BPM everywhere indeed! The third wave of business process management has come and receded, having left an irreversible imprint on today’s technology landscape and business practices alike. The IoT enables business processes to extend closer to our customers than ever before, while even more business applications sport BPM capabilities of some sort or another, nowadays. Chances are that you not only have one but already multiple workflow tools and BPMS set up in your organization. Thus having likely an immense arsenal of technologies right at your disposal to automate business processes, the stakes are high to harness the power of existing technologies, while avoiding the pitfalls of redundancies, information silos and misuse of applications whose main purpose is different to BPM.
In this regard the key questions, which a company that wants to keep using its existing BPM, improving current and creating new process solutions, needs to address, are:
- Do my current BPM and workflow tools actually support a digital transformation?
- What is the principal emphasis of my existing technology? Is it truly focused on BPM or rather something else (such as document management)?
- Is there more than a single process technology in my operation that would need combining or substituting?
- How to determine the possible delta of the costs and benefits of implementing business solutions with an existing but older BPM as opposed to acquiring a more modern technology?
- How to future proof solutions built with an existing BPM?
In order to reach in fact a business transformation, all pieces of a larger and holistic strategy have to fit perfectly. While such strategies allow digital transformations to take place and to be sustained long enough to allow for a digitally mature enterprise, supporting technologies represent the propellant force for an organization to actually achieve that goal. In that sense, Lainey Garcia, manager of brand public relations and engagement at McDonald, when interviewed regarding her insights resulting the companies’ digital revamping initiative in 2015, pointed out: “The biggest takeaway was the power of integration.” This “power of integration” connects both, strategies as well as technologies.
A BPM that a company has in place may very well be the single most pivotal technology to reach a disruptive organizational change and digital transformation. By its very nature, BPM obliterates communication, application and operational silos as long as such a platform is truly up for the job. Important features and capabilities such as API’s, intuitive design tools and a common annotation standard have to be present.
The present chapter will outline some of the principal checkmarks to look out for in your current BPM in order to evaluate its future readiness. Another important aspect that we will develop is the assessment of the actual business apps that
have been created on top of the BPM and how these influence your companies’ current level of digital maturity.
It often appears that the shortfalls of a custom-made business application that is running on a perfectly adequate BPM is actually the culprit of not gaining any ground in the digital adaptation process – and not the BPM itself, as commonly assumed. A wrong C-level decision here can prove to be very costly. In that sense we will point out what are suitable aspects that can be handled as part of a continued process improvement project without having to buy a new BPM technology (BPM Farming), progressively enhancing and building up on your existing repertoire.
Regardless of what specific digital transformation goals your company ultimately pursues, periodically updating the corporation’s inventory of applications, platforms and tailor made solutions is always one of most important steps, before actually engaging into any new endeavors. You will be surprised about how much ammunition you already may have at your disposal, capable of furthering the organization’s transformational aspirations.
The advantages of doing so are clear. Existing software and solutions often times represent a company’s investment in licenses, time and labor. The very reason that such an application is part of your current stock may be a telltale sign of the software in question as well as its vendor being a success story within your organization. In addition to that, there also comes the effect of technology adaption curves into play, where with time and gained maturity the usefulness and adaptability of a given technology typically grows while associated publicities but also implementation LoE’s tend to decrease in tandem with the out-phasing of given hype cycles (Fosdick, 2006).
Figure 1 – Technology adaptation curves, applicable for BPM. Based on and adapted from Fosdick et al, 2003
Industry experts, process owners and end users alike, all can agree that BPM for some time now has entered its maturity phase. Newer concepts and technologies such as iBPMS, BRE’s and ACM are well on their way towards maturity, too. In that sense, the time is ripe for reaping the fruits of developments and lessons learned during the past couple of years in the realm of BPM.
Where to look for when it comes to existent BPM artifacts in your organization?
