Business Process Management (BPM) is a systematic approach to making an organisation's processes more effective, more efficient and more capable of adapting to an ever-changing environment, while striving for innovation, flexibility, and integration with technology. BPM is used by organisations to take control of their processes so that performance can be improved on a continual basis. An additional aspect is also all the things associated with the governance of these processes, not only from a legal aspect but also from an environmental and ethical viewpoint.
Business Process Management Software is "a software product that provides the means to capture existing processes and rules from an organisation's existing application portfolio as well as supporting the ability to model processes in a graphical manner, and then, at run-time, to use the definitions to manage the flow of work for a process in an organisation supported by monitoring and management tools."
Business Process Management Software (BPMS) has always been about providing software that allows users to document and automate their processes. At its heart it has been about removing code in programmes that is associated with "where to go next". To do this a BPMS needed two major components:
- A development environment in which users were able to use a nomenclature they felt comfortable with to document their processes; and
- A runtime environment in real time.
Today, much more is required than these 2 components. To manage performance, components in what Bloor call the "Process Platform" are needed to monitor the processes. This involves the aggregation, analysis, and presentation of real-time information about activities inside organisations and involving customers and partners. An additional level of separation of code is achieved by the incorporation of Business Rules Management (BRM) into the Process Platform. As no organisation is really a green-field site, components to support integration of different applications, collaboration capabilities and also discovery of existing process and rules are needed. This capability is known as Automated Business Process Discovery (ABPD). To support manual documents being incorporated into processes and to be stored electronically a further component is a document scanning capability.
To support development and identification of existing processes that need to be documented, the BPMS needs to have the following major capabilities
- Process modelling capability supporting BPMN
- Rules definition capabaility
- Automated Process Discovery capability to provide ability to capture existing processes and rules
- Form, report and dashboard design capability to create additional forms, report and dashboards to plug gaps in the automation of processes
- Document scanning capability to capture definitions of documents that needed to be captured into the live processes
- A meta-data (data about data) master data management repository to store the definitions of the process rules and forms, etc.
To support the runtimeenvironment, the BPMS needs to have the following capabilities:
- A runtime engine that uses the definitions of the processes to control the sequence of a process
- A runtime engine that executes the defined business rules at the right time in the live environment
- A collaboration capability to allow users to involve others in decisions about the next actions or to get help
- An integration capability to link the process steps and rules to existing applications
- A capability to monitor the actual occurences of processes as they pass through the the runtime engines
- A capability to manage the actual occurrences of the processes.
See more details about the Process Platform.
The management responsible for business processs and the vision around them, even at C-level, should care about BPM, because it is, in part, about achieving company differentiation.
What makes one company different to another? Partly, it's the people in the company; but it is also the processes, particularly those that are customer and supplier facing. So processes can make a difference to why a customer, for instance, decides to shop in one chain rather than another - they deliver competitive advantage.
Today, businesses need to be agile, to innovate quickly and take account of market demand in order to survive. It's thus important to see where improvements in current operations can be made. Modern BPM software can assist in improving the efficiency and effectiveness of organisations, as well as helping with such initiatives as Six Sigma, because it can not only design but also automate and measure processes.
Additionally, organisations now face financial penalties if they are found to have infringed government, industry or international regulations. This makes BPM very important in industries such as finance and manufacturing, as well as logistics and retail, in order to understand processes affected by regulation, and control them better.
Standards - potential modelling language standards for BPM include:
- Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN);
- Business Process Execution Language (WSBPEL);
- Unified Modeling Language (UML);
- Object Process Methodology (OPM);
- Web Services Choreography Description Language (WS-CDL).
Most tools today support BPMN. BPEL is used as the means of importing or exporting definitions. UML is not widely used by BPM tools and Bloor has found no use of OPM or WS-CDL.
Support for XML is ubiquitous amongst BPM tools in the market for the messaging backbone, adapter architecture and also for schemas. SOAP is also the standard for the broker architecture. Bloor notes that Standard Interchange Format (SIF), a spatial data exchange format used to move graphics files between computer systems, has not yet been adopted by any BPM vendor.
Emerging support for real process improvement is encouraging. If we look at the total lifecycle support for business processes, BPM initially concentrated on the support for the development phase with facilities such as modeling, and then, with the development of BAM (Business Activity Monitoring), provided support for the management and monitoring phase. What has been missed in the past is support for the improvement of business processes. Simulation has been the only real support, but the user has had to make the changes and then run the simulations post facto. Bloor sees that "BPM v2" needs to support knowledge-intensive process as well as increased flexibility and agility. There is, thus, a need for the exploitation of the information captured by BAM in a proactive manner; in order to suggest to processes owners ways to improve their processes and identify the possible choices avaible.
Vendors already have the capability of delivering process improvement, as the necessary components are already in place within their product sets. So users could develop this capability themselves by using rules associated with BAM data to provide alerts and notifications to process owners and managers.
The incorporation of ABPD capabilities into the Process Platform sees a recognition that organisations are not greenfield sites and that it is a laborious process to model existing processes. ABPD is an emerging field that discovers the business processes based on examining the electronic footprints the users leave in the IT assets supporting the process. This allows the business process to be automatically discovered and documented in near real time. Approaching the business process 'bottom up', from the detailed facts of instances of the process, provides a detailed depiction of the business process, complete with all the nuances of the process, complete with detailed statistical information on how often different variations of the process are executed, how long it takes, what data conditions give rise to process variations, and what variations there are between different users or groups.
The market can be divided up into the following vendor groups:
- The Big Boys - consisting of IBM, Oracle and SAP
- The major niche specialists - Progress (Saviion), Open Text (Metastorm, Progress 360), TIBCO, Software AG, Pegasystems
- The other niche specialists - Adeptia, Appian, Bizagi, Cordys, HandySoft, Intallio, K2, PMNSoft, QPR Software, Kofax (Singularity), Ultimus, Vitria
- Document management specialists - EMC, Fujitsu, Adobe
- Application integration specialists - Fiorano, Microsoft
- Specilised niche players - Microgen.