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Getting started with BPM: Find the best entry point

Rising costs, global competition, exploding information, lack of available resources—these are just a few of the hurdles organizations face in today’s business landscape. And in this challenging climate, opportunities and threats come and go faster than ever before. To survive, businesses must find ways to work smarter and attain higher levels of agility.

A recent IBM survey of global business and IT executives1 found that some organizations are significantly outperforming in their industry. These top performers are much more focused on growth than their peers. They are becoming more agile by adopting smarter work practices and transforming their business processes to be more dynamic, collaborative, and connected. The survey results noted that these organizations are:

To position your organization for success, you need the ability to continually optimize, streamline and align business processes to meet changing business needs for greater performance, competitive advantage and to drive growth. A business process management (BPM) solution should enable you to model, manage, monitor and optimize business processes, helping your organization to quickly capitalize on new opportunities, optimize costs and drive sustainable growth and performance. Often, the business processes themselves help to create competitive advantage. To gain this advantage, you need to bridge the gap between business strategy and IT actions, and employ a common framework designed to help people collaborate around business processes. The goal of BPM is to enable more informed business decisions and the ability to implement changes more rapidly, efficiently and effectively.

Choosing an entry point based on business needs

Based on more than 5,000 BPM engagements worldwide, IBM has studied how businesses adopt BPM and distilled these approaches, or adoption patterns, into three distinct entry points. Organizations adopt BPM to meet various business needs, and the most critical needs should determine the particular entry point into BPM that an organization will select. The three entry points and their benefits are as follows:

These entry points to BPM don’t necessarily occur in a linear, sequential fashion; each one independently delivers a set of important and unique business benefits. Aligned with these entry points, IBM has designed fit-for-purpose BPM solutions so that organizations can start with a solution that meets their current business objectives, and then advance as their objectives evolve over time.

Discover and design: Unlock process opportunities and uncover improvement areas

Today’s business landscape seems to change in the blink of an eye. Understanding how your business is performing and transforming your business processes into engines of innovation are essential to addressing today’s marketplace realities. Having an enhanced awareness and understanding that spans your business ecosystems can help drive innovation and enable you to redesign processes, systems and strategies that span the breadth of your dynamic business network.

Business process discovery and design serves as a very common entry point into BPM for many businesses. Process discovery and design is all about understanding the business processes that drive your business – as they are today and as they need to be tomorrow. To successfully optimize the business, this requires collaboration amongst all the key stakeholders to capture, model and analyze key processes to link business strategy to process execution.

Process optimization does not always start with documenting a process. In fact, many people do not think of their business in terms of processes, but rather as a set of strategies and capabilities shown with organizational charts. Starting by capturing business intent and how it guides the operations and actions of the business makes it possible to clearly see the linkage between those business goals and the organization’s business processes. This enables business leaders to collaborate on the business design, capture the high-level business processes and determine the right actions to take to ensure the focus is on the most critical business process areas with the highest return on investment (ROI).

Businesses often model their business processes to optimize or implement them. At other times, they model them simply for documentation purposes to ensure process understanding throughout the organization. In either case, you need to understand where you are before thinking about where you need to go. Accurate definition and modeling of business processes is a critical factor in improving business performance. Without formal process documentation and process management systems, these process complexities can burden an organization with unnecessary hindrances and bottlenecks. A well-constructed business process model can help you locate and eliminate those hidden inefficiencies, costs and delays.

To learn more about business process discovery and design, visit IBM BPM BlueWorks.

Process automation and exception handling: Improve operating efficiency and optimize costs

A natural starting point for many businesses interested in BPM, process automation is a relatively straightforward idea with a potentially profound impact on your company’s performance. Put simply, your business performance is defined by the processes that drive it. The cost of manually orchestrating every activity of an end-to-end process can be staggering. Worse, it can have a direct, negative impact on customer experience.

By automating processes, you transform manual, disjointed activities into streamlined, repeatable ones with consistent results, saving you time, optimizing costs to make the most of your investments, and allowing your organization to work smarter. You end up with streamlined manual tasks and accelerated overall efficiency, positively impacting quality, cycle times, resource allocation, compliance efforts, cost optimization and—perhaps most importantly—customer service.

