Business process Rx Featured

8:00pm EDT October 26, 2007

A business process is a lot like driving to work. You’re trying to get from point to point in the most efficient manner but traffic, construction and detours often hinder your trip. Having a road map and navigation technology can help manage the trip.

Business process management, or BPM, is about making critical business processes more agile and efficient by improving or automating these processes.

“There are a lot of business processes that are not addressed by the way of their ability to be improved or automated,” says Bill Russell, executive vice president, Allegient. “The emerging business process management tool kits are targeted at that.”

Smart Business spoke with Russell about how the emerging BPM tool kits are improving business process performance and making a significant difference in closing the gap between a company’s business and IT sides.

How do you define BPM?

In its broadest context, BPM refers to a management discipline targeted at improving business performance or agility by understanding, improving and reporting about or controlling the business process environment. That includes the application of technology in order to automate parts of it, including workflow and business rules. It’s a business-process-centric solution model.

How is BPM success measured?

It’s measured by improved business performance or business value, and that usually translates into a set of key performance indicators (KPIs). In other words, you have to be able to tell yourself how your business is running. BPM gives better insights as to the how or what a company does or is actually operating, which then leads to improvements like cycle time reductions, cost reductions, higher output and greater innovation.

If mapping identifies areas for improvement, what are the next steps?

Process-mapping is about the as-is or current state. Modeling exercises define the tobe or future state or how you might improve a process. You then need to implement those improvements and make sure there is a feedback mechanism that measures how those improvements are doing and your ability to control them. Now you can evaluate emerging tool kits or automated technology to implement the improvements.

Where are the biggest opportunities for BPM and the new tool kits?

BPM is really a big step forward for all businesses. Big companies typically already have implemented a business process improvement method, such as Six Sigma or Total Quality Management, but not necessarily applied technology yet because of cost or technical constraint. BPM is effective for the types of processes not addressed by the big, static software systems that people have put in traditionally. There are a lot of business processes not yet automated by older software systems or unaddressed by technology in small- to mid-size companies. BPM introduces new technology capabilities by way of integrated tool kits that make it possible to address these manual processes.

What are tool kits?

Tool kits are a collection of integrated engines that form a base platform. There’s an engine for mapping, one for modeling or optimizing, and one that can take the model and convert it to a software language and then to a module of software code that can actually be executed. Also included is an engine for reporting the metrics of how a newly executed process is actually operating and the results that come out at the end.

Why are the new tool kits gaining popularity?

One of the reasons BPM is getting so much traction is because of the emergence of a new class of tool kits called Business Process Management Suites. They’re not vertically oriented, so any company can buy them and configure them according to its industry or needs. They are fairly generic in that they can address a wide range of different business processes. But the biggest reason is that they are being built to an emerging set of standards. As examples, the modeling standard is called BPMN for business process modeling notation. The language it gets converted into before software code is called BPEL, or business process execution language. When the tool kit has to hook into other systems and other data, it uses as its integration layer a set of Web services standards like XML.

Who initiates and implements BPM?

Both the business side and the IT side collaboratively should be involved in the initiation and the implementation. The business side should own it, but they need the help and assistance of the IT organization for two reasons. First, whenever you do BPM, the business side provides the knowledge around the workflow and the business rules. But the IT side can provide the information that may come out of other systems or the data model that’s required to really support that process. Second, IT can guide whether or not you should apply new technology against either the improvement or the business process itself. In reality, BPM and the emerging tool kits are forging a new collaboration between IT and business, closing the gap that’s prevalent in many companies.

BILL RUSSELL is executive vice president of Allegient. Reach him at (317) 564-5701 or brussell@allegient.com.