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I attended a one day workshop at IBM Bedmont, on August 21st 2007 given by Alphacourt, an IBM BPM partner. Alphacourt is an integration specialist, providing strategic consulting and practical help where business and technology converge. There are 25 consultants in the company; split 50:50 between IT integration and business consultants. They specialise in BPM and SOA methods and practices, so as to assist organisations to plan, design and deliver process improvement to organisations. They have an interesting way of working with the clients exploiting BPM to achieve business benefits and implementing solutions based on SOA to gain IT cost savings.
Analysing current businesses has, led Alphacourt to see that Board UK is looking for new ways to re-engineer the business with the result that the enterprise will meet rapidly changing business needs. At top of gartner’s10 Business and Technology Priorities in 2007 from a business perspective was Business Process Improvement. It is Alphacourt’s view that BPM answer all 10 of the Business top 10 and SOA answers 3 of the IT Priorities.
Alphacourt see that there is a need for every business to have what they call a “Business Alignment Strategy”. This is something I am very used to when I was a Business IT Strategy Consultant. It involves understanding firstly what the business needs to do to meet its strategy and objectives (in terms of information and applications) – called Strategy Planning by Alphacourt. On the other side, as in all Strategy exercises we have to know what an organisation has already in terms of applications and other information services – called Enterprise Architecture by Alphacourt. Now comes the interesting part of the Alphacourt process, they use BPM to understand what an organisation wants to do and then use SOA as the way to implement the requirements. Alphacourt use the “industry standard compass” model for their BPM Reference Architecture model involving:
- Modelling what the organisation des currently,
- Assembly by event or process into components to support the new requirements
- Monitoring the new process to provide statistics
- Manage and improve the process using KPIs and business metrics
- All this supported by the recording of the various pieces of information into a central shareable repository (This brings back memories for me of the 80’s and the IRDS standards work I was involved in).
The Alphacourt SOA Reference Architecture is very comprehensive and varies from customer to customer. There are some interesting specifics:
- The delivery Mechanism is portal-based. This in itself is component driven and allows different users to have different views.
- Business Activity Management is important to ensure that measurement of business processes occurs in real-time.
- The Process Engine is used at runtime to access services rather than the enterprise service bus. This means it is important that the product used to implement the Process Engine has good performance and that the interfaces to existing application supports real-time.
- Information integration needs to be in real-time. This requires a consistent data model across the process.
- Above all the environment needs to be managed – service managed in fact. This is harder to manage as it involves dealing with distributed services and in addition it is difficult to provide a consistent view. However tools are emerging (for example Amberpoint, see previous article). Alphacourt at present help their customers build their own capabilities.
I like the Alphacourt approach that the derived SOA Reference Model for an organisation is not cast in stone but should be viewed as what an organisation aspires to. They view that to achieve this aspiration could take some 2 to 3 years. And of course, each year, the thing changes! To manage the process of process improvement, Alphacourt use a phased approach called a Process Improvement Roadmap.
John Moe, Alphacourt’s Head of Business Development said “The people side is the key to the whole programme. The Proof of Concept is the key to making process improvement work for both the business and IT. In today’s hierarchical organization, there is little inherent reuse. This approach fosters redundancy in the organization and worse yet, the organization depends on it and fosters it. To be right for today’s business environment, business processes need to be focused on the customer.”
How do you choose the right process for the Proof of Concept? Alphacourt criteria start with the need for process to have business significance. Next the process must have current pain points with potential automation benefits. The third criterion is that the process needs to be contained’ within controllable environment, as much as possible to minimise risk to business confidence. The last criterion is that the project is able to be completed within 6-8 weeks.
Alphacourt put a question to their customer concerning what they want to model their business processes. They see that are 4 ways:
- Modelling for Documentation & Compliance – here you need to capture the key business processes understand and show what is currently done. The first step is to identify the core processes that differentiate the business. Then identify the tasks that impact the organisation’s process performance the most.
- Modelling for Process Improvement – here you are concerned with lowering processing time and costs. The first step is modify process models to look at what if?’ scenarios for process improvement and then to run simulation to calculate the value of improvements.
- Modelling for Execution – in the end this is about bridging the gap between the business and IT. The first step is therefore to create a process design team, which includes business users, business analysts and IT. Owners and roles for processes design and management then need to be assigned. The result will be a tighter alignment between the two sides, which will assure a seamless handoff from business to IT for assembly and deployment.
- Modelling for Management – here we are looking at the management of the process in question through the use of executive dashboards and scorecards. KPIs need to be built into the process models. A run-time monitor is used to capture metrics against the KPIs. Performance of processes can then be viewed through the KPIs, in terms of cost, time and resources. Where compliance to government or regulations or customer SLAs is involved, there is need to check that the process is compliant. Then the data collected can be used for continuous Process Improvement.
Alphacourt have a real understanding of the business and IT aspects of defining a business change project for an organisation. They have a way of using 2 acronyms – BPM and SOA – that is based on using the best out of these 2 approaches.