Patterns for Business Process Implementations #GartnerBPM

Benoit Lheureux from Gartner’s Infrastructure and Architecture group gave a presentation on process implementation patterns. I think that he sees BPM as just part of SOA, and presents as such, but I’m willing to give him a pass on that.

He discussed five styles of flow management in SOA:

  1. Microflows: fine-grained services implemented via flows amongst software components. This is a process from a software development standpoint, not a business-level process: probably 3GL code snippets assembled into what we old-timers might refer to as a “subroutine”. 🙂
  2. Service composition: coarse-grained services implemented by assembling fine-grained flows (microflows). This may be done with a BPMS tool, but is low-level service composition rather than business processes.
  3. Straight-through process: automating business processes involving multiple services across systems, but without human intervention.
  4. Workflow: pretty much the same as STP, but with human intervention at points in the process.
  5. Semi-structured processes: a combination of structured processes with unstructured activities or collaboration.

He has some good strategic planning assumptions based on these four patterns, such as 75% of companies will use at least three different products to implement at least three different styles of flows. His primary focus, however, is on B2B, and how internal process connect to multi-enterprise processes, and the ultimate goal of shared process execution across enterprises. This led to the four B2B flow management styles:

  1. Blind document/transaction exchange: loosely-coupled, with each partner managing their own internal processes, and no visibility outside their own processes.
  2. Intelligent document/transaction exchange: visibility across the shared process to provide a shared version of the truth, such as a BAM dashboard that provides an end-to-end view of an order-to-cash process across enterprises. Although this isn’t that popular yet, it is providing significant benefits for companies that are implementing it, and Lheureux estimates that 50% of B2B relationships will include this by 2013.
  3. Multi-enterprise applications: shared execution of a process that spans the enterprises, such as vendor-managed inventory. This may be hosted by one of the partners, or may be hosted by a third-party service provider.
  4. Multi-enterprise BPMS and rules: centralized processes and rules, such as shared compliance management on a shared process. By 2013, he predicts that at least 40% of new multi-enterprise integration projects will leverage BPMS technology.

He showed a chart that I’ve seen at earlier conferences on identifying process characteristics, classifying your processes as case management, form-driven workflow, content collaboration, multiparty transactional workflow, participant-driven workflow, and optimization of network relationships based on the unit of work, process duration, degree of expertise required, exception rate, and critical milestones that progress work. Then, consider when to use BPMS technology rather than code when there are specific process characteristics such as complexity and changeability.

The final recommendations: don’t try to use the same tool to handle every type of process implementation, but be aware of which ones can be best handled by a BPMS (and by different types of BPMS) and which are best handled in code.

BPM in Times of Rapid Change #GartnerBPM

For the next couple of days, I’m at the Gartner BPM Summit in Orlando. Jim Sinur and Janelle Hill gave the opening keynote this morning on BPM in times of rapid change, starting with a view of the global economy: basically, it’s down this year, although not as bad as expected, and the leading economic indicators are starting to trend up.

Gartner did a survey of CEOs in late 2008, and found that their top priority is shifting back from cutting operating costs to increasing revenues, although only by a slim margin. The resulting message: the time to return to business growth is now, and leveraging BPM to assist growth can provide a first-mover advantage if the economy does trend up in 2010 as predicted. BPM still provides assistance in restructuring operations (including mergers and acquisitions) and cutting costs that goes along with a down economy, so you might as well leverage what you’re already using to cut costs, and start looking forward and repositioning for growth. In many cases (in my experience), improving business processes using BPM has the impact of reducing costs of the specific processes, which can either translate to reduced operational costs through reduced headcount, or increased revenues due to the increased capacity of the process to handle new business: these are just two sides of the same process improvement coin.

Going into 2010, most large enterprises have already completed their cutbacks – reduced headcounts, reduced infrastructure, renegotiated contracts and elimination of redundant technologies – but their budgets are going to be pretty flat. If you already have a BPMS in your organization, then this might mean some incremental expansion, but if you don’t, you need to look at how to justify the technology acquisition. Fortunately, that’s getting easier as the capabilities of the BPMS products expand: consider the value of process modeling (reduced redundancy and better use of people in the process) as well as process and application orchestration (automating the linkages between many existing applications) and composite application development environments (bringing together many applications into a single user view).