A good rule of thumb we have found at NSI (www.nsisoluciones.com) over the years is first to try identifying assets that are related to iBPMS platforms. These elements engulf, naturally, some sort of BPM engine, simple process reporting modules all the way to complex data cubes, process driven ESBs, embedded content management, business rules engines, dynamic event handlers with case management capabilities and many other components more. The following graphic gives a very general overview of BPM components that usually can be found around iBPMS platforms and which are worthy candidates to become part of the “application mix” that ultimately will support your transformation strategy:
Figure 2 – Principal iBPMS components; Winkler, Kay; 2015
A Business Process Engine at its core will always be a crucial ingredient for any company that embarks on a journey for a digital evolution. That way, existing business processes can be enhanced to support the new strategic direction of the enterprise and new disruptive processes can be created, driving the transformation forward. Subject matter experts such as Pedro Robledo point out that BPM is actually at the heart of the transformation lifecycle, specifically during the phases of BPA (Business Process Analysis), Process Modelling and, of course, Process Implementation. (Pedro Robledo, 2016) In that sense, counting on a robust, proven and scalable BPM engine in your IT inventory will definitively be a “big plus” on your balance sheet.
Furthermore, Microsoft, describing digital transformation from an end-user point of view, summarizes the points of customer engagement, employee empowerment, operational optimizations and resulting product transformations as the four key factors for success. (Chris Capossela, 2016) It is interesting to note how these components are linked by “systems of intelligence”, hinting at the growing relevance of (big) data analysis, predictive and dynamic pattern recognition.
Figure 3 – Four key components for Digital Transformation; Microsoft; 2016
Event Processing and Notification are in this context naturally allies for a technical reinvention of your operations. Even simple email notifications and database registries that are triggered during specific events that occur in a process, for example after a quote for a prospect has been successfully created and sent out, will make an important difference of how your company engages its customers and ultimately, how the market perceives your products and services. More advanced features of your existing BPM environment, such as business-intelligence and predictive pattern recognition on a process level will provide your workforce with the tools to proactively engage prospects and customers alike, way ahead of your competition. Here, the latest evolution of modern BPMS, in the form Adaptive Case Management (ACM), places particular emphasis on the importance of intelligent data examination and dynamic event management. Additional elements such as process reporting modules, Business Activity Monitoring (BAM) and dynamic dashboards round up the important contribution an existing BPM potentially can make for improving the understanding of the internal as well as external influences on your organizations’ results. It is important to notice that for disruptive strategies too, the continuous and cyclical improvements that you already are familiar with from BPM keep playing a pivotal rule. Result driven product transformations are iterative steps that can be either entirely fueled by your current process technologies or these, at the very least, can feed into extending, complementary applications in case you are missing some of the aforementioned components in your IT inventory.
Regardless of the technological markup that your company is ultimately going to employ to accomplish its vision of enhancements and transformations, bringing your products, services and brand closer to the final customer seems to be of absolute importance. Thankfully, customer engagement through BPM has been a conceptual cornerstone for several years already and can be achieved to a large degree by the design of optimized end-to-end processes with the most of the tried-and-proven technologies that are already out there. Raju Saxena from Ernst and Young goes as far as to encapsulate that process design approach into the very definition of BPM – “Business Process Management is a management discipline that integrates the strategy and goals of an organization with the expectations and needs of customers by focusing on end‐to‐end processes.” (Saxena, 2013)
For processes that are more complex and for “BPM-mature” companies that follow an EPM (Enterprise Process Management) approach in their organizations however, it can get increasingly more difficult to identify and to keep track of the end customer as the crucial point of validation for success. Here, it is useful to establish and to embed a sound set of variables that can be measured all the way through, starting from customer engagement processes (for example sales supporting process applications) up to the supporting administrative processes (like invoicing). Such metrics typically breach departmental but also technological barriers. That way, establishing and tracking these “customer facing variables” can help you to follow a transformational strategy, even with older, existing applications. A viable alternative to establishing process metrics from scratch can be the use of existing metrics frameworks and benchmarks as provided through the APQC (American Productivity and Quality Center) with its comprehensible and up-to-date PCF (Process Classification Framework) as well as benchmarking portal.
- Using existing BPM technology for digital renovation and transformation initiatives can shorten the time to go-live, making use of the existing learning curve and end user adaptation.
- There can be also important additional economic benefits of extending the usage of an “already-paid-for” BPM as opposed to acquiring something new.
