A 3-stage approach to implement BPM in your organisation
By Nuno Santos, Enterprise Solutions Manager @Xpand IT
As a kid from the ’90s, I have loved Knight Rider, a TV show where an intelligent talking self-driving car was able to fight crime and do unimaginable stunts. If you know what I’m talking about you surely remember K.I.T.T.’s red light scanner in the hood, its central console voice display or the thrilling “Turbo Boost” button for jumping over obstacles. I want to use this as an analogy to show how can Business Process Management improve businesses and help organisations reach better performance and results. But first things first: let me provide you with a brief introduction to Business Process Management and the concepts around it.
BPM in a nuthshell
Business Process Management, or simply BPM, is the art of understanding how business is performing and continuously innovate to get better results, thus generating more value to the organisation and its customers. There are a lot of BPM definitions, but most of them agree on a common ground:
- It is focused on enterprise goals;
- It strives for performance;
- It is a continuously iterative process of optimisation.
On its core, it is a discipline that puts on practice a set of tasks that continuously model, execute, automate, control, monitor and improve all kinds of business flows of an organisation. These tasks are inherently tightly bound with business processes and people in organisations — such as employees, customers, partners, and any other relevant stakeholders — while making the best use of technology to support their activities. It monitors how business is performing and promotes agility and innovation to make business more efficiently. Because it acts directly on how people (and the organisation, globally) do their tasks, this initiative must be well supported on a Change Management process, to ensure the overall alignment and commitment.
Cultural change in an organisation is like sailing against the current: it takes much effort to push for results and just an eye-blink to get back to your starting point. If you lose focus or stop pushing in the right direction, you’ll quickly end in a position where a restart will be much harder than before (or even impossible to accomplish). Everyone has responsible participation in some part of the organisation (a link of a chain), so everyone must take a step forward together for a change to happen.
The BPM lifecycle
As an iterative process, BPM comprises a 5-step approach for business process improvement:
- Design — consists of identifying existing business processes (either new or previously addressed by the initiative) and designing the “to-be” versions, which are expected to be more efficient. This design will hold requirements and expectations of the processes for success and failure scenarios (e.g. process interruptions), such as the actual flow and dependencies (human or system), alerts and notifications, escalation needs, SLA’s, hand-over mechanisms, etc.
- Modelling — having a design in place, the modelling stage is responsible for creating hypotheses and scenarios to validate the process design. Most business processes have different flows for different inputs or contexts, so this stage will help to test the accuracy of a process under different possible circumstances. A “what-if analysis” is usually applied to this stage;
- Execution — after the process is modelled it can be executed in its completion, with manual tasks and automated actions, storing detailed execution information;
- Monitoring — enables the tracking of processes as well as relevant statistics and performance indicators, which can be seen in real-time to drive decision making (Business Activity Monitoring) or gathered for enhancement opportunities;
- Optimisation — interpret all the retrieved information to identify bottlenecks and opportunities, using ad-hoc and process mining techniques, and gather discoveries to feed a redesign of the process. Other state-of-the-art forecasting techniques (e.g. machine learning) can be used to predict issues in current processes and to suggest an efficient design.
Three stages for adoption BPM in an organisation
Coming back to the Knight Rider analogy, I can enforce three essential stages to implement BPM in an organisation efficiently.
NORMAL CRUISE — Business as usual
It represents the business as usual. Make sure you can deploy your BPM processes, tasks and tools in the organisation with minimum noise. The idea is to set up a base framework that will serve as the starting point for you to discover and generate output and information of the organisation processes so that you can take that initial “x-ray” to look at.
AUTO CRUISE — Automated business
Once you can discover and document the business processes, you’ll surely find several bottlenecks that will allow you to exploit quick wins. The ones to go after are those which imply minor changes on the actual business processes flows (or at least in what directly concerns to what people do) and more automation to reduce latency because those will ensure the best result with less entropy. Less entropy means smoother transition and reduced risk of change impacts.
PURSUIT — Super-fast and self-driving business
Now that you have everything in place and also tested changes and all the tools with the previous quick wins, you are currently at the beginning of a great journey. You can continuously analyse static (models) and dynamic (performance indicators) data of existing business processes, promoting changes that will give the best organisational results. It is time for real improvements (e.g. complete redesign of processes) so, from this time on, it is even more essential to encompass every stakeholder in decisions, creating a sense of ownership and belonging and showing how things can change for better. Doing this repeatedly in the future will help to create in people the habit of contributing and trying to do things better, which will reinforce the initiative positively, and will push the organisation to go after innovation and discover new opportunities for the business.
Most of BPM technology provides a variety of functions that help the transition of business processes from an ungoverned and invisible way to a monitored, controlled reality. Most of these functions are human-centric, but because they are directly connected to the business, they map very well with other technologies, such as middleware solutions (for automation and integration with business systems), content management systems (for storing documents and additional relevant information) and collaborative tools (for communication). A BPM suite is no more than a set of tools that together provide the necessary functionalities to support business improvement.
The relevant components of a BPM suite are:
- Process engine — to enable the modelling (using standard notations such as BPMN) and the execution of business processes;
- Rules engine — to hold business rules and evaluations aside from the actual process execution, providing an isolated environment that allows non-technical users to update the rules dynamically whenever business changes
- Analytics — to provide real-time information on the business execution and to support the decision;
- Content management — to enable secure storage of relevant business information and documentation;
- Collaboration tools — to promote collaboration and discussion between all participants on the business.
Additionally, BPM suites often provide customizable front-ends development capabilities to easily and rapidly build and deploy integrated business scenarios where there isn’t a user-facing system supporting those tasks. As stateful and long-term running services, processes are also handled as a workflow of states, reacting to events which can be manual (human tasks) or automatic (system events, time triggers, etc.), so it also features functionalities from such comparable tools.
However, it is the analytics component that provides the most relevant information for change (just as K.I.T.T.’s dashboard’s displays performance indicators and external readings). By configuring the appropriate metrics and KPI’s for the processes, in close alignment with the business strategy and goals, is how crucial insights can be extracted from current business processes execution to feed the next cycle of process redesign and consequent improvement.