Business process management adoption scenarios

A look at how organizations can implement or expand BPM solutions

BPM initiatives and the resulting BPM solutions are comprehensive. Does that mean the barrier to entry is high? Does that mean you need experts in each one of these capability areas to get started? Absolutely not! In fact, one of the key premises of BPM is that it is easy to begin a project simply and gradually evolve your BPM capabilities. This article describes best practices for BPM adoption and expansion. Drawn from thousands of IBM’s BPM customer engagements, these practices are customizable to an organization's specific needs and can be used to start or expand BPM initiatives. They can be categorized according to three adoption scenarios: Business-Led Discovery, Interaction and Collaboration, and Continuous Process Optimization. This content is part of the IBM Business Process Management Journal.

Bertrand Portier, IBM Senior Certified Architect, BPM Tiger Team, IBM

Bertrand Portier photoBertrand Portier is a solution architect with IBM's BPM Tiger Team. He works with customers to assist them with their BPM initiatives. Over the last ten years, Bertrand has held various technical positions at IBM, working in development, services, and technical sales.


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19 January 2011

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Introduction

To some business-oriented people, business process management (BPM) is synonymous with workflow or modeling: documenting the processes operated by the business and using this for reference purposes and possibly to design improvements. At the other end of the spectrum, to some technical people BPM is synonymous with process automation: identifying the steps in the process that can be automated, and implementing information technology (IT) functions or “services” to automate these tasks. Although both of these approaches have value, neither addresses BPM holistically; so neither approach obtains the full value of BPM. BPM is not just workflow, nor is it just process automation.

Today, organizations embark on the BPM journey because they need business agility. They need the ability to respond quickly to evolving customer demands or environmental threats with new products and services and to enable planned changes to their business strategies quickly. They need the agility to expand quickly or to restrict their networks of business partners. In this context, BPM can be a business agility enabler; and as such, a BPM implementation may include the following capabilities in some shape or form: modeling, simulation, workflow, business rules, business data, business analytics, collaboration, human interfaces, business events, business activity monitoring, content, compliance, security, and system integration. Figure 1 illustrates BPM users (for example, business analyst, manager) using a role-based view to interact with the BPM platform, which provides required capabilities (for example, business rules, workflow).

Figure 1. BPM capabilities
BPM capabilities

BPM initiatives and the resulting BPM solutions are comprehensive. Does that mean the barrier to entry is high? Does that mean you need experts in each one of these capability areas to get started? Absolutely not! In fact, one of the key premises of BPM is that it is easy to begin a project simply and to gradually evolve your BPM capabilities.

This article describes best practices for BPM adoption and expansion using IBM BPM products as example enablers. Drawn from thousands of IBM’s BPM customer engagements, these practices are customizable to an organization's specific needs and can be used to start or expand BPM initiatives. They can be categorized according to three adoption scenarios: Business-Led Discovery, Interaction and Collaboration, and Continuous Process Optimization. These adoption scenarios are not an official list and are not mutually exclusive.


Business-Led Discovery

The Business-Led Discovery adoption scenario begins with identification of the focus business areas. For example, a bank may find that prequalification is inflexible in account opening processes; a telecommunications business may require better marketing and sales campaign management with targeted offers; a government educationtime agency may need to optimize issuance and management of teacher licenses. Selecting the right business areas requires consideration of business opportunities, costs, pain points, and compliance requirements.