- Features to look for in your current BPM that can help drive a transformation strategy are around of what would be defined as an iBPMS, such as a BPM engine, a BRE, SOA capabilities, strong data management and BI elements etc.
- Any vision for technological renovation or even transformation, very much like BPM as a concept, translates into an iterative and progressive undertaking that relies on continued process improvements that are backed by “systems of intelligence”.
- It is key to establish and continuously measure viable metrics throughout existing applications and processes alike, prioritizing customer facing variables.
Sorting the Wheat from the Chaff
While many existing BPM applications and workflow tools you may already have will likely be capable of supporting your company´s goals, there certainly is a risk, which not only has the potential to delay your progress but to entirely boycott you.
It certainly is not necessary to own the newest technologies with all the latest trimmings, bells and whistles. However, some very fundamental features are indispensable and without which you would not be able to sufficiently extend your processes and make a perceptual difference from the perspective of your final customer:
A scalable BPM engine, able to take on mission critical processes (high volumes at low response times).
Only few things are as frustrating in the world of BPM, for your staff and even worse – for your customer, as slow and unstable processes that they are forced to use. Likely, sales and customer retention will suffer from that consequently. An early indicator for this to happen in your organization usually are end users that switch back to executing tasks manually, despite having access to a BPM. This can be typically observed during recurrent peak moments of your ongoing business cycles.
Effective ways of determining acceptable process response times can be measuring customer facing form load times under “stress” in conjunction with gauging the customer’s feedback at the same time. If your particular industry vertical is represented, taking into account existing benchmarks from organizations such as the APQC may be useful, too.
Almost all technical shortcomings of an existing platform can be overcome by complementing current applications with other products and custom made developments in order to support the company’s strategies – as long as your core, in that case your engine and its extensions, allow for “solid” integrations.
You want to avoid a straitjacket approach here at all cost. If you currently find yourself with a workflow application or a BPM platform that doesn’t allow to integrate easily through a standardized WSDL (web service definition language) 2.0 or by newer approaches (Rest API or others) to internal or external third party applications and custom developments, then it is high time for you to migrate to a newer technology. Having to deal with black boxes that only allow you to interact with other technologies through very specific and usually very limited pre-made connectors, text files, database entries or not at all, will put an end to your transformation strategies and any aspirations for future-proving your processes.
With a solid engine and robust SOA capabilities, you have the two main pillars to elevate your current workflows, document processing tools and business applications to the next level. From this point on you can choose to integrate virtually to any components that may be missing for your transformation efforts such as applications that support adaptive case management with CMMN or decision engines (that in turn may even support new notation standards such as the DMN 1.1).
Figure 4 – Example of extending a minimal BPM Core; Winkler, Kay; 2016
Here it is important to keep in mind to prioritize features in applications that actually make a difference to your final customer in terms of their perception concerning the quality of your services and products.
Figure 4 – Example of benefits by extending from a BPM Core; Winkler, Kay; 2016
Extending outward from a BPM core not only has to be measured in terms of what exact features to add in order to provide the most value to the customer of your company but also in terms of cost-benefit, compared to accomplishing these added values through other means.
The decisions that management faces when evaluating existing BPM and workflow assets are:
- Whether to invest, integrating the tried and proven technologies to complementary applications in order to achieve digital transformations as shown above (a),
- Invest in acquiring completely new technologies that contain all the required capabilities for such a transformation out of the box (b) vs.
- Complementing the existing BPM platforms by custom developments within the confines of that platform (c).
- Of course, any possible combination of these three points also apply.
Pursuing the extension of the existing BPM core (a) requires the determination of the optimum relationship between the value added to the final customer and the associated implementation cost. Latter consists for this point primarily of the cost for on-boarding new complimentary technologies as well as the professional services costs for the technical integration. If it turns out that your corporation will have to acquire a whole bundle of new software products that then have to be implemented and integrated in order to achieve your goals, then, probably, one of the two other alternatives we will become more viable to you in the end.
A strict scope limitation, always with emphasis on what is most important to your client’s needs, will be key for success with this approach.
