What is BPM?

by kirangarimella on August 21, 2011

Everyone wants to know, what is BPM?

This is the first question on their minds when they meet me and I tell them I specialize in BPM. They may not actually ask this question, but they are surely thinking it.

If you are in the same boat, read on. Even if you are a BPM guru, read on and see if you agree with me or not.

The most important point to get your head around is that BPM isn’t just an IT thing. Not just a new piece of technology. Just as MS Outlook isn’t just an email tool but more fundamentally a tool for semi-formal written communication, BPM is fundamentally a way of thinking about how companies perform work everyday.

What is BPM? First, A Way Of Thinking

Process-centric thinking is radically different from the traditional way work is performed in companies. In just about all companies, work is organized into functions (or departments) and the organization chart itself reflects it.

There are good reasons for this state of affairs: the need to control scope, specialize in a domain, and ensure governance. And the system works.

Except when it doesn’t.

The notion of process-centric thinking merits several books, and I intend to write more blog posts to explore various aspects of it. For now, suffice it to say that process-centricity is a way to manage work across functional boundaries and formal organizational hierarchy.

This helps the company adopt a customer-centric viewpoint because customers don’t (and shouldn’t) care about how the company is organized. More importantly, they won’t pay for functional transactions (or wouldn’t, if they knew about it).

Customers only care about the end result – and that’s exactly as it should be.

At its core, process-centric thinking is simple to describe: look at how work is performed in your company from a customer’s point of view.

It’s easy to think about it, of course, but very hard to practice. Part of the difficulty in practicing it is that you need to break out of your functional box. The rest of the difficulty is that you have no incentive to do so.

What is BPM? It’s All About Business

It’s rather ironic that just about all the IT acronyms encapsulate business issues, but the first thing that springs to mind when you hear them is the software.

For example, what do you think about when someone you just met says they are responsible for CRM? Probably, what CRM system are they managing? Siebel/Oracle? Salesforce.com?

But CRM is all about managing customer relations. People get tied up in the mechanics of the tool and forget the keywords in CRM: ‘customer,’ ‘relationship,’ and ‘manage.’ They allow the tool to get in the way of connecting with the customer, instead of relegating it to the status of an efficient tool.

One of the best salespeople in a prior company consistently exceeded his sales targets quarter after quarter. The company kept shrinking his region to give chunks of this territory to other reps who complained that their own territories did not have enough large customers.

No, problem. He kept beating his targets.

Here’s the strange thing: we couldn’t get this guy to use our Siebel CRM system. He was always late in maintaining his accounts and forecasts.

But, boy, did he excel at CRM! He knew his customers very well. He went to their kids’ games, graduations, bar mitzvahs…whatever. He knew the birthdays, anniversaries, hobbies, passions, hopes, dreams, concerns of not only his customer but those their kids and their grandkids.

This is a classic example of CRM-centric thinking. Is it easy to do? Not in the beginning, because it calls for a huge investment of time and effort. But it gets easier – and all his “CRM” activities just became part of his lifestyle.

If you are asking ‘what is BPM?’ the analogy to process-centric thinking should be clear.

BPM Is About Processes

It should be no surprise that the second letter in BPM is all about processes. Despite that, the very first thing most companies do when they start on the BPM journey is to try to improve their function.

While it is true that each department has its own processes, the spirit of BPM is to transcend local, departmental processes.

What is BPM?

What is BPM?

You don’t buy an airplane and then taxi it all they way to the destination. An airplane is used to transcend localized ‘travel process’ and travel in a different dimension (or medium) altogether.

An airplane journey is NOT a series of car rides. Process optimization is not a series of functional optimizations.

BPM Is About Managing Work

When I say ‘managing work,’ I don’t mean project management, which is a domain unto itself. I mean it in the sense of managing the day-to-day operations of the company.

In this context, what is BPM? It is about monitoring and managing process end-to-end. It is about defining and monitoring key performance indicators (KPIs) that not only capture the performance of ‘localized’ processes but that also aggregate and relate the localized performance to the performance of the end-to-end processes.

Without this end-to-end view of process management, everyone could be doing their job very well, yet leave the customers unhappy and the company unprofitable.

To hammer home this point, consider the airplane analogy again. Let’s say you are an airline company and you bought several aircraft. Your customers bought tickets because they wanted to fly.

However, your org chart makes your employees responsible for moving the aircraft in 50 mile segments. They all do their jobs perfectly.

The end result, however, is a series of 50 mile puddle jumps. Can you be profitable that way? Will your customers be happy?

