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Leveraging cloud for business process management

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As cloud offerings graduate from pure infrastructure services to higher level business services, enterprises are investigating how to harness cloud for their business process initiatives.

Many enterprises and vendors get stuck into having a version of Business Process Management (BPM) technology suite running on the cloud. That is only part of the puzzle. Several other key aspects are to use cloud for effective collaboration, sharing of best practices, and making it easy for business stakeholders to effectively participate in defining the business process improvements.

In the new emerging cloud world, I tend to view the cloud applicability to business processes improvement from three aspects:

  • Definition
  • Execution
  • Integration

Definition
Process definition stems from the business objectives and requirements. Analysis of existing processes in place and feedback from users is captured. Line-of-business executives and business analysts collaborate to define the process improvements. Cloud technologies can provide easy, accessible and cost effective ways to facilitate this. IBM® Blueworks Live, a cloud Software as a Service (SaaS) offering, is one such example available today as a pay-as-you-go cloud service.

Additionally, using a community of experts and best practices-based process templates provides the much needed acceleration in today’s business world where time to market is a crucial differentiator.

Execution
Process execution requires a comprehensive and robust technology suite that is built on standards such as Business Process Management Notation (BPMN), Business Process Execution Language (BPEL), and Service Oriented Architecture (SOA). Fine tuning a process based on results analysis and user feedback is an iterative process and must keep up with ever-changing business conditions. Traditionally, business analysts have been stifled in conducting multiple, quick field trials because of the cost and latency of securing and configuring the process execution infrastructure. Cloud Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS) delivery models mitigate this approach by providing self-service, on-demand environments in minutes and hours instead of days and weeks. The environments, which can be complex topologies of multiple machines, are preconfigured and ready to deploy and run the processes.

Integration
Integration here is not the classical integration of disparate assets across the enterprise. In looking at the emerging landscape of business process improvements, it is more of an integration of non-differentiated sub-processes and services that are available external to the enterprise along with the internal assets. Business stakeholders want to launch and operate the process improvements with maximum speed and with minimum cost. The guiding principles are straightforward: source externally if it is a non differentiator, economically makes sense, and operationally is feasible. Of course variations such as regulatory compliance and mission criticality will factor in, depending on the domain and use case. With maturity of technology and emergence of cloud service delivery models there is a growing supply of cloud services that provide functional and integration capabilities that could be used to accelerate process improvements.

I will highlight several IBM offerings in each of these three areas in my future blog articles.

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