Business Process Management or BPM – the name says it all. But to make one futile attempt we would say it’s the discipline of managing disparate business processes across the enterprise. It’s the tough job of juggling the different processes, taking a holistic look at them, and streamlining them.
Why BPM? It’s simple – for boosting the efficiency, productivity, adaptability, and agility of the enterprise process. With good BPM in place, enterprises can have the luxury of modifying certain business processes without really changing the fundamental business rules. This way they can better react to market changes and grab greater opportunities.
A good BPM also adds to enterprise bottom line and plays a role in market differentiation. But most of all, BPM makes sure that your enterprise machinery is kept well-oiled with minimum possibilities of process breakdown or bottleneck.
BPM Over the Years
Like everything else, even BPM has evolved with time. As compared to its toddler days, BPM today is a far more complex and challenging concept. During the early 90s, BPM systems resembled workflow management applications. Their primary focus was manually operated processes that were document based in nature. The idea of automated processes was still new then for BPM. But BPM has come long ways from those initial days and what we have today as BPM systems is far more complex.
The present day BPM focuses on two important components that control processes in an enterprise – people and systems. Today, organizations have person-to-person workflows, system-to-system workflows, person-to-system workflows, and system-to-person workflows. The modern day BPM spans across all these workflows. It includes process modeling, process execution, and process monitoring within its ambit. And then there is process integration and process customization as well. So now what we have is a very broad span for BPM.
Major Components of a BPM Suite
Now when we say business processes, we mainly categorize them as front office processes and back office processes. Consequently, BPM solutions also fall within the same categories. Thus, we have Front Office BPM (FO-BPM) solutions and Back Office BPM (BO-BPM) solutions.
The FO-BPM solutions are the more human centric ones focusing on person-to-person processes. Characteristically, these processes involve documentation of some sort like exchange of reports via email attachment, etc. The FO-BPM solutions are more suitable for short lived transactions instead of the longer running processes. Being front office in nature, these solutions improve the consistency of services delivered and help personalize services. An enterprise can use FO-BPM to design forms, define data fields, customize process templates, set up access control lists, configure integration capabilities, and manage deadlines.
A complete contrast to FO-BPM, the BO-BPM focuses on system-to-system processes or the automated processes. These processes are typically long running in nature and depend on several other external processes to complete their work cycle. This is also where aggregation of enterprise wide systems takes place. As opposed to FO-BPM, the BO-BPM solutions are not concerned with human-centric process workflows. They are more popularly used for backend process composition, data or message transformation, and automating creation of service interfaces.
Process Designing & Modeling
Process designing and modeling is the very first phase of a BPM strategy. Your business processes need to be mapped through all the different stages and then designed into the BPM solution. There are several visual design tools available with BPM solutions. But the first thing we need to establish is what would fit the bill of a “business process”. Once we have this in place, the next step is to establish the process flow. A process is generally made up of different steps and several independent tasks. We have to connect these tasks in a logical sequence and draw out a process flow. Do make sure that we account for things like documents, images, reports, etc attached to these tasks. It’s also important that we define the start point and the end point for a process very clearly. Once we have all these things in place, we can use the visual tools of BPM solutions and map the process.
Once we have designed the process what we have on hands is a process flow model. We can execute this model in a BPM engine. But since we had designed the model in a visual tool we will have to change its format to execute it in the BPM engine. For this, we can export the process model in a language format supported by the BPM engine. Secondly, while executing the model, we can change different variables to test efficiency. Thus, we can perform scenario tests on our process workflow. Process execution also needs a very typical runtime environment with low level of security, transaction volume, and concurrency management efforts.
Now when it comes to controlling process execution we have two well established approaches namely Orchestration and Choreography. Under Orchestration approach, a single entity owns the process and controls all the exchanges and activities. In contrast to this, all the process participants jointly own the process in Choreography approach. They have a contract mutually agreed upon to govern all the exchanges and activities.
After execution comes process monitoring. It’s important that we monitor a process to identify any weak links. How to do this? Here again we have two methods – real time and historical. Real time method is best suited to metrics that fall in the “in progress” category. A process that needs to keep going in a continuous loop can be best monitored using the real time method. This method allows us to record failures and exceptions to the process while it keeps running.
For processes that require one time execution, historical method is best suited. We can generate reports and draw conclusions from the method’s historical results. We can even compare our key performance indicators and service level agreements with data generated by historical monitoring.
Thus, depending on the type of process, we can pick and choose the monitoring method.
If we take a quick look at the market, we have several vendors offering business process management solution suites. Some of them have good front office BPM tools while some have tools with good back office BPM capabilities. As an enterprise, we need to find out an ideal combination depending on what business processes we have. This makes BPM a strategic level initiative. We have also seen that business processes can be manual, automated, or hybrid in nature. At times, we might need to integrate and sync them for efficiency purposes. So we better analyze our processes carefully before zeroing in on a BPM suite.