Focus on improving processes that defend revenue and cash without impacting customer experience, such as order-to-cash, sales processes, and customer service. Depending on your industry, this could also be the time to take some risks in order to gain that first-mover advantage: reconsider institutionalized behaviors and what you might think of as best practices, and see if there’s an innovative way to improve processes that provide a competitive edge. There should be no processes that are immune to change: challenge the status quo. I see this all the time with how companies are embracing social media in addressing customer relationships: the ones that are successful at it are those that throw away all the old ideas about how companies communicate and interact with their customers. These customer-facing processes are no longer about executing transactions, they’re about coordinating social interactions and developing social relationships.

The hot button these days is unstructured processes (which I’m sure that we’ll hear a lot more about this week), and how some new BPMS functionality allows for dynamic collaboration instead of, or within the context of, a structured process. This provides methods for gaining visibility into processes that might exist now only in email or other ad hoc methods, and likely aren’t managed well in their current state.

It’s not good enough, however, to use old-style BPMS/workflow products: you need to be considering products that have model-driven development, composite application development, process discovery and optimization, and customized dashboards for different roles and personas within a process. Otherwise, you’ll just be stuck back in the same old waterfall development methodology, and won’t achieve a lot of benefit from BPM. Interestingly, Sinur and Hill highlighted three specific products to show examples of what they consider BPMS innovation: Vitria’s composite application development, Pallas Athena’s process discovery and simulation, and Global 360’s persona-based user interfaces.

In the recession of the 1980’s, business process reengineering was a high-profile, strategic activity with top executives involved; as the recession eased, the executives’ interest in BPR waned. The same cycle will repeat now: executives are very interested right now in process improvement and BPM, but that’s not going to last when the economy starts to recover, so you may want to take advantage of their interest now and get something going.

You can track the Twitter backchannel for the Gartner BPM summit here.

Gartner webinar on using BPM to survive, thrive and capitalize

Michele Cantara and Janelle Hill hosted a webinar this morning, which will be repeated at 11am ET (I was on the 8am ET version) – not sure if that will be just the recording of this morning’s session, or if they’ll do it all over again.

Cantara started talking about the sorry state of the economy, complete with a picture of an ax-wielding executioner, and how many companies are laying off staff to attempt to balance their budgets. Their premise is that BPM can turn the ax-man into a surgeon: you’ll still have cuts, but they’re more precise and less likely to damage the core of your organization. Pretty grim start, regardless.

They show some quotes from customers, such as “the current economic climate is BPM nirvana” and “BPM is not a luxury”, pointing out that companies are recognizing that BPM can provide the means to do business more efficiently to survive the downturn, and even to grow and transform the organization by being able to outperform their competition. In other words, if a bear (market) is chasing you, you don’t have to outrun the bear, you only have to outrun the person running beside you.

Hill then took over to discuss some of the case studies of companies using BPM to avoid costs and increase the bottom line in order to survive the downturn. These are typical of the types of business cases used to justify implementing a BPMS within conservative organizations in terms of visibility and control over processes, although I found one interesting: a financial services company used process modelling in order to prove business cases, with the result that 33% of projects were not funded since they couldn’t prove their business case. Effectively, this provided a more data-driven approach to setting priorities on project funding, rather than the more common emotional and political decision-making that occurs, but through process modelling rather than automation using a BPMS.

There can be challenges to implementing BPM (as we all know so well), so she recommends a few things to ensure that your BPM efforts are successful: internal communication and education to address the cultural and political issues; establishing a center of excellence; and implementing some quick wins to give some street cred to BPM within your organization.

Cantara came back to discuss growth opportunities, rather than just survival: for organizations that are in reasonably good shape in spite of the economy, BPM can allow them to grow and gain relative market share if their competition is not able to do the same. One example was a hospital that increased surgical capacity by 20%, simply by manually modelling their processes and fixing the gaps and redundancies – like the earlier case of using modelling to set funding priorities, this project wasn’t about deploying a BPMS and automating processes, but just having a better understanding of their current processes so that they can optimize them.

In some cases, cost savings and growth opportunities are just two sides of the same coin, like a pharmaceutical company that used a BPMS to optimize their clinical trials process and grant payments process: this lowered costs per process by reducing the resources required for each, but this in turn increased capacity also allowed them to handle 2.5x more projects than before. A weaker company would have just used the cost saving opportunity to cut headcount and resource usage, but if in a stable financial position, these cost savings allow for revenue growth without headcount increases instead.

In fact, rather than two sides of a coin, cost savings and growth opportunities could be considered two points on a spectrum of benefits. If you push further along the spectrum, as Hill returned to tell us about, you start to approach business transformation, where companies gain market share by offering completely new processes that were identified or facilitated by BPM, such as a rail transport company that leveraged RFID-driven BPM to avoid derailments through early detection of overheating problems on the rail cars.

