Organizations have been tradi-tionally embedding business processes into
enterprise applications, starting with the ERP and from there moving on to
specific applications like supply chain management, customer relationship
management, and the like.
Business processes themselves have been hitherto resident in the form of
process diagrams, decision flow diagrams, and other relevant process
documentation. These have been traditionally automated using document management
systems, typically developed by imaging and document management vendors.
Business processes translate into workflows. Workflows, in the most
elementary form, have been managed using workflow management solutions, coming
in from collaborative or groupware solution vendors.
The confluence of areas like–document management, workflow management,
enterprise applications, and enterprise application integration has given birth
to a new category called business process management (BPM), with vendors from
all the four areas and also pure-play BPM vendors staking claim to the new
So how does BPM really help? Needless to say, it helps by giving all the
benefits of being able to manage the business process. Essentially, BPM creates
a single management console from which business processes spread across many
different IT applications can be monitored and redesigned according to business
And gains have been made by early adoption. For example, Allianz, the global
insurance giant recognized the need to build efficient business processes for
the claims function. Allianz has reportedly been able to improve its
productivity in the claims function by 80% and has achieved RoI in six months.
Aberdeen Group expects worldwide spending on BM to increase from $ 2.26 bn in
2001 to $6.32 bn in 2005.
These reports only serve to intensify vendor optimism and faster adoption by
organizations. There are currently close to 40 vendors who claim to offer BPM
solutions worldwide. Of these, the ones present in India include FileNet,
Staffware, Savvion, and IBM, apart from companies like Vitria, and Metaserver
which specialize in business process integration.
Is BPM all hype ? No. There is something solid underneath the hype and battle
for standards. For one, the talk about business processes started with
re-engineering and ERP. Somewhere in the line, the software took over the reins
of the business and the talk about business processes got subdued in the noise
created by enterprise applications that claimed to embed the best practices for
the business. Now is the time to take a relook and go back to the issue of
business processes. The business process after all is the language of the
business. Logically, if you develop something on a business process framework,
the chances that the business and IT align are high. Proverbially, with BPM, the
business manager gets a chance to say what he wants and gets IT to do it. For
all the talk about the need for alignment between business and IT, this is
perhaps an opportunity to make it happen.
BPM: The Starting Questions
BPM: The Starting Questions
How is BPM different from workflow management?
BPM has its origin out of workflow management. But there are differences: First,
workflow focused mainly on document-based processes where people performed the
process steps; BPM manages processes that encompass steps performed by both
people and systems.
Second, it manages workflow automated processes that existed with an
individual department. BPM addresses processes that can span the enterprise. BPM
technology must therefore provide far higher degrees of scalability than
Do I need BPM? How do I get started?
BPM applies to any type of business process in any industry. Find out if you
have a business problem that can be traced back to the business process. Or, if
your gut feel says that things would be better if you could recast some of your
business processes but have been scared to do it lest it may topple the delicate
balance of your current applications that use these processes. Before you get
ambitious, pick up one or two such problem areas and try using a BPM solution
and seek a short-term RoI.
But how do I spot a business problem linked to business
processes? What are the telltale signs?
As a CIO, it may not be your job to spot a business problem. But listen to
the business managers when they talk and investigate if this can be linked to
the business processes involved.
Some of the ripe candidates are : a) processes that have too
many handovers and no one with a clear responsibility and accountability. b)
processes that are largely manual c) processes that are deficient in purpose d)
processes that require more manpower Consider that this is an occasion for you
to take a process-centric view of the organization. The last you might have done
this holistically would be before you embarked on the ERP project.
What happens to my existing applications? To what extent
do I need to change them? Or do I need to junk them?
Most often, you can go about your existing applications unhindered. Most BPM
vendors create or carve out a separate layer to store business processes and
they operate at that layer. Users often report instantaneous result of a changed
Even if you have invested in an enterprise application
integration (EAI) project, the integration would have happened at the data
level. In that sense, a BPM project is a good complement to an EAI project.
Understand that most EAI vendors now also offer BPM functionality.
What are the parts that make up a BPM solution suite?
A typical BPM solution has the following components:
Modeling tools allowing businesses to create or recast
Workflow management tools that control the sequence of
actions in a process
Monitoring tools that monitor the progress of the process
and inform the owner of the process
Integration tools that help exchange data and information
between different applications, ensuring that the processes are completed
Development tools that help processes get the
intelligence to derive the outcome of every business event, planned or
Industry-specific process frameworks that handle
processes belonging to specific industries like insurance, telecom or