Alternatively, you could opt for upgrading or switching to a modern iBPMS platform, altogether (b). Leading providers will offer all of the prior mentioned features and likely even more. From a technical perspective, this option bears the lowest level of risk. The obtained benefits, on the other hand, have to be weighted in conjunction with the typically higher costs that come with purchasing a brand-new technology of this caliber and more importantly, the costs associated with a “brand-new learning curve”.
In our experience, at NSI, it usually takes up to two years for a mid-sized company to become fluent in a new iBPMS. During this time, the organization attains new skill sets to master applications for managing business rules, new annotations, administrating an entirely new architecture and many additional aspects.
An additional point to bear in mind for this choice is that some vendors of iBPMS platforms do require their customers to use specific hardware, which may represent an extra factor that contributes to the overall overhead of such an undertaking.
It is worth mentioning that not all the reasons for hindering your advancements must be limited to technical issues, only. A conflictive vendor-customer relationship or even unreasonable increases in maintenance fees as well as license costs, for example, can cause you and your team to be inclined to take “option b” as the choice to go forward.
Lastly, there is the alternative to custom develop any of the eventually missing features to complement your existing workflow technologies (c). Of course, it applies here too that your engine as well as its integration capabilities have to be up for the job. Developing specific additional features and capabilities on top of your existing BPM is often a very interesting option for many companies as it usually represents the lowest “startup costs”, compared to the other choices.
The correlation that has to be observed for this option is that the associated development costs have the potential to grow exponentially with increasing solution complexities, which have been developed by coding. This relationship also carries over to the related costs of maintenance for such an in-house development. There also are additional complexities deriving from that approach, such as the creation of highly specialized and expensive to retain technical subject matter experts, and the dependency these represent for the companies on the long run. In that sense, it is more recommendable to make only cautious use of this option for very specific features that you deemed necessary adding to your current technologies.
For all options, special significance has to be given in particular to the BPM engine itself with emphasis on its original purpose. These days, many applications come out of the box with their very own process and workflow solutions. A common combination you can find in that context are platforms such as Enterprise Content Management Suites (ECMS) that offer workflow tools in order to automate different document life cycles (for example contract management). While simple process automation features do go a long way for intuitively enhancing the document management experience within an ECM, those workflow tools by no means rival a BPMS and would represent too weak a BPM engine to support an operation’s business transformation. Besides many technical weaknesses, the most impacting fact would be that conceptually almost all ECM-workflows are completely wrapped around the lifecycle of a document, whereas a BPMS puts the case and the individual in its center (e.g. “human centric BPM”). In that sense it becomes progressively more difficult to leverage an ECM-workflow, the more complex and the more customer focused the business process becomes. This context also applies for other combinations such as a CRM with workflow tools or CMS portals with some sort of process capabilities.
What may be enough to satisfy “in-application”, short term task automations, normally does not suffice to fulfill the requirements for a strategic transformation.
Consequently, decision-makers have to make sure that whatever technology the company plans to extend from, is in fact a BPM engine at heart and not some other tool with a few workflow features embedded, more as an afterthought than as a main purpose.
Summary for basic alternatives:
Main opposing variables that have to be balanced
d.) A combination of the options above.
Table 1 – Basic BPM usage options for continued improvements and digital transformation; Winkler, Kay; 2016
- It is essential for BPM farming that your current technologies, at its very core, is scalable and allows for standardized integration technologies.
- For building and improving upon your current BPM main emphasis has to be put on the requirements and preferences of your final customers, as part of an end-to-end process framework.
- Going forward from present technologies and implementations, your company faces 4 basic choices:
- Add and integrate complementary technologies.
- Substitute your current platform completely, buying a new iBPMS.
- Complement you current BPM with custom developments.
- Possible combinations.
- For any of these choices, management has to determine which option provides the best value for your company and final customers. Typical costs to be weighed against the expected benefits are:
- Time to go-live and subsequent opportunity costs.
- Cost of acquisition for new technologies.
- Costs for engaging into new learning curves.
- Development costs for new implementations, solutions and integrations.
Future proofing your Processes
Budgets and implementation times for continued improvements and for transformation initiatives or even for simple enhancement projects can be optimized a great deal by reutilizing viable, existing components or entire technologies. Therefore, the better your current process assets already are prepared, the better the chances to “recycle” them multiple times for future projects. Having covered in the previous chapter the technological elements, the BPM baseline in other words, we are at this point summarizing the process elements of business applications and their role in your company’s future readiness.