Business-Led Discovery involves process discovery, which is about understanding how the target business operates today (the “as-is” state) and, more importantly, how the business should operate tomorrow (the “to-be” state). Considerations include:

  • How long it takes to complete each task
  • How much it costs
  • What information flows back and forth (including paper documents, faxes, and so on)
  • Who participates in the business process (roles)
  • What information channels participants use (for example, email, phone call, web portal, and so on)
  • What back-end systems (applications) support the business process

When performing process discovery, an industry-specific approach significantly improves the time to value (TTV). For example, it's useful to review industry benchmarks for the target processes to document comparisons with competitor operations or industry norms (for example, time it takes to on-board a customer, number of fraudulent declarations for a revenue agency, and so on). Key performance indicators (KPIs) and industry-specific assets such as process diagrams provide validated starting points for process modeling. For example, an organization can begin with a typical Banking Account Opening business process model created using WebSphere Business Modeler (instead of a blank sheet of paper or blank screen) and a roster of industry-specific KPIs already documented from which to select. These software assets are included in the WebSphere Industry Content Pack for Banking (see Resources), together with other industry-specific and industry-agnostic assets).

Modeling is used to understand and document business processes (in both as-is and to-be states). The modeling tools should be user-friendly offerings (small footprint, minimal configuration requirements, and designed for non-IT business users) and at the same time provide the required modeling capabilities. Documentation tools such as Microsoft® Visio® enable creation of visual documents in a familiar form but are not appropriate BPM modeling tools, even with BPM plug-ins. These tools simply store visuals and lack true modeling tools capabilities (supported by underlying modeling frameworks and meta-models). Their resulting artifacts are digital “dead-ends,” which require import to other software tools to create working software code, or to do detailed process analysis. IBM BlueWorks Live, shown in Figure 2, WebSphere Business Modeler or WebSphere Lombardi Edition's Designer, on the other hand, are full-fledged modeling tools that provide industry-standard constructs such as Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN). This capability is critical to support a proven model-driven development (MDD) approach. These tools enable both business and technical users to design and build process models, which can be analyzed, optimized, and converted directly into implementation code.

Figure 2. A business process model in IBM BlueWorks Live
A business process model in IBM BlueWorks Live

(See a larger version of Figure 2.)

Some full-function modeling tools also provide process simulation -- the running of “what if?” scenarios to optimize process models during discovery. Simulation allows you to experiment, evaluate alternate approaches and capture valuable insights with minimal effort and no negative impact on the business or the production environment. Similarly, if an industry-leading business rules management system (BRMS) such as IBM’s WebSphere ILOG® JRules is used, the effect of modifications to business rules can be demonstrated before they are applied. For example, if an educator certification’s testing and credentialing process includes a rule requiring an educator to be twenty-one instead of eighteen years of age, then it will be possible to determine how many educators with certification applications in progress will be affected by this change. I'll talk more about the relationship between business rules and business processes in Continuous Process Optimization.

Process improvement fits into this adoption scenario of Business-Led Discovery too, as represented by the Lean, Six Sigma, Lean Six Sigma and Business Process Re-Engineering methods. The goal of these initiatives is to discover and model business processes in order to improve them. WebSphere Business Modeler is an effective modeling tool supporting process improvement initiatives. Note that improving business processes may or may not involve BPM IT implementation. For example, analysis may reveal that a case worker wastes more than two hours every week because of the time it takes to walk to the FAX machine. In this case, the improvement recommendation should be to position the FAX machine closer to the worker’s work station. However, most effective and modern process improvements do require the automation of key steps using a BPM software suite, as I'll discuss in Continuous Process Optimization.

The most cost-effective business process modeling introduction will facilitate relatively simple and rapid experience and evaluation of the BPM platform, providing a short TTV in contrast with the time-consuming request for proposal (RFP) or technical proof of concept (PoC) activities. In addition, the users typically involved in these procurement activities are not technical, but it is desireable for these non-technical people to participate and follow best practices in BPM IT product evaluations. For these reasons, BPM via a Cloud delivery model such as IBM’s BlueWorks Live is ideal. Leveraging the public cloud eliminates dependency on the evaluating organization’s IT department for the procurement or deployment of the software – the only required end-user software is a Web browser that typically is already installed on the end users’ personal computers or laptops.

The Business-Led Discovery adoption scenario facilitates understanding of how the business operates and how improvements to the business processes can affect the “bottom line.” A natural next step (or a different starting point) in a successful implementation is to make newly designed best business practices (that is, the processes modeled using a BPM modeling tool) operational and to ensure collaboration by having people in the whole organization participate. This is where the Interaction and Collaboration adoption scenario applies.


