Business Process as a Service (BPaaS) delivered from the cloud

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Any business process (for example, payroll, printing, ecommerce) delivered as a service over the Internet and accessible by one or more web enabled interfaces (PC, smart devices and phones) can be considered as a Business Process as a Service (BPaaS). Advertising services such as Google Adsense, IBM Blueworks Live for business process management are some of the several publicly available services, whereas there are number of other services that today IT departments provide to their users within the firewall or to the trusted partners.

When these services are delivered from the cloud, it changes the economic dynamics. Particularly from the user perspective, one moves away capital expenditure (CAPEX) discussion to the operational expenditure (OPEX) discussion during business case calculations. This in the IT world is a paradigm shift, shift towards utility computing, where you pay as you go even within the walls of the enterprise and extended value chain (the shift to which we are now used to in the consumer world with many services available through apps on the smartphones that we use to manage many business or family processes).

When one looks at the BPaaS in the Common Cloud Management Platform Reference Architecture (Figure 1) proposed by IBM to the The Open Group, the BPaaS sits above software as a service (SaaS) layer. In my opinion BPaaS is about intelligently consuming services from the SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS layer.

Figure 1:  Common Cloud Management Platform Reference Architecture

Along with the logical economic benefit and ease-of-use of delivering BPaaS from cloud, a key benefit going forward I see is the opportunity a prospective user has to take it out for the proverbial test drive, that is, users can try out various services before integrating in their larger business process or replace an existing service rapidly. The concepts such as virtual desktop make these services consumable from any device.  This is a complete paradigm shift with which everybody including internal IT departments will have to live with, it’s no more the IT departments that are creating and sourcing the services. Services are now available in the market place that line-of-business executives can search, use for testing, and then decide to buy or keep looking for something else. As depicted in Figure 2, the services consumed by the business process can be sourced from internal private cloud, partners cloud, or some public cloud.  Alternatively, a BPaaS through cloud delivery model creates entirely different markets for companies and for the CIO organizations where existing delivery models don’t facilitate access to these markets. I guess, they should ask themselves the following questions:

  • What are the key attributes of a winning cloud provider business strategy and model?
  • How can partnering across the ecosystem accelerate my success?
  • What are the implications if I do not act now?

Figure 2: Internal and external services

Let’s look at an example of a BPaaS offering from IBM, namely IBM Blueworks Live. Whether you are involved in simple processes that are today run over email, are managing a small team and want to run more efficiently, or are involved in a corporate BPM program around process modeling and governing, Blueworks Live is an offering that brings everyone in the process conversation, thus leading to increased visibility and more consistent results. Following are the key features that Blueworks Live provides around enterprise BPM.

Discovery and documentation

The first step in any process improvement effort is getting a clear picture of where you are today. With Blueworks Live, your whole team can engage collaboratively in the process discovery exercise while your process experts can use complex BPMN to document the most intricate aspects of your processes.
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Centralized collaboration

Social networking meets BPM in Blueworks Live. Built-in communication features, such as instant messaging, live news feeds, and the ability to leave comments enable you to immediately react to process changes that affect your projects. By consolidating all your organization’s process knowledge in one place, you can ensure that the right people are informed of the right changes at the right time. See Figure 3.
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Figure 3: Number of templates for standard business processes.

Private communities: Blueworks Live’s main login page immediately tells you what changes have occurred to processes you are either directly or indirectly involved in. Learn which new process have been “shared” or published, which processes have been edited, and who has commented on which process. Choose to “follow” work and processes that involve you. Real-time status updates increase visibility and accountability while keeping everyone engaged with their work.

Public communities: Use the built-in expert community to gain industry, process improvement, and BPM knowledge. A curated Twitter stream is part of the Community view to provide you with relevant blogs, white papers, and other content that can help you improve your business operations. The Library houses a variety of material such as tutorials, analyst reports, and videos.

Access control: Blueworks Live offers both Editor and Contributor licenses. As an editor, you are able to create, modify, and share a Process Blueprint. Contributors can view and comment on processes but aren’t able to modify or create them. Both editors and contributors are able to configure and run Process Apps with Blueworks Live. Blueworks Live allows the account administrator to set the level of access, editor or contributor, for each individual process. Administration is handled through a simple intuitive interface. You can allocate licenses by simply typing the user’s email address and inviting them to join. If at some point, licenses are not being used, you can re-allocate those to new users. To obtain new seats, you can simply order them online by providing your credit card information and selecting the number of Editor and Contributor licenses you need.

Automating simple processes

Every day you waste countless hours working on the wrong thing at the wrong time because the wrong person is on the approval email thread or because a deadline was lost at the bottom of an email chain. With Blueworks Live, configuring a repeatable Process App that gives you back all those wasted hours is as close as 90 seconds and a few form fields away. By adding a layer of governance to these types of ad-hoc processes your organization will regain control not only over the business but also over its inboxes.
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IBM Blueworks Live has one example where an entire organization can collaborate and make decisions using a third-party business service. The Blueworks Live provides 30 day free trial, after which you decide whether to subscribe to this service.

IBM Blueworks Live is just one example and I guess of great value for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) who will not be able to consume or afford such a powerful business process management tool on their own. 

I think the option to test drive, pay per use, and of course, subscription and not purchase (so that you can easily change the service as your business requirements changes) is a good value proposition for all types of enterprises (including the large ones). We all know many instances of the enterprises that are stuck with their enterprise applications and tools because of some wrong assumptions, short-sighted decision-making during application selection or implementation process.

When one looks at IBM’s recent announcement regarding SaaS offerings, one sees that IBM currently offers number of software products under SaaS portfolio that can be integrated to create very different and customised BPaaS scenarios. The following critical enterprise business processes are currently covered by IBM’s SaaS offerings:

Also, many ERP vendors and service providers are offering or in the process to offer the ERP functionalities as a BPaaS.

In summary, I would say BPaaS is a new paradigm shift in the industry that not only affects IT executives but also line-of-business executives. BPaas is also a chance to transform your business processes and create an enterprise architecture that is agile and is flexible to rapidly changing business environments and opportunities arising out of globalization.

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