Processes “R” Us

I had several appointments and errands today, and I listened to podcasts as I walked around downtown Toronto. One of them was the Sound of Vision podcast from back in May wherein Ethan Johnson interviews me about BPM (starting at 21:00 in the ‘cast), and there’s one point where I get really passionate about the fact that everything is a process: my true evangelist colours shining through. I do have a very process-centric view of business, to the point where some work that I’ve been doing recently on compliance started out being about content and records management, and has shifted to have a very strong focus on process.

I also saw an article this afternoon by Terry Schurter of BPMG, and he states that BPM and a process-centric view are so popular because such a high percentage of BPMS implementations (compared to other enterprise software) deliver on their promise of ROI. His view is that taking a process-centric view — “the idea that businesses can be viewed as a series of processes, and that those processes can be identified and managed to improve quality, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness” — resonates with end-user organizations, vendors and analysts, and that BPM aligns with the natural business structure.

It seems that you can’t pick up a business or technology article these days without it containing some reference to process, which means that Terry and I are not alone in our views.

BPM templates

I tuned in to a Global 360 webinar today for long enough to hear Nathanial Palmer from Delphi speak about process templates and their importance in BPM (you should be able to find a replay of the webinar here in a few days). He revealed some very telling numbers, soon to be officially released, from a recent survey of over 100 active BPM project participants:

  • 98% agreed that pre-defined templates accelerate BPM deployments. 73% answered definitely “yes”, while the other 25% said “maybe”, and only for simple or standardized processes. I’m curious to know what the 2% “no” contingent was thinking, since it’s hard to imagine anyone not seeming some potential value in a pre-defined solution template.
  • Although few people expect templates to be an application rather than a project jump-start, 70% expect them to be a fairly complete framework with screens, rules, integration adapters and the like. In other words, the respondants definitely expect the templates to be customizable, but they want to have a pretty high starting point.
  • 70% stated that they would be more likely to buy a software solution that had process templates specific to their industry, which seems obvious but is something that many vendors haven’t figured out yet.
  • 76% agreed that the templates should be documented in “business” language rather than being a tool for IT, and one of the key values stated for process templates was to align busines value with IT.

Not surprisingly, SOX compliance was at the top of the list of which processes should be templated, although the votes were pretty evenly spread over all of the business processes surveyed.

Global 360 Active Compliance Framework

I watched a webinar earlier this week about BPM and compliance, a topic that I’ve been working on for a while, in which Global 360 announced their Active Compliance Framework (today’s Computer Business Review also reviewed their announcement). The speakers were from Doculabs and BWise, the latter of which has just partnered with Global 360 (and a bunch of other ECM/BPM vendors) for a compliance offering. Global 360 states the advantages of their compliance framework as follows:

Improved Compliance & Risk Management (i.e., do a better job of being compliant)

  • Standardized, structured approach
  • Focused on highest risk controls & processes
  • Centralized visibility and control

Reduced Compliance Costs (i.e., be compliant in a more cost-effective way)

  • Reduced project costs via control reduction based on risk
  • Reduced testing costs for remaining controls via automation
  • Eliminated testing costs for continuously compliant processes

Process Optimization & Control (i.e., provide an opportunity to optimize your business processes)

  • Optimize process performance while increasing control
  • Proactive compliance issue visibility, notification
  • Evolution from obligation to optimization

I liked the focus on the last of these sections, or what they called “from obligation to optimization”: changing the organization’s attitude from compliance being a chore that they’re forced to implement, to compliance being an opportunity to improve business processes through standardization and measurement.

If, like 1/3 of Doculabs’ current customers, compliance is one of your highest priorities for 2005, it’s worth your time to check out compliance solutions like this from ECM/BPM vendors. The whole compliance field is still chaotic; a Gartner report on compliance management software lists 26 vendors and clearly states that the compliance market is not mature:

A key finding of our research is that there is no comprehensive compliance management application. Whether buying from one or many vendors to get a solution, you will need significant services for implementation and integration.

Partnerships like the one between Global 360 and BWise start to address this problem, but there’s still a long way to go before we can even agree on what “compliance management software” is.

BPM and compliance

I happened across this article on how Sarbanes-Oxley is a “business blessing in disguise” since it can show you where your organization’s weak points lie, so that presumably you can fix them. Although it’s primarily discussing ERP systems, this same concept (business improvement/competitive advantage through compliance) is an area that I’m addressing for a client right now by looking at how BPM fits into the compliance big picture. That has me thinking about all sorts of things: BPM, business intelligence, business rules, performance management, compliance, and how they all fit together. You can be sure that there will be more on this in the future.

BPM in compliance

I’m listening in on a Ziff Davis webinar “The State of Business Integration: An Overview of Patterns and Best Practices”, featuring Ajay Patel, VP of of Server Technology for Oracle. In the course of the webinar, they’ve been doing a few listener polls, and this one was particularly interesting:

In other words, 27% of the webinar listeners consider BPM to be the most important technology for their compliance efforts, second only to corporate reporting/BI at 33%.