Interaction and Collaboration

This section covers the collaboration aspects of BPM as well as a closely related concept called Advanced Case Management.

A critical success factor for BPM is collaboration. Participants should be able to interact when needed during the discovery, implementation, and execution of a business process. Workshops and meetings are essential for users from different and, particularly, physically or geographically dispersed departments to participate and collaborate meaningfully and efficiently to get the process right. In this way, the collaboration audit trail (for example, discussions, reviews, comments, or approvals) can be linked to the model of the business process instead of being buried in the participants’ emails or in hard-copy files. Participants can be empowered to make approval decisions and can be notified when they have to make decisions or take other actions; and activity audit trails can be maintained automatically for greater completeness, accuracy and timeliness with virtually no extra effort expended by participants.

We know that technical people are relatively good at using tools (for example, a designer using a Unified Modeling Language (UML) tool, or an IT operations professional using an IT service management tool). However, non-IT participants in the organization may be neither as skilled nor as comfortable using tools.

Ask yourself, what is the number one application in terms of frequency of use during the work day? Email! We use email to interact and collaborate. For example, a salesperson may require approval of a price discount, so she sends a note to the sales manager describing the opportunity. The manager replies asking for more information, and the salesperson provides it. The manager discusses the sales opportunity during the next cadence call and then forwards the email chain to the vice president of Sales, who finally approves it. One month later the salesperson needs another discount approval. What does she do? She sends an email, and the ad hoc discount approval process is repeated.

The problem with this approach is that, when using email or phone calls or both methods, the sales manager does not have a view of what discounts are pending or approved. The VP has no insight into what requests for approval are pending. The manager has no way of verifying quickly that all the required information has been provided.

What if this discount approval process could be quickly automated using BPM to provide a quick way of defining the required steps, which steps are approval steps, who has to perform each step, and when they are due? Whenever someone needed a sales discount approved, she could launch an instance of the discount approval process. The first step automatically goes to the right person, notifying her using the preferred method (for example, email or voicemail). Using this approach, the discount approval process can be standardized; and as a result:

  • Sales people precisely follow this process and do not miss steps by mistake (although steps can be skipped if required, as defined by the process model).
  • The manager gets a view of all discounts (pending or approved).
  • The VP knows what discounts will be given, pending approval.

IBM BlueWorks Live provides the ability to do just that -– to automate these simple processes that typically are performed using email (such as marketing campaign launch, presentation review and approval, meeting debrief and lessons learned, travel approval, laptop computer request). BPM supported by IBM BlueWorks Live allows everyone in the organization, including non-technical people, to collaborate in the execution of repeatable and predictable procedures. Please note that BlueWorks Live process automation does not apply to more complex processes, which require system integration, high scalability or high throughput (for example, Account Opening).

Figure 3 shows an example of a sales person launching an instance of the discount approval business process for their ACME opportunity: the “ACME discount approval process”. I used the template, attached documentation (in this case, an Excel® spreadsheet) to the process instance, assigned steps to people (myself, my manager, and my VP), and set due dates before launching the business process instance.

Figure 3. Process automation in IBM BlueWorks Live
Process automation in IBM BlueWorks Live

To apply the Interaction and Collaboration adoption scenario, a low barrier to entry and a significant number of business user participants are needed. These factors make an internet-accessible offering attractive.

Which social networking application do you use to keep in touch with friends and family, to know what is happening around you? Facebook? Twitter? Consider then the ability to apply the idea of social networking to BPM and have “social BPM"? Wouldn’t it be helpful to be connected to BPM thought leaders and corporate colleagues concurrently but separately, to preserve confidentiality of corporate matters and to receive the right feeds, at the right time to support and perform our required work? IBM BlueWorks Live provides a public BPM collaboration blog stream, concurrent and coexistent with a private (enterprise) feed, supporting the need for “social BPM” in a discrete and convenient manner, as shown in Figure 4. IBM BlueWorks Live is delivered using a Software-As-A-Service (SAAS) model and it includes built-in security and access rights to support private collaboration between a group of individuals from the same organization.