Only if your marketing your airline as a puddle jumping experience. Not otherwise.

Technology Is Missing In ‘What Is BPM?’

The actual technology of BPM, known as BPMS (‘S’ is for ‘Suite’ – the set of tools), is simply an enabler of all this. It’s there to support your process-centric thinking, your efforts to define your processes to achieve business goals, making your customers happy, and managing your business operations efficiently.

BPMS isn’t there so you can brag about adopting the latest, coolest technology. It’s not for doing ‘BPM projects’ (those don’t exist, by the way).

To sum up, BPM is about using process-centric thinking to align the company’s work (‘business operations’ or ‘management’) to your company’s goals (‘business’). BPMS is the technology enabler for BPM.

I found this to be the only workable answer to the question ‘what is BPM?’

 

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The View From Alpha Centauri

by kirangarimella on July 4, 2010

One fine rainy day, I was walking briskly along Main Street USA in my little town (which, for purposes of anonymity, the reasons of which you will learn later, shall remain nameless). I was eager to get back home before the rain stopped so I could sit by my window sipping a hot cup of coffee and watch other people get wet in the rain. Watching other people get wet while one stays dry and cozy is one of those simple pleasures in life, not to be underestimated or wasted.

It was right at this point that I almost bump into this guy. Nothing remarkable in that, except that this guy, though partially wet and surrounded by swirling gusts of freezing rain, had an expression of great pleasure.

“The rain, she is exquisite, is it not?” he said.

“I guess she is at that,” I said, eyeing him carefully.

He seemed to be in his seventies (about twice my age at that time), with a mop of white hair on a 5’10” spindly frame. His eyes were a piercing bluish-purple, or so I thought—throughout our conversation, they kept changing color.

It turned out that he was looking to rent one of the apartments near main street. Coincidentally (don’t you love how these things work out?), I had recently purchased a duplex overlooking that very same main street, a 2BR-1BR setup, right on top of a bookshop and a barbershop. My better half and my better half’s worse half occupied the 2BR, while we sought to rent out the 1BR portion. I asked him if he’d be interested.

He was.

It turned out that while he could pay a year in advance if necessary, he had no references and no ID. Standing in the empty apartment, he explained, with a charming touch of diffidence, his eyes turning a disarming blue, “I am not from around here, you see.”

It turned out (and this story has a number of turns) that he was actually an alien from Centurion, an M-class planet (as they say in those Star Trek episodes) near Alpha Centauri.

It turned out (what did I tell you?) that I had grown up on a steady diet of Bradbury, Asimov, Heinlein, and other disreputable SF writers (indeed, my very first words were in Klingon, which were unfortunately interpreted by my caretakers as a choking fit). So, his grave disclosure did not faze me one bit. As long as he could pay cash up front, what did I care? If anything, exchanging Trekkie lore with another loony would be just a bonus.

Over the course of his tenancy, I was the fortunate recipient of his observations of the human civilization. I have compiled them in these articles. Even though he was (and continues to be) on Earth, I call his viewpoint the View from Alpha Centauri, because only someone that far removed can consider so many Earth customs quite baffling.

Happy reading. Just don’t get turned inside-out too much.

 

P.S.: Oh yes, his name: it was something in Centurion that sounded a bit like Narik Allemirag, so that’s what I decided to call him.

P.P.S: Like all good aliens, he has a healthy fear of being captured by the FBI or any of the alien watchdog groups, and dissected up in the interest of science. Hence my refusal to talk about his current whereabouts or any personally identifiable information. In fact, I can’t. He put a PB (a Personal Block) in my brain, you see. So there!

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This is for real…no kidding!

You do enjoy hanging out on Facebook or LinkedIn or MySpace or whatever is your cup of poison, right? I’m sure you don’t do it on company time, of course (wink, wink), but what if you could? What if you could do it to be more productive and really add value to your company, while having fun at the same time? Now, there’s an idea!

(This sounds like one of those ‘be a secret shopper, get everything for free, have a ton of fun’ deals, but this is legit. Read on.)

The reason social networking is fun is because we human beings are social animals (a definition I learned at grade school, but didn’t really understand because I wanted to go out and play with friends instead).

But our work ethic makes us feel guilty about doing it on company time. Except for some limited use of LinkedIn (or others like it) for professional work, the other social networking sites are strictly social.

What if you had a ‘social’ networking site that allowed you to collaborate with colleagues and contacts, but in the specific context of improving the processes of your business?

[You were waiting for BPM to show up somewhere here, weren’t you?] You know that one of the biggest headaches in implementing BPM is in the discovery of processes (aka, “how the heck do we really do what we do?”). Without this knowledge, you can’t take the next step, which is answering the question “how well do we really do what we do?”

