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Guest Blog: BPM - Where Art Thou?

Appian Contributor
September 7, 2010

The BetterGov Editors are on vacation. In the meantime, please enjoy this guest blog from Kapil Pant.

I would like to start by raising a question to all, What do you think is BPM? To make the discussion specific, lets start by narrowing down the debate for BPM in two dimensions:

1) BPM from Business view

2) BPM for Technology view

Most of us will probably answer and would agree that BPM is both a Business and a technical concept and depends on the context of discussion can be defined separately. For me the definitions can be as follows (very generically)

BPM for Business can be defined as a way of thinking and an approach which allows the organization to focus and manage its business processes with the aim of deriving efficiency and excellence in its way of working across multiple levels of business to achieve defined corporate objectives

So, for all obvious reasons, every organization should be looking at improving their existing business processes, which can be either by

a) modifying the way they do a particular manual activity or set of activities for e.g. Instead of all loan applications reaching the underwriter for manual approval, have a screening process to remove obvious rejections.

b) Automating part of the process

c) etc. etc.

Many organizations based on above definitions will say they do BPM. The main difference of "BPM" in this context also is to ensure that these process management activities are aimed at having a broader level view of the process to allow cross-functional benefits rather than a silo based approach which has been employed over the years.

So BPM for Business in a nut shell is about looking at ways to ensure that :

1) BPM has to be driven by business objectives. BPM cannot work without a strong top level backing.

2) Process is understood well and modified in case required (Process Analysis & Implementation)

3) The process management approach should be implementable in the organization which might be used to a specific way of working (Organization Change & Governance). You need process owners with cross functional reporting structure/visibility.

4) Success is repeatable across organization - Directly linked to top level support

5) BPM is considered a "Process" way of thinking with business objectives in mind and is aided by technology and not the other way round

BPM from Technology Perspective - Simple Definition : A combination of techniques and technology to allow a process to be defined, analyzed, deployed, automated/executed and monitored in a closed loop allowing continuous process improvements.

So any technology which tries to aid in above can be called as a part of BPM implementation framework (This could mean a huge laundry list of technology combinations) . Keeping the current technology landscape in mind we know that the BPM tools can be either strong in the way they handle human tasks (Human Intensive or workflow based BPM tools) and system tasks (System Intensive or Integration centric BPM tools). Most of the tools vendors are converging their offerings to provide a combination of both (hopefully this will reach a level of maturity soon, which is currently lacking a bit). Being a vast subject and to avoid digressing from my point, we know that there are BPM products in the market which provide the business with capabilities to manage and maintain business processes.

So we know to an extent what we hope for BPM to achieve at both ends of the Business and IT and we also know that somewhere BPM is trying to bridge the gap. What I want to see is who takes the onus of implementing BPM in an organization Business groups or the technology groups? The current problem which I have found and foresee is the lack of understanding into what BPM can do for business or technology which has made BPM either a silver bullet for some and a dreaded monster for some others. Not denying that many also have found the right formula for BPM and doing it successfully.

I know of organizations where BPM is a completely technical subject and implemented with following objectives:

a) BPM for automating process for a particular department at random : Here a technical group knows about BPM more from a workflow perspective and goes for BPM implementation with a micro view of a process. Result: No BPM roadmap, hence either BPM doesn't take off across other departments or ends up in 5-6 different BPM tools implementations within a company.

b) BPM considered as a next step to integration/middleware: company has an integration setup in place and obvious next step is considered as BPM to increase efficiency. Again no understanding of various components of BPM and whether it can really add value. The result is normally a product vendor selling an ESB/BPM product with a notional increase in value

c) BPM and SOA : Most organizations is diving deep into SOA with an understanding that BPM tool implementation automatically makes them SOA followers and vice versa. The result is again a specific BPM project with very specific services defined for a departmental project. What is lost is the whole objective of service and process thinking, which is about reusability and standardisation of efforts to allow efficiency at business level.

It would be unfair to say that the business is not involved in decision pertaining to BPM, but I feel that the lack of understanding and onus taken by business is not enough to really make BPM be successful in most organizations. What is required is for a business to seriously look into what BPM can achieve and have a combined approach of Top Down and Bottom up to realize the real potential of BPM. The Top Down approach should aim at deciding the business drivers for BPM and how the business can enable IT to allow the change demanded by a BPM implementation. The Bottom up approach should look at how the technology group can understand the current landscape of the organization and decide on what's the best methodology to implement a BPM toolset and collaborative technology to allow a sustainable BPM initiative.

One way to start is for a business to hand pick a fairly complex business process from your Business Process Architecture with an aim to achieve a certain business objective (be it increase in efficiency, time to market, compliance etc.) and technology team picking up a set of BPM enabling tools and technology to come out with a POC which can be replicable and reusable across other departments/project under the enterprise BPM roadmap. Another step is to constantly work towards maturing a BPM center of excellence within an organization which can maintain and monitor the pulse of BPM implementation across and enterprise.

I think it's high time that the business community takes notice and enables technology to deliver on some of the promises made possible by BPM. Also, its highly recommended that we again look at what BPM has to deliver to an organization today and start removing the hype.

Kapil Pant has 8+ years of experience in pre-sales, business analyst, solution architect, and EA consulting role.

Core experience in Consulting on Enterprise Architecture and BPM with a strong understanding of leading EA frameworks viz. Zachman, TOGAF, eTOM & SID etc. Kapil is currently engaged in BPM consulting with regards to Business Process Management workshops, BPMS tools study and recommendations, BPM Architecture, implementation and governance consulting.

Visit his blog at