Figure 4. IBM BlueWorks Live private and public communities
IBM BlueWorks Live private and public communities

(See a larger version of Figure 4.)

A key enabler of BPM collaboration is the BPM user interface (UI) -- the face of BPM. Do not underestimate the importance of user experience, ease of use, and intuitiveness for the success of any BPM solution. As previously mentioned, most of the business processes that occur on a daily basis involve human interaction; so there must be a tight linkage between the UI and the rest of the BPM solution. IBM’s WebSphere Lombardi Edition was created with this principle in mind. A complete BPM solution, Lombardi provides the ability to define electronic forms and the flows between these forms as the business process progresses. In Lombardi, these forms are called Coaches, as shown in Figure 5.

Figure 5. A WebSphere Lombardi Edition Coach
A WebSphere Lombardi Edition Coach

(See a larger version of Figure 5.)

I've worked with customers who standardized on a user interface (for example, enterprise-wide portal, enterprise-wide technology for electronic forms). From the experience I've gained from this approach, it's clear to me that although perhaps not for the initial proof of concept, a successful BPM implementation must be compatible with this environment. For example, BPM-related widgets and forms must be compatible with the portal technology. Role-based dashboards have proven to be very successful, because they enable business users to access the right information at the right time, when decisions must be made. This principle will be discussed in greater detail in Advanced Case Management and BPM.

Tasks that can't be automated by an IT-provided function (for example, by a service or by a business rule) are referred to as human tasks. They require human-to-human or human-to-system interaction. For tasks such as these, designers should think about exceptions from the outset of the project. For example, what happens if a manager is on vacation? Can the approval step be omitted for this instance only? Human tasks and exception management are critical to the success of a BPM implementation and you should confirm that the selected BPM platform supports them. For example, WebSphere Dynamic Process Edition provides the ability to reassign tasks automatically (based on a timer) or manually at runtime for a live process.

Advanced Case Management and BPM

Advanced Case Management (or Dynamic Case Management) is about the evolution of document-centric BPM offerings to a more comprehensive solution, which encompasses Enterprise Content Management (ECM), content analytics, collaboration and social software, business rules, and BPM. The idea behind Advanced Case Management (ACM) is that separate offerings for each of these capabilities, even if integrated together for a solution, would not meet the needs of "cases," thus requiring a new comprehensive offering centered on the notion of a case and the knowledge worker.

A case can be anything people used to keep in a physical folder and the processes or procedures they followed in relation to this folder. For example, a case can be a patient's health record, an insurance claim, a benefits enrollment matter, or a credit card dispute. What is required is a complete 360-degree view of the case, as shown in Figure 6.

Figure 6. Advanced Case Management
Advanced Case Management

ACM makes sense when the experience of the knowledge worker (case worker) is paramount to an efficient and optimal outcome of a case resolution. ACM involves business processes and requires extensive handling of documentation (such as paper forms, resumes, authorizations, transcripts), strict governance and compliance (including audit trails), advanced case analytics and reporting, and collaboration between people working on the cases. With a BPM application, the business process is at the core of the solution, with an ACM application, the knowledge worker and the case are at the core of the solution.

Please note that most of the best practices described in other sections (discovery, modeling, collaboration, automation, robustness, and so on) apply to ACM.

As with BPM projects, industry-specific knowledge and having a pre-defined starting point, or case template, significantly abbreviates time-to-value for an ACM implementation. Case templates capture best practices from specific industries and business areas (for example, a case template for teacher licensure, auto insurance claim, individual banking account, or mortgage application).