What if you had a ‘serious’ collaboration site that had all the satisfaction of social interaction, the wow of Web 2.0, the sizzle of SaaS, the dreaminess of the Cloud, and the power of BPM behind it?

A place where you can collaborate to discover how you really do what you do…where everyone knows your name…

Now the secret – how to legally have fun in the workplace: go to www.alignspace.com and stop complaining.

[Update as of April 22, 2012: there’s no alignspace now; instead, turn to the ARIS Community for BPM for a ARIS-focused social platform.]

[First appeared in ebizq.]

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SOA is dead! Long live SOA!

by kirangarimella on January 9, 2009

A SOA architect and evangelist friend of mine from Sweden sent me a link to a commentary on a provocative blog post by Anne Thomas Manes.

While reading these articles, I was reminded of the phrase that caused me much confusion when I first heard it as a kid: “The King is dead!  Long live the King!” – very confusing until you realize that the two kings are different.

SOA is in a similar state.  I am actually very happy that SOA is dead (or at least, it is acknowledged as dead by many of the commentators).  It shows that SOA is now moving into serious prime time.  The hype is over, only somber reflection and execution remain.  Move past the TLA, please!

In a prior job, I went through a similar cycle while evangelizing SOA.  Predictably, I got nowhere.  But my team and I went ahead and built an application very quickly by leveraging pre-built services.  (Ok, you SOA purists, I know SOA is more than that, but we are talking about 2004 here – cut me some slack, will ya?)

When my boss, the GM, surprised at how quickly we deployed new functionality, wanted to know the secret of our speed, I told him, “Remember SOA that I kept harping on?  Well, that’s what we used.”

I was in southern Sweden last month, talking to a SOA team about SOA adoption.  Among other things, they wanted to know how to “sell” SOA internally.  The best advice I could give was, “Stop using the word SOA.”

Whoever thinks SOA is really and truly dead doesn’t quite understand what it is all about.  There will always be a king, but we may stick different labels on him (Czar, Party, Messiah, Emperor, President, etc.).

It is actually very good news when one of the biggest roadblocks to adoption is the label itself.  (I can’t help direct you to “SOA Adoption for Dummies” for a very sensible and practical treatment.)

The only odd thing Anne’s post is the sentence: “SOA is survived by its offspring: …, BPM, …”   BPM an offspring of SOA?  Someone has to explain that one to me.

Now I am just waiting for BPM to die.

[First appeared in ebizq.]

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Stradivarius from Bach? Oh, the semantics!

by kirangarimella on July 31, 2007

This true incident happened to me.

A few weeks ago, I was hanging out in our local music store, waiting for my daughter to finish her guitar lesson, when I spotted this young man at the repair desk with what looked like a violin case.

Inscribed on its cover was the magical word ‘Stradivarius.’

Straightaway, I went into a fit and started quivering like a jellyfish in a tropical storm.

Now, if you are a classical music buff (or especially a violinist) like me, that word (‘Stradivarius’) is guaranteed to make you stand up (or stand taller if you were already standing), and salute smartly.

To those of you who never paid attention in music ed classes (or worse, never had any to begin with), Antonius Stradivarius of Cremona, Italy, was the most famous violinmaker ever. His violins are the most expensive musical instruments of any kind; his Hammer Stradivarius, for example, is valued at over $3.5 million.

I have two copies of the Strad myself (focus on the word ‘copies’), with labels inside the belly near the sound post, charmingly inscribed ‘Antonius Stradivariuus Cremonensis, 1796.’

I am hanging on to them in the fond hope that some day they’ll be “discovered,” perhaps on the Antiques Roadshow (a bit unlikely, since Antonio went to the Big Violin Shop in 1737).

So, as you can imagine, owning a Strad is a big deal, to put it mildly.

A 15-year old owning a Strad (or at least cradling it nonchalantly) is inexplicable (unless he were Yehudi Menuhin).

Such a young man, unaccompanied by an adult, casually discussing its repair in a general music store, is bafflement confounded by mystification.

Now you know why I was quivering like a j. in a t.s.

I approached this young man to find out more. What ensued is a conversation worthy of a classical Wodehousian dialog.

Me: “Excuse me, is that a real Strad you have there?”

Young Man: “Oh yes, I got it off of eBay, like real cheap. I was, like, real lucky to, like, find it.”

Me: “eBay! They sell Strads on eBay?”

