Architecture in practice, Part 6: Why business process management (BPM) is important to an enterprise

This installment in the Architecture in practice column focuses on why business process management (BPM) is imperative for both the business and IT. Effective management of business processes is essential for driving business agility in an enterprise. Get an introduction to BPM and its lifecycle phases, and learn how it is complementary to Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA).

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Tilak Mitra (tmitra@us.ibm.com), Senior Certified Executive IT Architect, IBM

Tilak MitraTilak Mitra is a Senior Certified Executive IT Architect in IBM. He specializes in SOAs, helping IBM in its business strategy and direction in SOA. He also works as an SOA subject matter expert, helping clients in their SOA-based business transformation, with a focus on complex and large-scale enterprise architectures. His current focus is on building reusable assets around Composite Business Services (CBS) that has the ability to run on multiple platforms like the SOA stacks for IBM, SAP and so on. He lives in sunny South Florida and, while not at work, is engrossed in the games of cricket and table tennis. Tilak did his Bachelors in Physics from Presidency College, Calcutta, India, and has an Integrated Bachelors and Masters in EE from Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, India. Find out more about SOA at Tilak's blog. View Tilak Mitra's profile on LinkedIn or e-mail him with your suggestions at tmitra@us.ibm.com.



29 January 2008

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Introduction

One of the most interesting economic developments of the 21st century is globalization. New marketplaces, new workforces, new competitors, and a diverse cultural mix must be taken into account by any enterprise that wants to stay ahead of the competition.

The last decade has brought constant change to enterprise IT — efforts toward legacy modernization, en-masse technology upgrades, or continuous addition of applications to an ever-increasing portfolio. However, the traditional notion of maintaining a steady state set of an enterprise's core business processes is no longer enough to keep pace with the ever-changing demands and dynamics of the marketplace. The traditional paradigm of "build to last" now needs to give way to its ascendant business imperative: build to change.

To keep a competitive edge in the marketplace, business processes must be dynamic, flexible, and capable of being transformed and modified so the latency of change is not disruptive to the enterprise. Enterprises must constantly sense changes in market conditions, and rapidly adapt their strategies to reflect the changes. The primary manifestation of strategy adaptation is through executable business processes that are built around a business, and an IT framework that supports the agility and flexibility imperatives.

In this article, learn how effective management of business processes provides the essential recipes for driving business agility back into the enterprise.


What is BPM?

In the IT industry, BPM can have different meanings. For some, it is Business Process Modeling, dealing with techniques, tools, and best practices for process modeling. For others, it is Business Process Monitoring, which deals with tools and techniques for effective monitoring of executable business processes.

Our definition is Business Process Management, which combines business domain expertise and knowledge with associated and supporting technologies to accelerate process improvement, and to facilitate business innovation. BPM strives to integrate the three pillars of an enterprise architecture -- people, processes, and information -- into a single and managed discipline to manage, control, and dictate business innovation. One value of BPM is its capability and promise to discover, design, deploy, interact with, operate, optimize, and analyze complex, long-lived, multi-company business processes. BPM is part of the cycle from the design of the business processes to the identification and realization of an IT infrastructure that provides the platform for their execution.

BPM is as much an imperative for the business as it is for IT. It lets business stakeholders use their business domain knowledge to assess, analyze, and identify what matters most to their bottom line, and to scope and define the IT initiatives (programs and projects). The scoping mechanism fosters usage of business processes, and their enablement through IT, as the basis to design and implement executable systems.

Business processes are typically measured using business measurement criteria (such as key performance indicators (KPIs)). IT is compelled to provide a robust mechanism to monitor the performance of the executable systems. IT is now using business measures as the key criteria to measure IT effectiveness and efficiency.

The goal of BPM is to develop and execute on a perpetual value-generation cycle, where value is realized by continuous process improvement in an effort to sustain market competitiveness and dominance.


More than automation

According to Michael Porter from Harvard University, there are two types of work activities in a business process:

Primary activities
Are customer-centric, and customers have a direct interaction with them.

The efficiency of primary activity execution provides the lynchpin behind BPM as an enabler for an enterprise's competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Supporting activities
Provide more of the back-office type of activities, such as administrative details that are required to keep the business operational.

BPM is more than automation. Though automation is the first required step in identifying parts of the business process that can be purely implemented as a set of software services, the more challenging task is to continuously monitor the processes to remove bottlenecks and perform optimizations. Automation tools, techniques, and technologies are important; they empower a business to incorporate the right information and metrics in the business processes so the correct things can be measured in a timely manner — an imperative in developing a robust decision-making framework.