IBM's ACM offering, Case Manager, provides the ability to rapidly design the case application, starting from case templates or building the case in interview mode. The case solution definition allows for the creation of artifacts such as tasks (business processes) pertinent to the case, document types, roles, and case types, all of which enable access to extensive information related to the case (business intelligence) and enables documenting compliance related to the case. Additionally, IBM Case Manager allows for the creation of ad-hoc tasks or processes needed to resolve a case.

A key component of an ACM-based solution is the user interface. Making sure the UI is relevant and intuitive for case workers is important. Role-based dashboards work very well in this context, providing access to the right case information at the right time, and allowing collaboration and interaction with other workers. Leveraging modern UI technologies, such as widgets and mashups allows for the required customization.

Figure 7. Capabilities of Case Manager, IBM's Advanced Case Management (ACM) solution
Capabilities of Case Manager

I've worked with customers who had the option to reduce (or to eliminate entirely) the number of paper documents related to business processes; thus enabling improved accuracy, decreased cost, and quicker processing time. This approach is supported by electronic forms solutions such as IBM Forms. An electronic form can be visually identical to its paper counterpart.

There are many integration points or similarities between enterprise content management (ECM) and BPM. The core ideas behind these linkages are to make your content process-aware and your process content-aware. Recent improvements have been made in this area, such as the WebSphere Adapters for ECM. For example, for a life insurance application, you may require three documents from the applicant: physical exam results, credit report, and a signed application. You can design your solution so that, once all three documents are received, it automatically initiates an underwriting process. Then later during the underwriting process, the underwriter has access to all three documents when she receives a business task to work on from her dashboard. Figure 8 shows how IBM Case Manager provides access to case-related documents.

Figure 8. Document management and BPM in IBM Case Manager
Document management and BPM in IBM Case Manager

(See a larger version of Figure 8.)


Continuous Process Optimization

The Continuous Process Optimization adoption scenario is very extensive. In fact, continuous process optimization can also be seen as the overarching goal supported by the other BPM activities (discovery, modeling, automation, and so on). Continuous process optimization involves continuously managing and monitoring your business processes, designing improvements and automating process steps using a BPM solution that is both robust and flexible. In this section, I'll touch on the following aspects of continuous process optimization:

  • Business activity monitoring
  • Process automation
  • Business rules
  • Business events

Business activity monitoring

Business activity monitoring (BAM) enables business users to get a real-time view of what is happening in the organization, from operational data, such as how many loan origination processes are in progress or what the workload is for a given case worker, to more advanced business analytics like predicting customer demand trends. We sometimes refer to this topic as “visibility and control.” For some organizations, looking at this at the beginning as an entry point makes sense. For example, you want to understand how many loan applications you actually process every week (as opposed to how many you think you process), you want to know how long it takes to approve a client for a new product, and whether and why specific products require more processing time. You do this because you want to take action based on what you see, such as reassigning tasks among case workers or training customer sales representatives on a new process that was a bottleneck, or automating parts of the process. For other organizations who spent time and effort modeling and automating business processes, it makes sense to use BAM to provide visibility and control onto these automated business processes.

Business intelligence (BI) provides extensive data integration, dashboards, scorecards, analysis, and reporting. As such it is naturally linked to BAM and BPM. One way to look at it is that BAM gives you a view of operational data and what is happening, while BI gives you access to more extensive intelligence and historical analysis on why these things are happening. BI gives you the ability to get detailed and up-to-date reporting information, standardized across a role set in an organization or ad hoc, so that you can create new reports as needed. BI allows you to perform analysis to understand why things are the way they are (root cause analysis) as a basis for performing simulations to explore “what if?” scenarios to obtain process improvement and, ultimately, optimization.

How does BI relate to BPM then? We can look at it from two viewpoints:

  • What business intelligence do you need as you execute business processes?
  • Based on specific business intelligence, what processes should you initiate?

The first viewpoint is about improving decision making, making sure case workers have access to relevant information when they need it (for example, when they get assigned a task from a business process instance). With WebSphere Business Monitor (the BAM component) you have the ability to show Cognos (the BI component) reports as part of the BAM dashboard.