Hill finished up by reinforcing that BPM is a management discipline, not just technology, as shown by a few of their case studies that had nothing to do with automating processes with a BPMS, but really were about process modelling and optimization – the key is to tie it to corporate performance and continuous improvement, not view BPM as a one-off project. A center of excellence (or competency center, as Gartner calls it) is a necessity, as are explicit process models and metrics that can be shared between business and IT.

If you miss the later broadcast today, Gartner provides their webinars for replay. Worth the time to watch it.

Next week: Toronto, not San Diego

Yes, it’s true, I’m going to miss a North American Gartner BPM summit for the first time in, well, maybe forever. There’s two reasons for this: first and foremost, I’m 110% busy with time-critical client work right now, and a week in sunny San Diego just doesn’t fit into my calendar. Also, if you review my coverage of last fall’s summit, I’m not finding enough new material at each summit since they moved to the two/year format: I’m not learning much, and there’s not much new to write about. I believe that they’ve started to add some new material specific to BPM in a tight economy, and they had a pretty successful event in London a few weeks back, so I look forward to catching up with the material – and those of you attending – at the next one.

For all of you who have sent messages asking if we can meet up in San Diego next week, I’ll raise a glass to you from these chillier climes.

Gartner webinar: First 100 days as BP director

In keeping with other recently-installed change agents, Elise Olding of Gartner delivered a webinar today on your first 100 days as a business process director. As she points out, you have 100 days to make some key first impressions and get things rolling, and although you may not necessarily deliver very much in that time, it sets the tone for the ongoing BPM efforts.

She breaks this down into what you should be doing and delivering in each of the first three months:

  • The first month is about planning and getting a number of activities kicked off. If you’re new to the business area (often, the BP director is coming in from another part of the organization or from outside), then learn about the organization and the business. Start an assessment of how BPM will impact the business, interview key executives, and make sure that you understand the key drivers for BPM to ensure that the project actually has a long-term vision and goals. By the end of that first month, you should have delivered a high-level plan, figured out who’s going to be on the team and how it will be staffed (internal, external consultants, new hires), and create a “what is BPM” presentation to use for eduction within the organzation.
  • The second month is about getting the strategy in place. The team should be mostly in place, with roles and responsibilities defined, and you should have ties established with complementary groups such as enterprise architecture and strategic planning. Some amount of documentation needs to be created by this point, including the BPM charter, methodology for BPM projects and the BPM governance structure (including a competency center) that dovetails with other governance within your organization. At this point, you should also have a first draft of your BPM strategic plan and a communication plan.
  • The third month is about starting to deliver results. With the internal team fully in place and some new hires likely still ongoing, you’ll need to determine training needs both for the team and to roll out on a larger scale. The actual process improvement work should be started, looking at the details of processes in the business areas and considering the application of BPM practices (we’re not talking technology implementations here) to start understanding and improving processes, and try to complete two “quick win” projects where you’re showing value in the organization. The business process competency center should be kicked off and the charter drafted, and governance bodies such as steering committees in place, and you should finish your final strategic plan.

In some organizations, this will seem a wildly optimistic schedule for all of these activities, and Olding admitted that she has seen many cases of this stretching to around 18 months. I’m sure that hiring Gartner to help you out will speed things along, however. 🙂

She ended up with some recommendations that are pretty good advice on any type of project: understand the organization and have a plan that is flexible enough to accommodate theirpecific needs; communicate, particularly showing BPM in the context of business imperatives; and advocates within the business to help with the adoption process. Gartner has published quite a bit of research on getting started with your BPM initiatives, including governance and competency centers, but she recommends actions such as getting a collaboration site (e.g., SharePoint, or a hosted solution such as Google Sites if you have external participants) set up early to gather ideas and information about BPM.

Elise went into quite a bit of detail on each of these; definitely worth checking out the replay of the webinar in full (the registration was here, so the replay will likely show up there somewhere). Also, they have two BPM conferences coming up: February 23-25 in London, and March 23-25 in San Diego, and there’s a discount code given at the end of the webinar for $300 off the San Diego conference.

Comparing BPM conferences

The fall conference season has kicked off, and I’ve already had the pleasure of attending 3 BPM conferences: the International BPM conference (academic), Appian’s first user conference (vendor), and the Gartner BPM summit (analyst). It’s rare to have 3 such different conferences crammed into 2 weeks, so I’ll sum up some of the differences that I saw.