Business processes are central to the business architecture of an enterprise. Business processes can be designed to make work within an organizational unit much more business-focused. In this capacity, a business process integrates stovepipe applications within an organization domain. A business process can also typically transcend the organizational boundaries.

Business processes represent a value chain or a value delivery process. In either scenario, BPM, by using business processes as the fundamental construct, strives to maximize overall bottom line by integrating verticals and optimizing core work (different from traditional functional management disciplines). Functional management uses functional and business domains as their first class constructs. Both are structural in nature, providing a static view of the enterprise, as opposed to the more dynamic view, depicted through the business processes in BPM.

Business processes, and the agility that they empower, allow an enterprise to maintain the competitive advantage. The BPM tools, which is where automation comes in, should be viewed as enablers to create and optimize the business processes. A goal is to make the processes capable of sensing and responding to market changes and demands, and using the technology infrastructure to reflect the changes in the executable processes. It is here that the key, and often elusive, business and IT alignment has its first taste of success.

BPM provides the platform that enables the business functions embedded within applications and systems to interact and integrate at a level higher than application-to-application and data integration. This collaboration platform shields customers, suppliers, and trading partners from the technology dependencies of an enterprise's application portfolio, and provides an orchestration substrate to execute and manage end-to-end business processes.


BPM and SOA

BPM and SOA are complementary disciplines; SOA enables a successful BPM. BPM encapsulates the view of the business around how they expect their enterprise processes to operate. SOA is the IT lynchpin behind the successful implementation of BPM. It provides a set of principles and best practices for an architectural style and a programming model which, when followed, helps realize the business processes in IT in a mechanism where true flexibility and visibility (of performance, issues, bottlenecks, and so on) can be implemented.

BPM provides the discipline and expertise for the required process transformation to fully capitalize on the efficiency and flexibility of SOA. A service is one of the fundamental constructs in an SOA. Services:

  • Are a reusable and configurable encapsulation of a repeatable business task that hides the implementation details from the service's interface.
  • Are building blocks for business processes.
  • Can be composed with each other to encapsulate higher value business functions that make sense in the context of specific business requirements.

Business processes are encapsulated from a direct interaction with the application functions through this layer of service virtualization. Business processes are orchestrated by wiring services, of varying degree of granularity, together to form end-to-end realization. Flexibility in business processes is a result, because a service can be swapped with a more pertinent implementation without having any effect on the consumer of the business process.

Reusing SOA assets to build business processes lets you quickly reconfigure and modify the processes with a very reasonable size effort. New process capabilities are provided, enabling an enterprise to:

  • Sense and respond to market shifts and demands.
  • Adapt their business processes to reflect changes.
  • Ttip the punctuated equilibrium of market economics in their favor.

Ideally, a business process would be orchestrated purely through services. In reality, there are many non-functional requirements that warrant a hybrid implementation of business processes, where a process is orchestrated by a combination of services and more granular functional IT components.

SOA enables IT to define and govern how business processes interact with services, applications, and systems to ensure that the first priority is optimizing business process performance -- helping to further align IT with the business.

BPM and SOA are both multi-disciplinary in nature. Intra-disciplines within each of them also work together and influence each other. For example, the methodology for service identification in SOA influences how process modeling should be carried out in BPM so that candidate services may be identified. BPM governance and SOA governance also work together to assess which business processes should be in scope of a particular business transformation. Assessments can also include which processes lead to the prioritization of IT, thereby dictating which services should be identified, specified, and funded for implementation.


A BPM lifecycle

Any mature discipline is usually organized in the form of a lifecycle, with phases that are logically separate from each other but have well defined hand-off points to move from one phase to the next. BPM too can be defined, at a high level, as a lifecycle consisting of well-defined phases.

Figure 1 shows the various phases that might constitute a typical BPM lifecycle.

Figure 1. Phases in a typical BPM lifecycle
Typical phases in a BPM lifecycle
Envision
The business goals of the company are documented and well understood. The KPIs of the business goals are analyzed and, with the combined knowledge of goals and performance requirements, a vision for the BPM solution is developed. A change to the management strategy may also be needed.

The vision caters to the technology vision, and to how the strategy (regarding organization capability and readiness) may need to be developed to support a BPM-enabled business transformation.

Assess
The "as-is," or current state of the enterprise as applicable to process design and development, is analyzed. Organizational structure, application ownership model, governance around process design, development and deployment, and application portfolio analysis (at a high level) are some of the activities assessed for gaps between what exists and what's required in the future steady state.