Y.M.: “Of course. Lots of people, like, put them up for sale. This one was, like, a little chipped in the corner. I brought it in to, like, get it fixed.”

My incredulous eye noticed, in the other corner of the instrument case, the word “Bach.”

Me: “What’s Bach got to do with a Strad?”

Y.M., looking perplexed: “Bach sells Strads, didn’t you know?”

(If, by this time, you don’t think you have, like, wandered into a twilight zone, then your musical education is, like, either non-existent or completely wasted; if the latter, ask for your money back.)

I was dying to ask the kid to open the case so I could ogle at a real Strad. Perhaps touch it. Perhaps even draw the bow across the strings!

But before I could screw up the courage to ask that question, I popped him with another that immediately restored sanity.

Me: “That’s a violin we are talking about, yes?”

Y.M., with a smile that teens reserve for senior citizens who live in the 18th century: “Oh no! It’s a trumpet. Made by Bach, you know, the company.”

Aha!

Now, I ask you, would you ever imagine a company named Bach manufacturing trumpets called Strads?

Would that be an unmitigated chutzpah, musical dyslexia, or what?

(It turns out that a fellow called Vincent Bach, [1890-1976], no apparent relation to good old J.S., built high quality brass instruments that people called the Strad of brass.)

See how semantics can trip you up?

Similar conversations are going on in corporate America about the meanings assigned to business data.

Granted that the debaters don’t sound like a bunch of grammarians discussing the etymology of words, or that these conversations aren’t so Wodehousian in nature.

However, lack of semantics does cause confusion; people, being naturally polite, assume they know what others are saying, but assign their own interpretation to business language.

There were at least a handful of projects that I recall where the team spent an unconscionable amount of time debating the exact meaning of business terms.

To those who tell me they don’t understand the ROI of semantics, I suggest that they sit in on a requirements gathering session, monitor all conversations that deal with imprecise semantics, and do the math (multiply unit resource cost by amount of time, and add it all up; then multiply that by the number of projects).

The last time I tried that on a single $150,000 project, the cost of semantic debate tipped the scales at $10,000. Not exactly chump change.

No conversation about the business (including business process management and technology projects) is efficient without an underlying foundation of business semantics.

 

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When BPM becomes really NICE

by kirangarimella on May 31, 2007

I am back from a hectic round of travel: conferences, BPM Master Classes, client meetings, and vacation. I attended both the SharedInsights BPM conference in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, and the ISSSP conference in Scottsdale, AZ (yes, we evangelists live a tough life!)

At the SharedInsights’ conference, Roger Burlton, the conference chair, opened the proceedings with his keynote, “Business Process and Beyond.”

One of his standard slides is his ROI graph. When I saw it a few years ago, I grew enamored with it. I think it is a really neat way to communicate the key drivers of ROI.

The traditional MBA approach is to focus on the Y-axis, the money: reducing costs, improving productivity, increasing market channels, product innovation, and so on. For many companies, this is approaching the point of diminishing returns.

Roger highlights the X-axis, the time. The competition is now in time-to-market, time-to-profit, and time-in-profit. This is nothing new, of course, expect for the increased focus that BPM brings to the X-axis. BPM’s role in improving the ROI from time, the “Return on Time (ROT)” if you will, is leading to ‘aha’ moments for people when presented this way.

At our BPM Master Classes, I introduce two other levers of profitability: the probability of delivery, and the probability of profit. The first highlights the very high failure rate of projects (60-70%), and the second highlights the challenge with delivering what the customer really wants (and is willing to pay for).

Just when I thought I had finally absorbed Roger’s ROI model, he comes up with another. This one is NICE (of course, it is nice, but that’s the acronym).

Picture a 2 X 2 matrix. The X-axis represents ‘Understanding’ of the problem domain (values are: ‘little,’ and ‘lots’). The Y-axis represents ‘Detail’ of information about the problem domain (values are: ‘little,’ and ‘lots’).

When we have little detail and little understanding of the problem domain, our analysis of the problem is going to be ‘Naïve.’ The usual reaction to this is to acquire lots of data, i.e., a data warehouse or data mart project.

However, lots of data with little understanding makes the whole problem domain incomprehensible (the ‘I’ of the model). This is congruent with my own experience, as I covered in my article ‘Re-Energizing BI with BPM’ in Data Management Review, April 2007.

It is possible to gain a understanding from an ocean of data, thus moving into the third cell of Roger’s NICE model. In this cell, the world is a complex (‘C’) entity, demanding tremendous amount of work trying to keep up with change. In my opinion, this is a terrible spot to be in, with data and information overload. More BI (as in the traditional approach) is guaranteed to take you here. The issue isn’t simply more understanding, but more understanding at a reasonable price.

