The Wizardry of Business Process Management - Part 1

The business process management (BPM) market is sizzling hot, with Gartner Dataquest estimating its compound annual growth rate (CAGR) at 13 percent in 2009. In fact, almost all leading BPM vendors have been buzzing about their unprecedented growth and profitability, especially amidst the ongoing economic drought.

It is truly difficult to argue against the need for companies from all walks of life to improve their business processes. Doing "better, faster, and cheaper" is the "slogan du jour."

In his keynote presentation during the recent Lombardi Driven Online virtual conference, Lombardi Software’s CEO Ron Favaron referred to BPM as “Business Pressure Management.” That pretty much says it all. Logically, to the end of managing business pressures, Lombardi offers its broad BPM suite called TeamWorks Enterprise Edition [evaluate this product].

I also recently attended a Webcast by Appian Corporation, possibly the first BPM company to deliver process, knowledge, content, collaboration, and analytics capabilities in a comprehensive suite, Appian Enterprise [evaluate this product] and its software as a service (SaaS) counterpart Appian Anywhere. I particularly liked one slide in the presentation deck wherein the eight bullet points’ first letters cleverly spelled out the mnemonic REMEMBER (why to deploy BPM now) as follows:

  • Retain customers

  • Enhance standardization (and consistency)

  • Measure business performance

  • Evaluate components of processes (subprocesses)

  • Manage all elements of the business

  • Bottom line improvements

  • Eliminate bottlenecks

  • Rapidly deploy new services (and processes).

Indeed, these are some of the typical benefits of deploying BPM systems, but the trouble, called the lack of clarity and consensus, starts with the quandary about what exactly constitutes BPM, and what exact parts and capabilities of BPM help achieve those benefits? In other words, are there more important and better BPM suites and/or components vs. those that are of less importance?

In plain English, BPM entails all methodologies and tools that help businesses improve their processes. Depending on the context, BPM can be regarded as a management discipline, a technology, or even both. If one defines BPM as an approach to methodically design, implement, execute, control, and improve business processes, then one can argue that it is a management discipline. In addition, there exists a raft of accompanying IT tools to support this discipline in all of its abovementioned stages.

Extreme BPM Definitions

Simple as that, right? Well, not really, and my concern with the BPM word-use is semantics. Namely, so many people might still mean "business process modeling tools to help us with radical business process re-engineering (BPR),” which was all the rage back in the early 1990s. Indeed, this erstwhile people-centric approach of managing the overall business, independent of the specific technology or tools that are used to support it, has since gone out of fashion.

Namely, the problem is that the abstract world modeled in modeling tools often has not much to do with real-life business processes and typically cannot be implemented. If a business process analyst models a company all the way in, e.g., IDS Scheer AG’s ARIS tools, by the time he or she is done the model might already be obsolete.

And by the time the company implements the model, the dynamic economic environment will have already changed. Yet the model on paper (a bunch of flowcharts) must be deployable, usable, and maintainable in production. Business processes are about dynamics (or business agility, if you will) and a drawn flowchart is anything but dynamic.

On the other hand, the purely integration-centric approach of providing a way for software to communicate and execute automated workflow to accomplish discrete tasks via integration and process orchestration is not nirvana either. Many other vendors might mean that BPM is "an effective way for us to re-package our traditional enterprise application integration (EAI) tools under the guise of a service oriented architecture (SOA) orchestration project."

IBM's BPM suite, Fujitsu Interstage, TIBCO Software, Software AG (formerly webMethods), SAP NetWeaver BPM, and Oracle BPM come to mind here. These integration-centric BPM providers have often been accused by pure-play BPM suite providers of primarily targeting IT departments to try to sell BPM as a matter of service orchestration.

Yet, the true value of BPM should be to empower business users. To be fair, these larger companies have recently acquired companies that provide BPM software aimed at business users, and I imagine the competition from larger companies will only intensify.

For instance, zooming in on Oracle’s BPM product strategy, the idea here is to offer a complete and integrated BPM platform that caters to system-centric, human-centric, document-centric, and decision-centric business processes (workflows) in a single runtime environment. The suite is aimed at business owners and developers to collaborate, to define processes across systems and lines of business (LoBs), and to improve business process efficiency by modeling, executing, monitoring, analyzing, simulating, visualizing, and optimizing business processes.

But, by digging deeper into the Oracle SOA Governance suite and Oracle BPM suite, it is possible to note so many identical components, differing mainly in the fact that Oracle BPM has to also accommodate human interventions. The Oracle BPM suite can be bolstered optionally with the business process analysis (BPA), design, and modeling capabilities via the partnering IDS Scheer’s ARIS tool (e.g., for achieving Six Sigma compliance).

IDS Sheer’s blog post recently tried to demarcate the line between BPA and BPM suites as follows:
“The primary purpose of Business Process Analysis (BPA) tools is to visualize, analyze and improve business processes. BPA tools help translate every day business complexity into structured models (scope: from business to model). They provide insight into an enterprise’s structure – i.e. how strategy, products and services, processes, roles, information and systems are related and influence one another. By creating a single point of truth, BPA tools strive to improve the communication between various stakeholders in a company, safeguard corporate knowledge and support decision-making and change management. Most notable user groups are business managers, process owners, quality managers, business analysts, risk & compliance officers and enterprise architects. BPA tools have rich semantics in order to fulfill a broad information need. They enable users to visualize and analyze the enterprise from different point of views, e.g. from a performance-, risk & compliance- or architecture perspective.