The International BPM conference (my coverage) features the presentation of papers by academics and large corporate research labs covering various areas of BPM research. Most of the research represented at the conference is around process modeling in some way — patterns, modularity, tree structures, process mining — but there were a few focused on process simulation and execution issues as well. The topics presented here are the future of BPM, but not necessarily the near future: some of these ideas will likely trickle into mainstream BPM products over the next 5 years. It’s also a very technical conference, and you may want to arm yourself with a computer science or engineering background before you wade into the graph theory, calculus and statistics included in many of these papers. This conference is targeted at academics and researchers, but many of the smaller BPM vendors (the ones who don’t have a big BPM research lab like IBM or SAP) could benefit by sending someone from their architecture or engineering group along to pick up cool ideas for the future. They might also find a few BPM-focused graduate students who will be looking for jobs soon.

Appian’s user conference (my coverage) was an impressive small conference, especially for their first time out. Only a day long, plus another day for in-depth sessions at their own offices (which I did not attend), it included the obligatory big-name analyst keynote followed by a lot of solid content. The only Appian product information that we saw from the stage was a product update and some information on their new partnership with MEGA; the remainder of the sessions was their customers talking about what they’ve done with Appian. They took advantage of the Gartner BPM summit being in their backyard, and scheduled their user conference for earlier the same week so that Appian customers already attending Gartner could easily add on a day to their trip and attend Appian’s conference as well. Well run, good content, and worth the trip for Appian customers and partners.

Gartner’s BPM summit (my coverage), on the other hand, felt bloated by comparison. Maybe I’ve just attended too many of these, especially since they started going to two conferences per year last year, but there’s not a lot of new information in what they’re presenting, and there seems to be a lot of filler: quasi-related topics that they throw in to beef up the agenda. There was a bit of new material on SaaS and BPM, but not much else that caught my interest. Two Gartner BPM summits per year is (at least) one too many; I know that they claim to be doing it in order to cover the east-west geography, but the real impact is that the vendors are having to pony up for two of these expensive events each year, which will kill some of the other BPM events due to lack of sponsorship. Although I still think that the Gartner BPM summit is a good place for newbies to get a grounding in BPM and related technologies, having a more diverse set of BPM events available would help the market overall.

If you’re a customer and have to choose one conference per year, I’d recommend the user conference put on by your BPM vendor — you’ll get enough of the general information similar to Gartner, plus specific information about the product that you’ve purchased and case studies by other customers. If you haven’t made a purchasing decision yet and/or are really new to BPM, then the Gartner BPM summit is probably a better choice, although there are other non-vendor BPM events out there as well. For those of you involved in the technical side of architecting and developing BPM products at vendors or highly sophisticated customers, I recommend attending the International BPM conference.

Gartner BPM: Global 360/Carlson Marketing

Robert Lang of Global 360 to talk about an implementation at Carlson Marketing, a travel, meeting and event planning company. They had a lot of paper-based processes that included hand-offs between departments with complex approval processes; not only was the basic process difficult to manage, but changes to a customer proposal were difficult to execute efficiently.

They used Global 360, SharePoint (as a portal), InfoPath (for complex forms UI) and SQL Server to implement their travel proposal request process, including automating the routing of work requests related to the proposal process. They automated some operations, and made other operations considerably more efficient by maintaining a common folder for the proposal that could be accessed by any relevant participants. They allowed for spawning related but independently-executing processes.

Their benefits:

  • Faster processing of proposal requests
  • Better accuracy in data collection
  • Less rekeying of data
  • Consolidation of data into a centralized database for historical analytics
  • Improved turnaround time by 30%
  • Reduced number of personnel required to process a proposal request by 19%
  • Ability to identify and address bottlenecks in the business process
  • Dynamically reconfigure and reassign staff to optimize work

They plan to use Global 360 for other projects, including A/P, HR and their call center.

That’s it for me for this Gartner BPM summit: after spending most of the last 2 weeks traveling to 3 conferences, I’m skipping the vendors’ parties tonight and the last half-day of content tomorrow morning. I’ve been thinking about a wrap-up post comparing the 3 very different conferences — one academic, one vendor and one analyst — so watch for that over the next few days.

Gartner BPM: Global 360/Citi Cards Imaging and Workflow

Global 360 has a bit of revolving door with analysts: first, they hire Jim Sinur from Gartner. Then, they hire Colin Teubner from Forrester. Then, Sinur leaves. And here today at the Gartner show, which he admits is his first-ever, Teubner presented on behalf of Global 360 about putting people first in BPM. He really only did the introduction, however, before turning over the presentation to one of their customers, Richard Van Hoever, SVP of Customer Service Paper at Citi Cards.