The ROI for understanding comes in cell 4, ‘Elegant.’ Here, only the right information is delivered in a way that is intuitive, actionable, and relevant for solving critical business problems.

This is the cell that is the result of applying Occam’s Razor diligently to a Complex model of the problem domain.

Since it is impractical to insist that a company always reside in the ‘Elegant’ cell, ideally it should be able to quickly move through the first three steps (Naïve, Incomprehensible, and Complex) to come and rest in an elegant state. Those three phases should be no more than short-term perturbations in the system, while ‘Elegant’ should be the homeostatic condition that a company must aspire to.

The NICE model is the high bar that BPM must vault over to be truly useful.

[Originally appeared in ebizq.]

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90 mph on the Frankfurt autobahn

by kirangarimella on April 13, 2007

I just got back from a hectic tour in France and Germany, where we held BPM MasterClasses in Frankfurt and Paris. This is the second time I have been in both cities.

Frankfurt ist auch eine schöne Stadt (Frankfurt is also a lovely city). 90 mph in a Mercedes Benz cab on the autobahn in Frankfurt is an experience!

The first time, I stayed at the Sofitel within a stone’s throw from Versailles and did not get a chance to visit it!  Heck, I didn’t even get a chance to throw a stone at it.

This time, I did not have the time to look around Frankfurt, but Paris offered a respite. We did a quick tour of Notre Dame (awesome!), swung by the Eiffel Tower (both during day and night), and did plenty of walking through the streets. webMethods has an office next to the Arc de Triomphe.

Paris in April – one cannot complain!

There were a couple of interesting differences between audiences in Europe vs. the United States.

For one, over 90% of those who registered showed up for the class; we had to scramble around to find extra chairs!

Second, they all spoke at least two languages, more often three and even four. We English speakers were cautioned to stay away from idiomatic expressions and jokes based on the American context; apart from that, their fluency in English is astonishing.

I wrongly assumed that the language barrier would prevent participation, but there was plenty of dialog; just as much as in a US class (and perhaps a tad more than the interaction we got at a couple of US locations).

The European attendees seemed less exposed to Six Sigma and Lean compared to their US counterparts; however, they showed greater appreciation for the concept of discipline.

One favorite question I pose to attendees is, “Does your company have a Project Management Office, and if so, what is the attitude of the rest of the company towards the PMO?” I get the classic roll of the eyes: PMO is viewed as unnecessary bureaucracy (except by the PMO folks, of course).

In an environment that demands agility and rapid execution, any hint of oversight, process, or tollgates is viewed negatively.

Not so in Europe. They seemed to appreciate the need for discipline. They do not make the mistake of confusing discipline for bureaucracy.

Discipline means being responsible, having a plan, and sticking to it.

Good financial traders know this. It turns out that the key to superior financial performance is to pick a decent trading strategy and stick to it without second-guessing it.

Research shows that changing horses midstream is a sure way to get wet and miserable.  (Now I have to wonder how much money was spent on establishing this fact!)

The best companies speak of “responsible growth,” meaning, how to grow shareholder value without compromising on ethics or taking on irresponsible risk.

For public companies, governance has additional regulatory implications. But the concern remains, how do we take the concept of discipline and make it an enabler of agility and execution? How do we take out bureaucracy?

One, by making discipline an integral part of what we do, so we make the time to do it. For example, no one complains about having to brush one’s teeth every day, does one?

Two, by making space for discipline in our methods. Traditional project methodologies waste a lot of time discovering the current state of the business and by documenting requirements in different formats to suit different audiences.

When process governance is an integral part of BPM, it enforces this discipline. Governance becomes a seamless part of how projects are done and business operations are conducted.

By eliminating the need for endless documentation and translation between various models of requirements, BPM also makes space for responsible behaviors in project execution and business operations.

Does lack of a formal Six Sigma or Lean methodology seriously hamper the quest for continuous process improvement? Hardly. While the formal methodologies are extremely useful, we are now seeing a move away from overly relying on the heavy frameworks towards a lighter approach.

The caveat here is to adhere to the spirit of Six Sigma and Lean and not to slide into bad techniques.

The specific ‘get started’ strategy I’d advocate is to measure the state of your business first, and use real data and metrics to drive the discussion around process improvement.

 

 

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How can I say “no” to Paris and Frankfurt in April?

by kirangarimella on April 13, 2007

..especially given that I live in Milwaukee?

