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Por Kay Winkler

In the ever evolving and growing-in-complexity field of business process management – that sometimes seems to be excessively inflated with acronyms like iBPMS, S-BPM (download the book S-BPM Illustrated at Springer Open), RW-BPMS (call for papers and workshop in June 2015), and many others, which in cases can cause more confusion than direction to the subject matter at hand – it at times becomes necessary to increase the level of abstraction and simplification in order to coordinate and execute real life BPM initiatives.

From the view point of an actual effort to visualize, optimize, automate (where possible) and implement business processes, there always are certain core elements in place that make up the principal efforts of creation, maintenance and continuous improvements within the BPM discipline. Regardless of which technology is being used and the methodology that is being applied – at the very heart of things, there always will be flow charts, end user forms, variables, system integrations and some sort of reports.

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, currently 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, basically 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.

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). In analyzing the role that forms have to play for a modern and successful BPM solution, the importance of BPM in the context of the IoT also becomes clear. Aspects like adaptive, 0 footprint and mobile (app driven) user experiences can be furthered or hindered by the way process forms have been designed and implemented.

Taking a BPM implementation to a true end-to-end level, as it is defined in ABPMP's CBOK, a third component must be present – process system integrations. No human centric process 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 BPM processes are meant to be adjusted periodically, within short periods of time, 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 BPM end-users’ experiences by leveraging, but not duplicating, ERP datasets. Besides ERP <-> BPM integrations, there are of course countless other system interactions that can enhance the impact of an optimized business process, such as cross process and BPM integrations or typical interactions with systems like CRMs, BIs, ECM’s, BREs and more. Some vendors have even embarked on a system consolidation effort, making way for what Gartner describes as iBPMS, making available several of these business applications within a single framework (usually bundling together BPM, ECM, BRE, BI and ESB), hence reducing the need for interaction with external systems.

Reports or – even more rudimentary – stored raw process data could be described as the last piece of the “basic” elements of a BPM implementation. 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 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 organization is executed throughout all implemented business processes, the BPM implementation results in real process insights and enables continued improvements. The key ingredients for viable business reports are in part derivatives of the process and form-variable design efforts and also in part the understanding of well-defined process metrics.

There are numerous other aspects worth considering when looking at the “art of optimizing and automating 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 outcome of BPM projects as will have the very basic elements of BPM – flow charting, form designing and variable definition, integration and report building.