The ever-evolving field of business process management can sometimes seem to be excessively inflated with acronyms like iBPMS, S-BPM (Albert Fleischmann, 2013), RW-BPMS. That can cause at times more confusion than to provide a direction to the subject matter at hand. In order to filter out the relevant process components that will facilitate the preparation of your business processes for coming enhancements, it can be helpful to introduce an increased level of abstraction and simplification. The resulting overview will then ultimately help the team to identify the process components that ought to be preserved, adapted or be discarded.
Dedicated platforms enable the end users to visualize, optimize, automate, implement and to improve business processes, which thankfully causes certain core elements to recur constantly when it comes to BPM. Regardless of which technology is being used and the specific methodology that is being applied – at the very heart of things, you at all times will find flow charts, end user forms, variables, system integrations and some sort of reports.
Figure 6 –Core Process Elements; Winkler, Kay; 2016
The possibility of visualizing the conditional process flow and case sequences is the most basic requirement and the very first stepping-stone into the world of business process management. Luckily, it is also one of the best-covered features in almost all respective technologies for BPM and typically requires the lowest level of effort to accomplish. From open source solutions to enterprise suites, all of them feature some sort of graphical engine that allows for a quick and none-technical visual representation of process flows. Many platforms even align to various industry standards such as BPMN, BPEL, WF and others.
To assure reusability and continuous improvements on the level of process flow diagrams, selecting a widely used as well as understood nomenclature is essential. Currently, the most common annotation is the Object Management Group’s BPMN 2.0. Having designed all your processes in BPMN does increase the likelihood different players in- and outside of your company understanding them. It is also helpful for future platform changes, upgrades and improvements. There is no guarantee however, that your diagrams will be cross platform compatible. Despite agreeing to a large degree of what icon sets to use, vendors still do not make it easy to migrate your BPMN designs over, from one technology to another. As far as current process annotations go, merely a degree of the entire process workings and logics are represented in forms of diagrams. Large portions of the information is still embedded in design documents and other accompanying videos or images. These artifacts have to be tailored in as well, into to your future proofing activities for any process solution. The ongoing series “The State of Business Process Management” from BPTrends points out in its latest publication that still most companies only occasionally document their processes and update such documents. (Harmon, 2016) The practice of documenting your processes, for which flowcharts play an important role, and keeping artifacts in synch with all applied changes, is fundamental for successful continued improvements and business transformations.
Keeping in mind the very basics, normally the second, and by far biggest, milestone of a BPM initiative will be the creation and maintenance of the end user forms that are dynamically tied to the drafted process steps. The effort of creating these process forms, which in turn embody most of the end user experience, can represent a consumption of up to 80% of all resources dedicated to an implementation. There, on the process form level, the “real” process logic takes shape, where form fields and sub-forms react to data entry, policy validation, and both simple and complex calculations. As a subset of the form creation, the definition of the process variables and the resulting data universe will always be encountered in a (semi) parallel manner. If one were to reduce BPM as a technology and methodology to a bare minimum, the design and implementation of complex and powerful forms would clearly stand out as the most important aspect of future process adaptation and success. Fast, intelligent, adaptive and robust forms are decisive for accomplishing the BPM premise of continuously improving and optimizing business processes. Such forms, that in some cases can fancy themselves to be complete applications in their own rights, are then created either entirely by code (somewhat defying the very nature of BPM) or leveraged by wizard driven, low code form creation frameworks that produce the active server page source code behind the scenes (such as K2 Smart Forms, for instance). This decision of creating forms by code or through a WYSIWYG wizard within the platform does also have an impact on reusability (think platform change or technology migrations) in correlation with the cost of their creation as well as maintenance.
In analyzing the role that forms have to play for business transformations, the importance of future proofed process solutions in context of the IoT also becomes clear. Aspects like adaptive, zero footprint and mobile (app driven) user experiences can be furthered or hindered by the way process forms have been designed and implemented.