The second viewpoint is about responding quickly to business situations by automating and standardizing actions. For example, based on a specific event, Cognos can automatically invoke a process running on WebSphere Process Server, passing the relevant business data from Cognos. For more details on BI, see IBM Cognos in Resources.

Process automation

Process automation is a key component of your BPM implementation. Process automation provides quality and accuracy (by reducing the human factor the error rate decreases), speed of decision, and improved productivity (less user involvement means tasks take less time to complete). Process automation requires identifying the parts of the business process (the business functions) that can be automated. Once a business task has been automated as a service, then that service can be reused by other business processes, resulting in fewer resources to create or manage.

This is where Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) naturally applies. SOA initiatives typically include some level of process automation. A top-down SOA approach, decomposing business processes (level 1, level 2 sub-process, level 3 sub-sub-process) yields a granularity level that makes sense for an automated business function. The development of services to provide these functions is integral with process automation. IBM refers to this overall BPM-oriented approach as BPM powered by Smart SOA, which could not be more appropriate than in the context of process automation. The key steps are to identify the services that are required to automate the business process, to create a clear description and a stable interface for each service (including operations with signatures) and then to develop and manage these individual services' lifecycles, ensuring that the relation of each to the target business process is clearly described. For more information on identifying and implementing services, refer to Service Oriented Modeling and Architecture (SOMA) in Resources.

Most businesses have been supported by proven legacy systems: COBOL applications running on the mainframe, RPG applications running on iSeries, or distributed Java™ Enterprise Edition (JEE) or .NET applications running in a client-server or virtual IT environment. BPM projects do not operate in isolation and the BPM solution needs to somehow integrate with these existing systems. You'll need to make sure that you can leverage these existing systems (yours or your business partners') in your BPM solution. We sometimes refer to this domain as “connectivity” and it is important that your BPM platform can leverage connectivity capabilities. I'll talk more about this and how SOA helps in Architectural Considerations for the BPM solution. You need tools that allow you to do technical implementation of processes (such as Business Process Execution Language (BPEL)) and services and integrate with these backend systems. WebSphere Integration Developer is the tool that is used to implement BPEL, Service Component Architecture (SCA) components and mediations (mediations enable connectivity between consumers and providers).

Business rules

Business rules and BPM are related. I've seen many organizations who are currently business rules users and now want to do BPM, and vice versa. This is a good thing! Business rules are everywhere, deep inside your application code or simply in the minds of your subject matter experts. A business rules management system (BRMS) like WebSphere ILOG JRules allows you to centrally manage these rules, as shown in Figure 9.

Figure 9. WebSphere ILOG JRules: A BRMS
WebSphere ILOG JRules: A BRMS

Business rules are used to automate checklists, validations, routing, and more. Anything that can be expressed as a condition (if, then, else) can be a business rule. Figure 10 shows an example of a business rule related to a government agency (pensions). The beauty of business rules is that a non-technical business analyst (or a developer) can understand and modify them. Business rules are expressed in a natural language (English or other) and specific values in the rules can be modified (under strict governance and access control). For example, in the rule shown in Figure 10, a business analyst might be authorized to modify the value for Service Years from 10 to 12.

Figure 10. An example of a business rule
An example of a business rule

In the context of BPM, we refer to business rules as “decision services." At specific steps in the business process, we fire (execute) business rules and based on the result of the rules' execution we automatically make a decision about what to do next (what branch of the business process to go to). For example, as part of an Educator Certification business process, we can invoke a decision service (a business rule), which automatically determines whether the applicant meets the requirements to take the tests for his certification. If he does, then the process continues to the “testing branch” (where the educator takes tests). If not, based on what is missing, the process continues onto another branch (such as, background check for the applicant).