I just got back from a hectic tour in France and Germany. We held a BPM MasterClass in Frankfurt and Paris. This is the second time I have been in both cities; the first time I stayed at Sofitel within a stone’s throw from Versailles, and did not get a chance to visit it!

This time, I did not get a chance to look around Frankfurt, but Paris offered a respite. We did a quick tour of Notre Dame (awesome!), swung by the Eiffel Tower (both during day and night), and plenty of walking through the streets. webMethods has an office next to the Arc de Triomphe. Paris in April – one cannot complain!

Frankfurt ist auch eine schöne Stadt (Frankfurt is also a lovely city). 90 mph in a Mercedes Benz cab on the autobahn in Frankfurt is an experience!

There were a couple of interesting differences between audiences in Europe versus the US. For one, over 90% of those who registered showed up for the class; we had to scramble around to find extra chairs! Second, they all spoke at least two languages, more often three and even four.

We English speakers were cautioned to stay away from idiomatic expressions and jokes based on the American context; apart from that, their fluency in English is astonishing. I wrongly assumed that the language barrier would prevent participation, but there was plenty of dialog; just as much as in a US class (and perhaps a tad more than the interaction we got at a couple of US locations).

The European attendees seemed less exposed to Six Sigma and Lean compared to their US counterparts; however, they showed greater appreciation for the concept of discipline.

One favorite question I pose attendees is “Does their company have a Project Management Office, and if so, what is the attitude of the rest of the company towards the PMO?”

I get the classic roll of the eyes: PMO is viewed as unnecessary bureaucracy (except by the PMO folks, of course). In an environment that demands agility and rapid execution, any hint of oversight, process, or tollgates is viewed negatively.

Not so in Europe. They seemed to appreciate the need for discipline. They do not make the mistake of confusing discipline for bureaucracy. Discipline means being responsible, having a plan, and sticking to it.

Good financial traders know this. It turns out that the key to superior financial performance is to pick a decent trading strategy and stick to it without second-guessing it. Research shows that changing horses midstream is a sure way to get wet and miserable.

The best companies speak of “responsible growth,” meaning, how to grow shareholder value without compromising on ethics or taking on irresponsible risk. For public companies, governance has additional regulatory implications.

But the concern remains, how do we take the concept of discipline and make it an enabler of agility and execution? How do we take out bureaucracy?

One, by making discipline an integral part of what we do, so we make the time to do it. For example, no one complains about having to brush teeth every day.

Two, by making space for it. Traditional project methodologies waste a lot of time discovering the current state of the business and by documenting requirements in different formats to suit different audiences.

When process governance is an integral part of BPM, it enforces this discipline. Governance becomes a seamless part of how projects are done and business operations are conducted. By eliminating the need for endless documentation and translation between various models of requirements, BPM also makes space for responsible behaviors in project execution and business operations.

Does lack of a formal Six Sigma or Lean methodology seriously hamper the quest for continuous process improvement?

Hardly. While the formal methodologies are extremely useful, we are now seeing a move away from overly relying on the heavy frameworks towards a lighter approach. The caveat here is to adhere to the spirit of Six Sigma and Lean, and not to slide into bad techniques.

Richard Douglass, webMethods’ VP of Global Industry Solutions, and an expert on Supply Chain, Manufacturing, and Six Sigma, spoke of continuous process improvement by using the principles of the formal methodologies even when not using the whole toolkit.

The specific ‘get started’ strategy we advocate is to measure the state of your business first, and use real data and metrics to drive the discussion around process improvement.

These are some of the key messages that we will be delivering in Toronto next Tuesday.  Joining us will be Yvon Berube, President of Logimethods, Inc., our systems integration partner in Canada. Neale Partington of SaskTel, our joint customer, will be sharing their experience implementing webMethods’ BPM. If you are in the general area of Toronto, we’d love to see you at this event.

[This post first appeared in ebizq.]

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Re-Energizing BI with BPM

by kirangarimella on April 1, 2007

Years of experience with data and information have taught our industry the value of business intelligence (BI). Most executives appreciate the need for BI and are not averse to funding BI initiatives.

However, they continue to be frustrated with the lack of support for decision-making. They express little confidence in the reports that the BI solutions provide. Arguments ensue about not just the semantics of the data, but about the quality of the data itself.

A saying is attributed to the former U.S. Senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “You are entitled to your opinions, but you are not entitled to your own facts.” Unfortunately, BI does not prevent its users from creating different versions of the truth.

Additionally, BI solutions are designed from a functional perspective; at best, they have a tenuous link with the underlying business processes that flow across functional boundaries. This hinders users from correlating BI with end-to-end business processes.