Taking a workflow implementation to a true end-to-end level, a third component must be present – process system integrations. No human centric process (Khan, 2006) reaches its full potential in efficiency and effectiveness without said integrations. When considering change and innovation cycles of business software and technologies, one could argue that BPM and ERP are facing each other at the opposite ends of two extremes. While processes are meant to be adjusted periodically, within short periods, adapting to volatile market realities, ERP solutions will likely have a much slower frequency of change. From that perspective, system integrations within business processes are key tools in enhancing the end users’ experiences. There are of course countless system interactions that can enhance the impact of an optimized business process, such as cross process integrations or typical interactions with systems like CRMs, BIs, ECM’s, BREs and more. Some vendors have even embarked on a system consolidation effort, as seen in the previous chapter and what Gartner describes as iBPMS (Gartner Research, 2012), making available several of these business applications within a single framework (usually bundling together a process platform with ECM, BRE, BI and ESB), hence reducing the need for interaction with external systems.
Documenting all integrations from, in-between and to your process solutions, as well as basing those on industry standards such as WSDL 2.0, increases the viability of their reutilization during improvement projects and especially for undertakings of digital transformations.
Reports or – even more rudimentary – stored raw process data could be described as the last piece of the “basic” elements of your process solutions. Now, while advanced reporting, BAM, pattern recognition and predictive analytics are certainly powerful features in process automation, they only cover the first elementary step. Far more crucial (and more often than not, something entirely overlooked) is the next step of making sure that the whole process, as well as the business (form) data, is stored in an automated, uniform, accumulative and (most importantly) scalable fashion. When this is accomplished throughout all implemented business processes, your implementations will render real process insights and enable continued improvements. The key ingredients for viable business reports are in part derivatives of the process and form-variable design efforts and in part the understanding of well-defined process metrics.
There are numerous other aspects worth considering when looking at the “art of optimizing, automating and constantly improving business processes,” such as identifying a fitting ontology framework. However, from our experience at NSI, it is unlikely that any of those will have such an influential effect on the successful re-utilization of your current technologies as will have readying the basic elements of your BPM for perpetual enhancements to come.
Albert Fleischmann, S. R. (2013). S-BPM Illustrated. Springer International Publishing AG.
Chris Capossela. (2016, April 5). Microsoft Blog. Retrieved from Microsoft Envision: A conversation on digital transformation: http://blogs.microsoft.com/blog/2016/04/05/microsoft-envision-a-conversation-on-digital-transformation/#sm.001vkz9jg15fkej2qs72hpzkklm9q
FORBES. (2014, June 26). Forbes/Tech. Retrieved from Adaptive Case Management: http://www.forbes.com/sites/larryhawes/2014/06/26/adaptive-case-management-could-be-the-foundation-for-networked-business/#6fff372a5d12
Fosdick, H. (2006). The Sociology of Technology Adaptation. Enterprise Systems Journal.
Gartner Research. (2012). Gartner Says Intelligent Business Operations Is the Next Step for BPM Progams. Retrieved from Gartner: http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/1943514
Harmon, P. (2016). The State of Business Process Management 2016. BPTrends.
Khan, R. (2006). BPM-A Global View: What makes BPM Human Centric. Retrieved from BPTrends: http://www.bptrends.com/bpm-a-global-view-what-makes-bpm-human-centric/
Pedro Robledo. (2016, November 14). albaTIAN. Retrieved from Digital Transformation Life Cycle: http://www.albatian.com/en/blog-ingles/digital-transformation-life-cycle/
Saxena, R. (2013). Guide to the CBOK. In BPM CBOK version 3.0 (p. 27). CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
Figures and Tables
Figure 1 – Technology adaptation curves, applicable for BPM. Based on and adapted from Fosdick et al, 2003 3
Figure 2 – Principal iBPMS components; Winkler, Kay; 2015 4
Figure 3 – Four key components for Digital Transformation; Microsoft; 2016 5
Figure 4 – Example of extending a minimal BPM Core; Winkler, Kay; 2016 7
Figure 4 – Example of benefits by extending from a BPM Core; Winkler, Kay; 2016 8
Figure 6 –Core Process Elements; Winkler, Kay; 2016 12
Table 1 – Basic BPM usage options for continued improvements and digital transformation; Winkler, Kay; 2016 11