Webinar: Dynamic BPM platforms

Clay Richardson of Forrester and Keith Swenson of Fujitsu gave a webinar this afternoon on dynamic BPM platforms. There will be a replay available; I’ll update this post with the link when I get it, or someone can add it to the comments if they get it first.

Richardson started with some fairly generic research by Forrester on business problems such as cross-functional processes and process agility, then defined a dynamic business process as one that is built for change and adaptable to the business context. There’s also a significant collaboration/social software message, where dynamic BPM requires both a high degree of collaboration as well as a high degree of information support.

As he points out, most BPM only tackles the structured parts of a process, but doesn’t interface with things such as personal reminder lists, external email and instant messaging. The entire business process does include those things; it’s just that most organizations are using manual, ad hoc methods to integrate between structured systems (including most BPM) and unstructured activities and systems. He stratifies this into three parallel types of work: ad hoc human activities, structured human activities, and system-intensive processes. Although many BPM solutions can do the latter two, many organizations use very different tools for purely system-to-system interactions than they do for processes that contain human-facing steps.

He stated that dynamic BPM is able to handle ad hoc and collaboration scenarios in the context of a more structured business process: being able to blend structured and unstructured work. This allows knowledge workers to do work on their own terms using the tools that they choose, but by doing this in the context of dynamic BPM, visibility into these ad hoc processes is maintained. In the course of providing this visibility, it also feeds back information to IT on how the processes are executed, allowing for these to potentially be structured and standardized where appropriate.

He then turned it over to Keith Swenson, who reinforced the definition of dynamic BPM as empowering users to get work done their way, specifically in cases where there is no pre-defined “best way”to complete the work. The plan is elaborated while you work, not ahead of time; he used one example of emergency fire response units, and another of a movie rollout by a production studio. In both cases, there is not a fixed process or assembly-line plan for how things should be done; they need to be able to do unpredictable things in the context of completing the work, with decisions about what to do next made by multiple people. In many cases, portions of the work is sub-tasked to others, who use their own judgment to create and execute the plan on the fly.

Ad hoc subprocessesThe predominant way that ad hoc processes are handled now is email: people send messages to assign a task to someone, but there’s not a lot of tracking of what work has been assigned to whom, and the status of that work. From a modeling standpoint, consider that this could end up looking like nested subprocesses of ad hoc tasks, where these subprocesses and tasks (and the resources to whom they are assigned) need to be created as they are identified. What we need is smart email, which allows someone to just break out of the structured process, fire off an email to someone who may not have been predefined as a resource, and have that email communication (including the responses) be visible through the standard tracking mechanisms as part of the process.

I’m not left with any sense of how this might tie into Fujitsu products (or, in fact, any other BPM products), although Swenson is enough of an independent thinker that it may not have a direct link, but be more of an educational push. He did mention something pretty vague about how they did support dynamic BPM, but it’s not clear if this is current standard product offering, future product offering, or services. They are promoting a two-day workshop for visualizing your current dynamic business processes, so this may be more related to what they can offer from a services standpoint since they also have some innovative stuff in process discovery. When you think about it, some part of dynamic BPM is really just process discovery, aimed at finding the parts of the ad hoc processes that can be turned into structured processes for a standard BPM implementation. The rest of it is about creating the linkages between the ad hoc process handling methods – such as email and IM – so that these become first class participants in a business process.

There’s a few of the smaller vendors who are creating direct interfaces with Outlook/Exchange in order to provide this sort of management of email requests and responses, including HandySoft (where, coincidentally, Richardson used to work) and ActionBase (which I reviewed last month), but the larger vendors needs to start including this sort of functionality in their BPM products as well.

16 thoughts on “Webinar: Dynamic BPM platforms”

  1. Sandy,

    Good to see you on the call, and you have quite accurately captured the talk. We focussed on clarifying the vision beacuse we see this as a strategic direction for the product line and the industry in general. We did not do a demo (sorry) because a 10 minute demo is quite often misunderstood without an indepth understanding the what is going on behind the scenes, and — well — there is no real way to demo an engine, and people tend to focus on the details of the user interface instead. But, we would be happy to demo to you and to others in a setting where we can take a little more time and make sure that you understand the implications of what is being shown.

    The capabilities we spoke of are capabilties that are already possible in the product today, but which we are also enhancing in upcoming releases. You probably know that Interstage BPM ability to modify processes on-the-fly is unexceeded in the industry. The emergency response use case is from a system developed by a partner two years ago based on Interstage BPM (and selling quite well I might add), and the movie release case was a project implemented last year. What we are doing today is taking what we learned from those projects, and including cool new capabilities directly in the engine that will make it much easier to do this. These new extended user interfaces will be appearing in releases coming out this year.

    You pointed to a couple of vendors that offer similar capabilities, and comment that it is time a big player incorporated these capabilities. Fujitsu expects to be that big player that can cover the entire spectrum from highly scalable, highly performant integration processes through to individualized and custom dynamic one-off process created as the work is done. Oh no, I am starting to sound like a marketing person … please forgive me! :-)

    http://www.fujitsu.com/interstage

  2. John, good point about Lombardi’s SharePoint integration, although that (I believe) is more about launching a collaboration from a structured point in a process, rather than actually making up the process as you go along. The main process flow remains as the structured process in BPM, and the collaboration must depart from and return to a task in that process. I’ll check out the Dyson video too, thanks.

  3. Sandy,

    The concept of a Dynamic BPM system is certainly what I think of when talking about “real world” processes, processes that don’t just pull together systems and deal with heads-down repeatable work, but rather capture the complexity of both structured and unstructured, collaborative, decision-centric business processes. A prime example of this would be the new business acquisiton and underwriting process for products like life insurance. While the stages and gates that a process goes through might generally be the same, the “back and forth” work of interacting with a customer, agent or other constituent will be different virtually every time, and will often take place in the form of tasks assigned to other users, external requests via email, and a number of different interactions that all need to be auditable, not just automated.

    Much of what you comment on above is currently available in the Case360 solution from Global 360 in the form of ad-hoc tasks (which can be linked to structured processes if desired), threaded discussions, email integration and content aggregation capabilities. I’d be happy to take you through some of the highlights some time if you’re interested.

    http://www.global360.com/products/bpm/case360/

  4. Certainly dynamic processes do have much applicability in many knowledge intensive domains like insurance, baking, legal, government etc. But I am not sure if adhoc tasks (atleast as specified by BPMN) cater to the requirements for a knowledge worker.

    But I think these concepts were covered into what is refered as Case Management. My research on this topic is blogged here

  5. True, one could broadly classify these types of processes as falling under the umbrella of Case Management, which is considered by some to be a subset of BPM. I think the point behind Dynamic BPM is that there are situations in most (not all) processes where there are situations that cannot practically be anticipated, or that all possibilities of what might happen in a given processes cannot be modeled with a reasonable level of complexity (putting the use of standards aside). From that point of view, a system that can adapt to both straight-through, repeatable, structured processes and those that have aspects of a Case Management process would be the best of both worlds.

  6. I agree that this is more than just case management, although likely some of the tools have been developed in response to case management reuquirements (which are often collaborative in nature). I am working through a complex set of future-state requirements with a client now that transactional in nature, but require some ad hoc steps – not so easy to do in many BPM tools.

  7. Tom, fully agree with you on the need for a tool, a concept that allows to model and execute a combination of STP, some unstrcutured collaboration and of course ability to set mandatory activities for complaince. I feel most of the process in the above mentioned domains fall into this category.

    Sandy, will you be blogging on your analysis of the requirements, of course after making them generic respecting your contractual obligations?

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