Business rules are an example of a business agility enabler, enabling a flexible BPM solution. Other flexibility aspects are important as well. For example, your BPM solution needs to be able to manage exceptions, give you the ability to modify in-flight process instances (without redeployment), such as example skipping steps or jumping backwards in a live process instance. This dynamic aspect of BPM is critical and at the core of WebSphere Dynamic Process Edition.

Business events

Business event processing (BEP), sometimes referred to as complex events processing (CEP), is closely aligned with the concept of BPM and business rules. My favorite BEP example is as follows (skip this if you know BEP!): Your credit card is used in a store in Toronto, Canada at 8AM EST. This is an event. Your credit card is used in a store in Tokyo, Japan at 8:01AM EST. This is another event. Individually, these events are not critical. But when you do some correlation based on BEP, you are able to detect potential fraud. There are other types of events. For example, looking at how many times one of your existing customers goes to your web site and looks at a product description for a product they have not yet ordered. After a few occurrences of this, you may want to contact the customer about the product and do forward marketing. Additionally business events can be generated by business processes themselves and you can also monitor the absence of events.

BEP detects events, or business situations, analyzes and correlates, and notifies people or systems to take action. The next question is: What must happen when a business event is detected? Imagine that you have the ability to automate the actions that must be taken in response to the event. For example, for your existing customer showing interest in a new product, you can automatically send her an email with a promotional offer immediately after she views the product description for the third time! Imagine that your implementation automatically invokes a business process or a business rule in response to an event being detected. This is exactly what is provided by IBM WebSphere Decision Server, which provides BEP and BRMS together, as shown in Figure 11.

Figure 11. WebSphere Decision Server - BEP and BRMS together
WebSphere Decision Server - BEP and BRMS together

Architectural considerations for the BPM solution

Your BPM implementation needs to support quality of service and non-functional requirements such as integrity, performance, scalability, availability, and security. To accomplish this, your BPM implementation should be built on a robust BPM platform. This is where architecture is paramount and I recommend that you engage with a strong architect who knows how to address your non-functional requirements using the BPM platform. For example, how do you ensure that your BPM-based solution is available 99% of the time? How do you ensure that the data used by the business processes is sound and secure end-to-end? How do you ensure that your solution can scale up (or down) as usage changes? Clearly these concerns are not new concerns and are not related to BPM only. IBM's answer to this need for support of non-functional requirements is to base the BPM platform on more foundational capabilities such as SOA or Infrastructure. We refer to this as BPM powered by Smart SOA (see Figure 12). Please refer to the articles on the synergies between BPM, SOA, and Enterprise Architecture in Resources for more detail on this.

Figure 12. BPM powered by Smart SOA (retail example
BPM powered by Smart SOA (retail example

SOA, as an architectural style, should always be used to support other IT initiatives (BPM and others). For example, the BPM-based solution can leverage the security and connectivity components of your service-oriented architecture. Let's think about the scalability requirement as an example: The IBM BPM products are built on top of WebSphere Application Server Network Deployment, which supports clustering, which thus enables a scalable solution implementation.

It's important to note that although the SOA style of software architecture and development is not required for BPM implementation, the two techniques in combination maximize not only agility but also software reuse, internal and external communication, and joint governance, including line-of-business and IT management and staff.

In general, you should get value by following proven practices and topologies such as the ones described in the WebSphere BPM V7 Production Topologies (see Resources).

Process integrity has always been at the core of the IBM BPM strategy. Process integrity is necessary to meet compliance and regulatory requirements. You must be sure that your processes run as designed. The challenge is that we're not talking about the integrity of an individual transaction (making sure the transaction happened once and only once). Rather, we're talking about the integrity of end-to-end business processes, which span multiple organizations and systems both internal and external, and can be running for very long periods of time, thus making mechanisms like compensation more complex. Compensation and consistency are key elements of process integrity, making sure that the system is at a point of consistency at any given point in time -- whether processes executed fully or whether processes could not complete and had to be rolled back. IBM BPM process integrity is achieved by specific BPM capabilities on top of the underlying platform which supports BPM: connectivity, messaging, security, and so on.