Analyzing the Problem

Two causes contribute to this sad state of affairs: BI creates an artificial barrier between transactional (OLTP) data and historical (OLAP) data, and it does nothing to prevent a tight coupling between applications and data.

People analyze events and make decisions based on what happened in the past, what is happening right now, and what is likely to happen in the future. In the normal decision-making process, people do not put up artificial barriers between these time domains. Consumers of BI need to traverse between data and information in the past, the present and the future.

An architecture that is hampered by poor integration infrastructure cannot facilitate a tight coupling between the OLAP and OLTP domains. Traditional BI downplays the need for real-time intelligence because it is considered statistically insignificant for analytical purposes.

This combination of technical constraints, piecemeal solutions, and lack of attention to business processes divides the natural analytic process into three distinct subprocesses that do not flow into or connect with each other.

Instead of analyzing the past, the present, and the future in a seamless way, users are forced to move between tools, processes, and methodologies to deal with temporally segregated data. BI solution providers further limit themselves by asking their users what they want, rather than asking them what they want it for.

By dealing predominantly with the past, BI is relegated to the role of a fancy aggregator of historical data rather than a provider of true, comprehensive intelligence.

With the increasing focus on execution, rapid change, and forward thinking, the past is becoming irrelevant.

Operational reporting, which focuses on the immediate past (defined as real time), is outside the domain of traditional BI. Forecasting and predictive analytics, the domain of resource planning systems (such as manufacturing resource planning) or other specialized tools, are not as well known or adopted as historical BI.

Therefore, we have a paradoxical situation where traditional BI (i.e., polishing the rear-view mirror) is an excellent but irrelevant solution, while there is not yet an alternative, compensating focus on the more important operational BI and predictive analytics (i.e., cleaning the windshield).

Common Application Architectures

The other contributing cause to dysfunctional decision-making is the common enterprise architecture model that tightly couples applications and data. The characteristics of this type of application architecture are:

  1. Applications own the data. Data that is captured within the application ends up being stored inside that application. As a result, data islands are created. There is no relational linkage between these application-specific data repositories.
  2. Every application creates its own reporting functionality. The reason is that applications are designed as if they are shrink-wrapped systems that should be self-contained. This may be fine for software that you buy in a computer store, but there is no need to design enterprise applications as if they will be sold on a shelf.
  3. There are no common semantics. The same fields or similar fields may have either different data types, different sizes or a different set of legal values. As a result, BI users interpret data according to their own semantic understanding.
  4. Data is semantically corrupt. Data fields take on values that corrupt their original purpose. Some of this is caused by the inflexibility of the original application. At other times, it is caused by a lack of intellectual rigor.

So, BI erects a barrier where none should be (i.e., between historical and actual, between viewing and doing) and is powerless to enforce a barrier where there should be one (i.e., between applications and data, which should be very loosely coupled).

Usual Solutions are Inadequate

The traditional approach to BI is characterized by its overwhelming focus on data.

It reminds me of the story of the rebellious teen who was frustrated with his rich father’s preoccupation with money and his apparent lack of social conscience.

“Isn’t there something more important than making money?” he asked.

To which his father replied, “Yes, certainly. Counting it, saving it, investing it, and spending it.”

Similarly, BI users may well ask their IT colleagues in exasperation, “Isn’t there something more important than just data?”

To which the normal BI professional replies, “Yes, certainly. Collecting it, cleaning it, storing it, transforming it, aggregating it, and presenting it.”

All of these data-focused activities are important and essential.

However, a compilation and summarization of data will not automatically yield intelligence any more than a heap of auto parts can carry you from point A to point B. When users download BI reports onto their desktops and use Excel to perform pivot table analysis on them (even though their BI platforms may provide some drill-down and pivoting capabilities), it shows that BI solutions are unusable without relying on some external crutches.

The focus on data in and of itself would be fine if BI were instead called data aggregation and presentation – but even then it may be an expensive solution.

Enterprise data modeling and management (EDM) is the usual response to the problem of data islands. The central idea of EDM is correct. However, it is an infeasible approach because it addresses the symptoms and not the root cause of the problem – poor application architecture, which is itself caused by a lack of process thinking. Some of the specific challenges for EDM are:

  • It presupposes that all constituents agree to one common definition of data. This is unreal not because people willfully disagree, but because they are accountable for holding different perspectives.
  • It falsely assumes that employees have the time to lay aside daily operations and work on creating a shared understanding.
  • The solution takes too long to implement; momentum is usually lost or the business itself changes while the solution is being designed.
  • If (and when) the EDM solution is in place, it needs to be constantly monitored and maintained to ensure that it does not get out of sync with business reality.
  • EDM’s artifacts (such as data dictionaries) are usually directed toward a technical audience. These components are not particularly friendly toward the business user and, as a result, fail to become part of their toolset.