Business Process Management Suites (BPMS) on the other hand serve a different purpose and target a different audience. While they do offer modeling capabilities, their primary purpose is to automate, execute and monitor business processes based on technical models (scope: from model to execution). Notable user groups are business- and information analysts, process engineers, software developers and system administrators. BPMS do not offer such rich semantics as BPA tools in the sense that their metamodel  does not comprise concepts for performance management, risk & compliance management or architecture management. Then again, these concepts are not required to automate processes.”

A Fragmented and Crowded Market

Thus, the market for BPM software and related implementation, consulting, and training services is intensely competitive, rapidly changing, and highly fragmented. Every BPM aspirant likely encounters competition from internal IT departments of potential or existing customers that may seek to modify existing systems or develop proprietary systems in a do-it-yourself (DIY) fashion.

The process improvement adoption has started lately in many IT departments via implementing a set of concepts and policies for managing IT infrastructure, development, and operations. Some of these sets and disciplines are Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL), IT Service Management (ITSM), and Control Objectives for Information and related Technology (COBIT).

Moreover, there are a number of enterprise-wide initiatives around process improvement disciplines such as Lean manufacturing, Six Sigma, Total Quality Management (TQM), etc. These frameworks of concepts and policies often require IT support in order to make operational best-practice workflows, while the linkage to business users is critical.

The market consists of a number of established BPM suite providers such as Appian, Ascentn Corporation, Cordys, Global 360, Lombardi, Metastorm, Savvion, Pegasystems, and Ultimus, to name some.  In addition to the abovementioned SOA middleware and enterprise architecture (EA) providers, internal IT departments, and BPA and process mining vendors (e.g., IDS Scheer or Pallas-Athena respectively), BPM suite vendors also compete with companies that target the customer interaction and workflow markets, and companies focused on Business Rules Engine (BRE) such as Corticon Technologies, FICO (formerly Fair Isaac Corporation), and the ILOG division of IBM.

Competition additionally comes from professional service organizations that develop custom BPM software in conjunction with rendering consulting services. To further muddle the picture, there is a number of Enterprise Content Management (ECM)-based vendors such as the Documentum division of EMC Corporation, FileNet, the division of IBM’s Information Management Group, Adobe LiveCycle, Oracle Stellent, and Autonomy Interwoven, to name but a few.

What Constitutes a Full-fledged BPM Suite?

BPM suites’ scope can be sliced and diced in many ways. For one, Part II of my 2008 five-part blog series entitled “It’s About Process (or Ability to be Responsive)” outlined the necessary BPM suite components. But if one is to look at BPM suites through the lens of the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) loop, one could think of covering the following three necessary activities (within the feedback loop):

  1. Business process modeling and analysis, which were explained earlier on;

  2. Business process automation or execution; and

  3. Business activity monitoring (BAM), measuring, process mining, and so on, as parts of continuous business process improvement efforts.

Most of the abovementioned contemporary BPM suites have a comparable basic functionality set, which has been specified as the desired capabilities of a BPM suite in Gartner’s 2008 report entitled “Four Paths Characterize BPMS Market Evolution.” These capabilities are:

While most of the leading BPM suites would address this prescribed broad functionality set by and large, they have some intrinsic differences that make them more suitable for one usage scenario versus the others. This difference often comes from the underlining architecture and the genesis of a particular suite. It may also be a consequence of the key customer segments that the vendor targets.

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

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

What About Accommodating Change (We Can Believe In)?

But, after all this discussion, do BPM suites necessarily mean “build for change?” Do they by default mean easy automation, rapid iteration, and execution?

The bar has to be set higher, since pragmatic buyers are increasingly looking for proven fixed-cost business-driven enterprise-wide BPM deployments. An astute BPM suite should take a process-centric approach to managing business operations that can deal with any business workflow with high impact on overall customer service operations.

Metastorm’s [evaluate this product] white paper “Building a Business Case for BPM” asserts that there are three fundamental characteristics of BPM that make this technology the game-changer:

  1. BPM is Incremental. One of the core advantages of BPM is that it need not require you to conquer all problems at once in order to deliver results. Rather projects can start small, while still making a large impact…To paraphrase, it is less important to start with the perfect process candidate than it is to establish a leverage point from which to extend into other opportunities.

  2. BPM is Measurable. BPM is unique among technology-based initiatives in its ability to incorporate metrics and measurement parameters at the outset of the project and to automatically capture and track them along the way. BPM presents the opportunity for an immediate and material impact on business performance and visibility.

  3. BPM is Repeatable. BPM presents a compound benefit where the skill set and competencies gained from the first process deployed can be leveraged to automate and improve multiple processes throughout the organization for years to come.

Clarifying the BPM Value Proposition

So, has all this lengthy discussion about BPM parts and parcels has brought some clarity to you? Well, I could understand if you are still having an “as clear as mud” feeling. Therefore, I was recently fortunate to witness a witty presentation that attempted to explain the essence of BPM via some humor and metaphor of the classic “Wizard of Oz” movie.

Namely, on March 23, 2009, Alan Trefler, Pegasystems’ founder and CEO, gave his luncheon keynote presentation at the Gartner BPM Conference in San Diego. His theme was “Don’t just Survive…Capitalize.” Trefler begun by reminding the audience that in today’s turbulent economy we are all “not in Kansas anymore” and may just need some ruby slippers to find our way back home to profitability. If you have 14 minutes to spare, you can re-capture the spirit of the event here.

Part 2 of this blog series will analyze Trefler’s presentation and provide more details on Pegasystems’ value proposition. In the meantime, your comments, thoughts, suggestions or individual experiences with BPM solutions are more than welcome.
comments powered by Disqus