A BPM Center of Excellence (COE) is a key contributor to the success of BPM initiatives in the enterprise and across projects. A COE is important for BPM because the BPM method is different (in that it has interactions between business and IT, iterative and model-driven approach) and business processes typically span domains. The BPM COE will help ensure that everyone playing a role on BPM projects knows what he or she has to do differently and why they have to do it this way. The BPM COE sets standards and procedures to be followed by the different groups in the organization, transfers BPM knowledge to ongoing projects, and defines a governance model, including policies, processes, and metrics. Key activities related to setting up a BPM COE include defining the COE's mission, understanding the current BPM maturity, defining BPM roles and skills, and defining the COE structure an mechanisms. BPM COE recommendations need to be actionable; we are used to saying “The BPM COE needs to have teeth!” There is no point in defining standards and procedures if people do not adhere to or follow them, respectively. Metrics, incentive models, or other techniques help ensure the success of the BPM COE.


Conclusion

In this article, BPM implementation use cases were categorized and discussed by the following user adoption scenarios: Business-Led Discovery, Interaction and Collaboration, and Continuous Process Optimization. Understanding these scenarios enables organizations to focus on that aspect of BPM that is most applicable and advantageous for the implementing organization. As previously noted, these approaches are not mutually exclusive. For example, I have worked with a customer for whom the Business-Led Discovery scenario was critical (line-of-business users involved from the very beginning of the project with needs for standardized processes in order to expand the business to new countries); and also for whom Continuous Process Optimization was critical to support the ongoing business objectives (the IT application had to be leveraged to provide the functions required by business processes).

Adopting BPM involves a paradigm shift and entails using practices not often familiar to the implementing organization. BPM requires delivering value and implementing IT projects differently than traditional IT projects. Successful customers adopt an iterative development approach with frequent milestones and regular reviews including frequent collaboration among business and IT users. Adopting BPM may also involve skills not readily available. For example, experienced business analysts are often in short supply.

Nevertheless, organizations that have been successful with their BPM initiatives share common characteristics. First, they started to become familiar with BPM using low-risk and low-investment solutions such as IBM BlueWorks Live. Then, they performed analysis to understand their current maturity level (skills, platform, and so on) and also their appetite for BPM -- where they want to be, and how much effort they are ready to undertake. As a result, they were able to identify the initial process area on which to focus; thus providing value in that area while laying the foundation for their BPM capabilities using one or more of the adoption scenarios described in this article. But they did not stop after the first project! Instead they now have a blueprint and roadmap for how they're going to use projects to realize their BPM vision. Successful organizations were also very clear about what they could do themselves and where they needed help (for example, due to lack of in-house BPM skills, when it makes sense to engage a strategic partner like IBM).

There is a BPM solution that fits your organization's purpose, a BPM solution that provides the capabilities you require, such as business rules or document management, a BPM solution that you can effectively implement and deploy in your organization. The IBM process improvement discovery workshop is a complimentary 3-day workshop that looks at the applicability of BPM for your organization, evaluates the optimal starting point (for example, one of the scenarios described in this article), understands the business impact of the BPM initiative, and defines a baseline for the BPM solution architecture. In other words, the workshop defines your BPM “fit-for-purpose” solution baseline. For more detail on the workshop, see Resources.


Acknowledgments

This article would not have been possible without the experiences gathered from BPM engagements and the best practices derived from these experiences. I would like to thank my customers, IBM colleagues and business partners for sharing their BPM expertise and making the production of this article possible. I did not define the topics described in this article but simply collected them from experts and described them in a comprehensive end-to-end document. Specifically, I would like to thank the colleagues who reviewed this article and helped transform a draft document into a precise and legible article: Pete Melrose, Scott Simmons, Lee Ackerman, Claus Jensen, Stuart Jones, Eric Herness, Rob High, and David Gomez, Jr.

Resources

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