Exorcising BI

BI is, by definition, the intelligence about the business. Business processes are the fundamental operational artifacts of business. A proper approach to BI, therefore, begins with the realization that BI is gathered and used in the context of business processes. The consumptive and analytic units of BI include data, rules, documents, organizational structures, roles, key performance indicators, metrics and process models. Some of these BI units originate in business processes and are captured by the associated applications, others are linked to business processes or they are defined and stored in them. A business process management (BPM) platform enhances BI by supplementing it with new types of analytics and superior governance capabilities. By using a synergistic integration of BPM and BI:

  • Users will be able to relate BI to business processes.
  • IT architects will be able to relationally link data islands together and offer seamless, end-to-end process visibility to business users.
  • Business analysts will be able to investigate and document reporting needs as part of the project’s requirements-gathering phase. They will be empowered to ask their business customers what they want the reports for and to design the presentation of information in a way that obviates the use of additional, standalone analytical tools.
  • Business users will be able to convey their decision-making and analytic needs to IT rather than just requesting a compilation of data.
  • Project managers will be able to institute checkpoints throughout the project lifecycle to ensure that data gets the respect it deserves.
  • Data stewards will be able to monitor and resolve semantic corruptions and exceptions in business data, thus ensuring very high quality of data.
  • The systemic collaboration between BI and BPM provides unparalleled support for decision-making, which is the raison d’être for BI. Specifically, it ensures that users have trust in the quality of data, the reported metrics are aligned to business priorities, the conclusions derived from the data are logically sound and provable, the information exposes clear courses of action, users have visibility into the business processes and users can make timely decisions.

BI does not offer true analytic and decision-making capabilities to the extent that it does not provide time-transparent analysis, linkage to business processes and data governance. Two architectural flaws that create and exacerbate the problem are the artificial barrier between historical and operational data and the tight coupling between data and applications. A data-focused approach to BI may at best yield good data aggregation, but does not provide true BI. EDM, a common response to data governance, is a heavy-handed solution that may not be sustainable for most companies.

A better approach is to integrate BI and BPM. By providing various supplementary capabilities (such as process modeling, process analysis, metadata management and governance, operational metrics, process management, business activity monitoring and service-oriented enterprise architecture), BPM breathes new life into BI.

[First appeared in DM Review (now, Information Management).]

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Quality of BPM = Quality in BPM

by kirangarimella on March 27, 2007

The “M” of BPM is an unfortunate understatement in a discipline that is supposed to address all aspects of business processes.

The “M” can stand for “monitoring,” “management,” “modeling,” and even “measuring.” While no lexical distortion can make “M” stand for “Quality,” our minds need not be tongue-tied. We have the mental freedom to incorporate the domain of Quality into BPM.

There are truly three major aspects to business processes.

One is the notion of managing them: keeping business processes in running condition, pumping business transactions through them, adapting to changing conditions, etc.

Second is the notion of measuring: collecting data about how processes are performing, how business transactions are flowing, etc. These two are well-appreciated aspects of BPM.

The third aspect is that of improvement: business processes must be continually improved.

This last aspect of BPM is underserved by most of the BPM market. Only one phase of process improvement is given some attention, and that is “modeling.”

The logical approach is to offer full support to all phases of process improvement.

But this begs the question, what are the phases of PI?

Here, we are lucky, because two of the most successful PI methodologies exist: Six Sigma and Lean. Their benefits are recognized and non-debatable.

From this perspective of rounding out BPM capabilities by including support for formal PI methodologies, the actions of webMethods in hiring well-known CPI expert, Bruce Williams, makes sense. A long-time consultant in the CPI space, Bruce is the author of Six Sigma for Dummies, Six Sigma Workbook for Dummies, and Lean for Dummies. He was a co-founder of the Six Sigma Management Institute. He is an active speaker, with keynote presentations at Gartner conferences to his credit.

Having seen first hand how BPM, Six Sigma, and Lean can work together, I’ve explored the synergies between them in my book, The Power of Process: Unleashing the Source of Competitive Advantage.

Having Bruce Williams on board as VP and GM of BPM Solutions is fully congruent with this vision of offering to customers a full set of capabilities that manage, monitor, measure, model, and improve business processes.

It is the Quality in BPM that determines the quality of BPM.

 

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