I believe that despite these cost-conscious economic times, demand for business process management (BPM) technology is high.
A few years ago, many organisations turned to BPM for straightforward improvements in their business processes through automation and integration. At the time, organisations were looking for the next step beyond traditional integration solutions, or just something more process-oriented.
Today, organisations are considering BPM as an alternative to enterprise application integration technologies. In the past, these integration technologies had been optimised for system-to-system problems. This is because previously they did not provide business-oriented approaches for dealing with human input or exception handling.
As a result, many of the early BPM implementations were companies looking for increased automation of their processes from a business perspective, not simply at systems level.
Integration efforts shifted from a pure system-to-system focus towards a business process level that frequently involved users, exception-handling or human input.
If an HR director wanted to change the on-boarding process across offices around the world, he or she may have had to implement the changes manually in every office and for every scenario, probably without the technical know-how, instead referring the request to IT.
I am now seeing many companies considering BPM technologies as an alternative or incremental approach to traditional system or application-oriented integration. They can help connect technology and the business user.
This means we are also witnessing the rise of companies looking to deploy BPM technology for additional benefits beyond integration or automation goals. And some organisations that have already deployed BPM are now looking to gain incremental advantages from their initial deployments.
BPM can help them solve a range of problems beyond the original scope of the integration or automation found in many first-generation BPM projects. These days, companies are deploying BPM technologies to address issues such as regulatory compliance, process optimisation and increased business agility.
They're also looking to jump onto BPM and service orchestration to drive new SOA-based applications and services.
Using BPM in conjunction with service-oriented architecture enables organisations to respond faster to changing business requirements.
For example, an organisation that is growing through acquisition and needs to integrate diverse applications or process steps into an integrated process may benefit from running BPM on top of an SOA. In my view, SOA is becoming an important foundation for BPM in many companies, because it provides the building blocks that enable BPM to work effectively.
Take HR as a case in point. An organisation may be having issues with a new hire process following internal company changes. This could involve specific events that would occur in a normal day-to-day scenario across every office around the world.
Getting a new employee on board means completing all the paperwork, getting the new starter into an office, providing name tags, business cards, a PC, email account, and a phone, access to company systems and possibly training.
This all needs to be completed by a fixed date. Combining BPM with SOA can streamline this whole process. The HR manager is also able to identify any missed steps before it is too late, without the need for IT support and without risking changes to one business process that could then cause problems for another part of the operation.
In addition, organisations are using BPM technologies to drive process improvement through more precise process metrics, easier management, and the ability to alter and adjust processes or business rules in response to business requirements.
BPM offerings can also enable companies to enforce policies and procedures and provide a method for organisations to define, manage and audit their critical processes. This can be particularly effective when combined with business rule engines.
For example, when legislation requires the tracking of a particular process, the BPM solution can not only help a financial institution become compliant, but can help it prove to the regulator that its processes are in order.
There's also a future perspective to BPM. Over the next few years, we're going to see companies build on benefits such as using BPM for basic integration and automation of business processes. As more and more companies deploy BPM solutions, and as technologies become more advanced, we'll see increased focus on the process optimisation and real-time capabilities of the technology.
With the focus of BPM increasingly on enabling line-of-business managers to monitor and manage business processes, providing them with a way of visually monitoring activities is a natural requirement. I expect many BPM products to become more business-usable and business-relevant.
Without adequate and easy-to-use business process monitoring capabilities and reporting options, BPM turns into business process automation.
To invest in BPM without being able to put power into the hands of the business user would be like installing a new safety mechanism in an aeroplane, but not making it accessible to the flight attendants. Unfortunately, simply automating processes without enabling dynamic, rapid change to business processes will not deliver the results that organisations are looking for in the current climate.
MA Ketabchi is chief strategist at Progress Software
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