Citigroup uses a lot of Global 360: 10,000 users worth. They’ve implemented a pretty standard imaging and workflow transaction processing application, with work queues that push work to participants rather than allowing cherry-picking, work prioritization and routing, and load balancing across their domestic, nearshore and offshore workforces. The big challenges are the volume of work, tight integration between document management and BPM, and geographic routing.

They were able to get 75% of their required functionality out of the box with Global 360 (they were promised 90%, but that type of discrepancy is pretty common). Most of the customization was around the work filtering, sorting, assignment and presentation, as expected; Global 360, like other BPMS’, does most of the behind-the-scenes stuff out of the box.

What amazes me is that this is fundamentally not different from the types of imaging and workflow systems that I’ve been helping organizations to implement for about 15 years; the only thing that has changed is that the relative sophistication of today’s tools means much less custom code and greater process agility. However, the business process is the same inefficient, key-from-paper/image process that’s been happening the same way for years. Undoubtedly, the relative volume of some transaction types will have reduced due to online self-service, but it’s clear that many large financial services organizations have a long ways to go in terms of making it easier for their customers to do their data entry for them.

Gartner BPM: SaaS and BPM

Having bugged out of the Agile BPM session, I arrived late to Michele Cantera’s discussion of whether software as a service is a viable option for process improvement projects. She covered off some of the same material as the SaaS and BPM session in February, but there was some new information as well. I won’t repeat the material from that session on the topic of BPM SaaS delivery and multi-tenancy models, so you might want to go back to that post and check that out as background for this. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

One interesting bit, based on 2007 estimates, segmented the BPM SaaS adopters into four categories:

  • Pragmatists, forming 49% of the market, who are replacing departmental on-premise applications but don’t have an enterprise-wide scope.
  • Beginners, 40% of the market, who are replacing low-end software tools with simple utility applications. These are often small or medium businesses who don’t want to grow an IT department.
  • Masters, 10% of the market, who are weaving SaaS applications into their enterprise-wide application portfolio.
  • Visionaries, a mere 1%, who are actively replacing on-premise applications with SaaS wherever possible.

She showed these plotted out on two axes: comprehensive strategy versus IT ability to execute. Pragmatists are low on comprehensive strategy but high on IT ability to execute; beginners are low on both, masters are high on both, and visionaries are high on strategy but low on ability to execute (since they don’t need to have internal IT skills). I really like this segmentation, since I think that it provides a good way to characterize SaaS customers in general, not just SaaS BPM customers.

She went through the list of current BPMS SaaS vendors, split out into business process modeling, process-based applications, and BPMS as a service. The SaaS modeling vendors are Lombardi, Metastorm and Appian; BPMS as a service is offered by Appian and Fujitsu. Process-based applications are typically offered by companies who have taken a commercial BPMS and built a specific vertical application on top of it; the underlying BPMS is not necessarily offered as SaaS directly, and in most cases, the BPMS vendor is not the one providing the service (with the exception of DST, whose BPM product grew from their own mutual fund back-office application), since most of them are not in the vertical applications market. There are going to be more entrants into all of these spaces in the near future, as well as changes to the multi-tenancy models offered by the vendors; you’ll want to keep your eye on what’s happening in this space if you’re considering BPM via SaaS, and start to consider how you’re going to handle process governance when your business processes aren’t running on your own systems any more.

She also showed a chart of different SaaS services types (BPO, application outsourcing, hosting, traditional ASP/SaaS model, process-based applications using BPMS/SaaS, BPMS as a platform, BPMS as SaaS-enabling platform) mapped against operating characteristics (operational cost, degree of customization, process agility, cost of process agility, number of suppliers): for example, BPMS as a platform has high process agility, whereas a traditional ASP/SaaS application that likely doesn’t include a BPMS has low process agility.

There was a list of do’s and don’ts of using SaaS for process agility, such as using BPMS via SaaS for pilot projects in order to make the business case for on-premise systems. Of course, if you do that, you might just find that you like the SaaS model well enough to stick with it for the long run.

Gartner BPM: Agile BPM methods

In the spirit of discouraging conference organizers from scheduling sessions that start before 9am, I boycotted the 8:15 keynote session, but showed up for the session on Agile BPM methods. Unfortunately, it appears to be a complete rerun of David Norton’s session from February, so I’m heading out to find a different session.