Business process management in the cloud

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During my university years, I had industrial training in a semiconductor factory where I used a stopwatch to time a certain process from start to finish. We had to capture so much data manually and do a comprehensive time-and-motion study (which took days) before we came up with process improvement recommendations.

A few years ago, I did extensive IBM Business Process Manager 7.5 training, and I was impressed by how this product can document the as-is process, automatically capture data and then monitor the process in near real time. It produces useful analytics, simulates what-if scenarios and can identify the bottlenecks in a process. We’ve really come a long way from those stopwatch days to the current BPM softwares. In this blog post, I will be describing the IBM Business Process Manager (BPM) product and how it can be implemented in a cloud environment.

Business Process Manager (IBM BPM) is IBM’s comprehensive, consumable BPM platform that provides visibility and management for an enterprise’s business processes. It enables process owners and business users to effectively engage directly in the improvement of their business processes. Figure 1 shows how IBM BPM serves as a middleware that provides seamless integration of business tools, processes, decisions and events. It provides users with guidance on what process to do, how to do it and when to do it.

According to the 2012 InformationWeek 500 Survey’s “Plans to innovate this year,” making business processes more efficient is the number one priority. When we talk about process efficiency, we can’t help but also consider speed, agility and adaptability. The best environment that can provide these attributes is the cloud. I am glad to know that recently IBM announced three BPM cloud offerings which are shown in Figure 2.

IBM Blueworks Live on public cloud

I have documented some of my team’s business processes using this software as a service (SaaS) and it is very intuitive. It facilitates collaboration, especially if you have a virtual team from different time zones. This cloud is used by internal users as well as our external customers. The finished process can be imported to IBM BPM for further development.

IBM Business Process Manager on public cloud

If you look closely at the middle graphics in figure two you’ll see that the full capabilities of IBM BPM (IBM BPM Advanced) can be set up and run quickly in a managed, secure BPM environment in the IBM SmartCloud Enterprise (IBM SCE). I would like to zoom-in to describe in more detail exactly what is included in the public cloud (refer to Figure 3). Business analysts use the Process Designer for processes that can be easily integrated, while the Integration Designer is used by IT Developers for more complex ones. All the development is done in the Process Center, then deployed to the Process Servers (stand-alone test server environment and a highly available pilot/production server environment) where the users run their processes. To complete the lifecycle, the BPM administration is also done in the cloud.

IBM Business Process Manager and Operational Decision Manager (ODM) application patterns on private cloud

BPM and ODM application patterns and the IBM PureApplication System provide an excellent platform for rapidly scaling BPM programs across the enterprise—at a lower cost and with less resources. Figure 4 shows more of the benefits of this offering. I can see this as the best environment for industries (retail, services and travel) where there are peaks and lows.

I strongly believe that with cloud and mobile as enablers, BPM adoption will grow and become more sophisticated. A BPM managed scenario where you are having your dinner in a restaurant and your mobile phone alerts you to approve a purchase order (with all the necessary documentation) is now a reality.

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