Tuesday, April 8, 2014

BPM, Rules and Analytics: A Business Trilogy

It’s an exciting time to be a business process professional. The management discipline of BPM is mature, process modeling standards are stable and the technologies are at a point that allows us to provide the kinds of process innovation and agility that we have long asserted, but were unable to easily deliver.

We can now look at broadening our horizons beyond process workflow and the monitoring of basic operational metrics. Today’s process professionals can deliver incredible business solutions that include, not only process workflow, but also the powerful execution and management of business rules, broader, more complex business decisions and advanced business analytics.

This business ‘Trilogy’ of capabilities (Process, Decisions, Analytics) is changing the landscape and makeup of business solutions, business process design and the ability of organizations to rapidly change, adapt and respond to the volatile nature of today’s global market.

Not only are these capabilities available to the process professional, they are essential. Process efficiency alone is no longer sufficient to ensure business success. Consider the history of process from the early 1900’s and the work of Frederick Taylor around process standardization and Henry Ford’s groundbreaking assembly line production automation. And moving into the 1980’s we had total quality management, Six-Sigma and Dr. Michael Hammer’s business process reengineering.

These initiatives, revolutionary in their time, were focused essentially on improving process efficiency. In today’s ‘customer-centric’ world where the customer has greater power than ever before with mobility, the cloud and ubiquitous Internet access at their fingertips, process efficiency alone is simply not enough.

We must today look at creating, in IBM’s terminology, ‘Smarter Processes’. These 21st century processes must certainly be streamlined and efficient, almost a given, and be able to orchestrate process workflow across systems and data sources enterprise wide. However, modern business solutions cannot stop there.

Any process improvement initiative must consider the following:

  • How process execution can be dynamically changed through business rules management
  • How business decisions can be made both independent of business processes and in support of business process workflow
  • How processes can support customer’s mobility demands
  • How big data and social media can be leveraged to not only respond to customer demands, but begin to predict future customer behavior

All this means we must go well beyond traditional business process improvement in developing business solutions. We’ve touched on process improvement to some degree.  Now let’s examine the other components of a business trilogy: Decisions and Analytics.

Business Decisions
A business decision is a collection of business rules, encapsulated to ‘hide’ the complexity of that decision from the user or recipient of that decision. A user could be a business process, system, web portal or other medium that may need an answer, a decision, without needing to understand the complexity that underlies that decision.

Business decisions and the practice of Business Decision Management (BDM), can dramatically simplify and change how we go about business process improvement.  Not only can BDM simplify business processes and process models, but also enable greater agility and flexibility than ever before.

It is common process modeling practice to extract business rules from processes, leaving only simple decision point that determine navigation, or which path to take through the process (if ‘Gold Customer’ go one direction, if ‘Platinum Customer’ go another).

The process needs only to know what type of customer it is.  The complex business rules that determine the customer type (Gold vs. Platinum), can be modeled in a Business Decision.  The process then can query the business decision, much like a business service (SOA) to get the answer.

We have been modeling business processes for some time and the standard Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN) is quite mature and tools like IBM’s BlueworksLive support and enforce the standard.

Decision modeling is an emerging discipline also with standards, just not yet as mature as BPMN. A decision model provides a means of capturing very detailed business rules that support a business decision, and presents them in a standard model that can be communicated, implemented and managed. These business decisions can be shared, reused and leveraged across multiple business processes, systems and business scenarios.

Business processes become very simple indeed and extremely stable. Processes only need to be changed if a business model changes…like offering a new service to customers. The dynamicity of the business is managed outside the process in business rules and higher-level business decisions. Rules can change dynamically with little or no impact on the business processes that use them.

Advanced Analytics
With the onslaught of information, big data, from a myriad of sources, it is critical that organizations consider how that information will be captured, analyzed and leveraged to both gain a greater understanding of their customers and improve their customers experience.

Analytics can be grouped into three categories; Descriptive, Prescriptive and Predictive. Each has a specific focus and purpose.

Perhaps the most common and familiar, descriptive analytics focuses on real-time, operational metrics associated with, for example, process activity monitoring. Descriptive analytics are typically displayed on dashboards, operational reports and scorecards providing immediate insights into business performance.

Prescriptive analytics takes a deeper perspective of data to uncover patterns and trends.  This analysis helps organizations gain a better understanding of customer buying patterns and habits focusing on historical information.  Prescriptive analytics helps to answer the question of why customers do what they do.

Taking a more forward thinking perspective, Predictive analytics strives to provide insights and guidance into what an organization should be doing in the future. This predictive or what-if analysis helps support future planning and resource allocation for what may be required or demanded by customers or the competition.

The Trilogy
Process consistency, agile decision and rules management and analysis of critical business data are the three characteristics of a modern, agile and dynamic organization. Process management alone is no longer sufficient. Business decisions are becoming more complex and data intensive.

Decision Management is the essential element to reduce process complexity and enable the ability to rapidly adapt to a changing landscape driven by customer demand, competition and regulatory pressures.

Likewise, advanced analytics provide the necessary visibility into historical, current and potential future business operations. This visibility coupled with efficient, well orchestrated business processes and state of the art Decision Management will be a powerful advantage for any enterprise that wishes to remain competitive in the age of big data, mobility, cloud, and proliferation of social media.

Attending IBM Impact?
Prolifics will be taking a deeper dive into this topic at IBM Impact 2014. Ryan Trollip, Decision Management Practice Director at Prolifics, has been selected to host a conference session that is not to be missed!

Session Number: BDL-3320
Date/Time: Mon, Apr 28; 12:00 pm - 12:30 pm
Location: EXPO Theater

Howard Webb is a Director of BPM Advisory Services at Prolifics. Howard and his team provides consulting and guidance to clients in transitioning to highly efficient Process Managed business models, and equips them for success in their BPM initiatives. For over 25 years he has been a consultant, trainer, facilitator, and speaker on the topics of Business Process Management (BPM), data architecture, and project management.  He founded the Midwest BPM Users Group and has published articles on BPM and enterprise architecture.  Prior to coming to Prolifics Howard was founder and partner of Bizappia, a consulting and services firm focused on business agility, performance and innovation.  Prior to Bizappia, he was a Sr. BPM Technical Specialist with IBM.