Current organizational capabilities are assessed to determine if they can adopt the new business processes, which might straddle organizational boundaries and require a flattening of the organizational structure and hierarchy.

Existing business measures and metrics are identified, and are assessed against the capabilities of the new business processes that are envisioned in the transformation. The current IT architecture is documented and assessed for its maturity to support the IT transformations. The current technology stack is also assessed and documented.

Based on the thorough assessment of the current architecture, technology, business processes, measurement metrics, and governance framework, the vision is reevaluated to make it realistic. Assessment may also incorporate the definition of the IT strategy and roadmap to realize the business transformation.

Define
Where the "to-be," or future steady state, enterprise business processes are developed (design, implementation, deployment, and management). They are simulated to identify potential bottlenecks. Solutions are incorporated into the process models to reduce real-time performance inhibitors. The future state of the business architecture is developed around the people, processes, and information models. Business components are defined as fundamental structural components of the business architecture. Business processes that integrate functions from potentially multiple business components are also defined.

The business architecture is defined through both a structural and dynamic view of the business. Gaps in the IT architecture, as identified in the previous phase, are used as input, along with the business architecture, to define the future IT architecture for the enterprise. The future architecture could support the design, development, implementation, and monitoring of the business processes and their supporting applications. The technology stack that would support the lifecycle of the business processes (their modeling, design, assembling, deployment and monitoring) is also defined during this phase.

The governance process and framework is modified and refined to support the scoping, prioritization, and funding. Modifications also establish the gating criteria to certify processes and their implementation, in the client environment, vis-a-vis the performance objectives.

Execute
The high-level definition of the business, and IT architecture and its components, are actually modeled, built, integrated, assembled, deployed, and monitored in their respective run times. In general, the:
  • Business processes are either redesigned or designed from scratch.
  • Decomposed process models are used as one of the mechanism to identify services.
  • Process is assembled and wired using the service and other IT components.
  • Process is deployed on a process run time engine, and the running processes are monitored for performance and other Service Level Agreements (SLA) and KPIs.

The technology stack supporting each phase of process development is installed and configured for whenever the current phase requires the tools and products for its successful execution.

The business processes are monitored based on the KPIs and their metrics. The IT infrastructure that monitors the executable business processes sends out events and alerts that may be represented through various dashboards that cater to specific roles within an organization. For example, the CEO would like to know about business events and exceptions, so she may summon a team for immediate reconciliation. The CIO may be interested in a dashboard view that provides high-level information about whether the services conform to the service SLAs.

The required organization changes, as defined in the previous phase, are also initiated. Implementation of the process governance framework is initiated and deployed during this phase.

Optimize
The various aspects of the enterprise architecture are monitored, managed, and optimized for better performance, and to meet the business and IT metrics used to define the success of the enterprise operations. Results from the executable processes are typically gathered and analyzed. Analysis usually reveals information that feeds back into the Envision phase, where the business goals and priorities may be reworked based on the real-time operational environment for the enterprise.

Some visions may be easily met, allowing the stakeholders to start thinking about the next level of enterprise maturity. Some visions might be too far-fetched to be realized within the maturity limits of the enterprise. Results from the execution phase help in such optimizations.

Business processes are not the only facets of an enterprise that are capable of optimization. The organizational structure, the governance framework itself, the technology architecture, and the metrics, KPIs, and SLAs may require optimization before the next iteration of business and IT transformation is envisioned and defined.

BPM is best practiced through a phased and lifecycle approach, which lets you iteratively build and execute a business process management framework based on successive iterations of scope.


Conclusion

BPM provides a framework that enables enhanced control and management of core business processes across an organization. An enterprise can integrate the business functions they've built over the decades by using BPM tools, techniques, technologies, best practices, and business processes as the fundamental construct. The enterprise will be much more flexible, dynamic, and capable of integrating into the value chain of products, suppliers, and consumers. The enterprise can be in the middle of the chain as a value-addition node to the overall value delivery network.

The vision of BPM, enabled by SOA, assists in the packaging of IT capabilities as a set of reusable and repeatable software building blocks (services). Orchestration of business processes using services provides flexibility in the business process to tweak and change on demand. The enterprise has gained time to sense and respond to changes in the market place. BPM and SOA complement each other very well; BPM is the vehicle for SOA to align IT with the business goals and imperatives.

This article provides some ideas and rationale for why BPM is a serious business proposition, and includes some guidelines for how it may be practiced.

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