Process automation spans a wide spectrum of scenarios, from straight-through processing to solutions that integrate expert human skills, including:

Given the staggering number of regulations, demanding service-level agreements and complex processes, inconsistency in process is no longer an option. Manual processes don’t just limit your ability to determine whether tasks are performed in the right sequence—they eliminate your ability to prove you’re in line with regulations or internal controls. Process automation helps ensure that processes are run consistently, making steps visible, measurable and auditable. When based on service oriented architecture (SOA), process automation combines the flexibility of loosely coupled open systems with the reliability of tightly coupled systems. The result is an agile infrastructure that offers the integrity to deliver seamless processes spanning disparate systems and legacy systems.

In today’s climate, it’s essential that you integrate processes across employees, business partners and customers. But with differences in systems, applications and interfaces, that integration can be nearly impossible. This limits your ability to provide the right level of service to customers, and it takes away from your potential for profitable operation. With a process automation solution, you potentially avoid hard coding a variety of complex integrations and gain flexibility, agility and cost optimization. Having each step in the process linked with the same inputs and outputs helps to ensure consistent responses every time.

To learn more about the benefits of process automation, read the white paper “Drive strategic value with process automation.”

Transform insight and action: Capitalize on opportunities and mitigate risk

In a business environment characterized by rapid change, you need the visibility to elicit the best response to changes in the marketplace and the agility to respond quickly. The objective, of course, is to create differentiation from your competition. Key differentiators are not always limited to individual products or service offerings; they’re often closely intertwined with the business processes themselves. And without visibility into process performance, optimization of those processes becomes a guessing game.

The key to success is a clear and actionable view of all levels of your business processes. You need real-time visibility to mitigate risks and make the most of opportunities—while meeting and exceeding customer expectations and executing at the lowest cost possible.

The BPM solutions you choose should deliver clear, concise, actionable views into operational processes to your organization, providing business professionals with new levels of insight that can help them turn insight into action. The agility gained enables you to better take advantage of potential opportunities and more easily overcome unexpected challenges, allowing you to work smarter and gain a competitive advantage. BPM can remove the historical barriers to process change and optimization, integrating rich analytic tools and providing end users with:

Without visibility into your business processes, you often cannot identify new opportunities. But by monitoring business activity, you gain the ability to analyze data across processes and systems with a consolidated view of key performance indicators (KPIs) through customizable, role-based dashboards.

Further, with business intelligence you can extend insight into business processes to show the ultimate impact of process performance, enabling you to compare past and current operational performance with established metrics. Even greater differentiation is possible when you can identify crucial business events occurring on disparate systems across the enterprise. With event volumes exploding at exponential rates, this effort can resemble the search for a needle in a global haystack. Business event processing lets you determine when an actionable business event, or pattern of events, from one or more disparate sources across the enterprise has occurred and then coordinate the right response at the right time—whether the event or event pattern represents an opportunity or a threat.

Insight is vital, but it’s the action you take in response to that insight that’s key. And if taking action is the key, then the ability to take action quickly is what unlocks true business potential. The ability for users across your business network to interact with business processes and collaborate across various media, from desktops to mobile devices and Web-based interfaces is critical to making this a reality.

To learn more about transforming insight into action, read the white paper “Transforming insight into action with business process management.”

Dynamic adaptation and response with BPM + SOA

In today’s world, business leaders universally agree on one thing: change is inevitable. With businesses growing, becoming global and acquiring other companies, this change is leading to issues with existing IT environments. These problems include overlap and duplication of systems and difficulties in documenting activities for compliance regulations. In these times of constant change, having a cohesive set of tools helps you to use technology in innovative ways to make your business more agile and able to support business opportunities. While traditional approaches to BPM can yield strong business results through speed and efficiencies, the benefits increase with the addition of SOA. The combination of BPM and SOA provides dynamic process management to enable you to respond quickly and cost-effectively to change and rapidly evolving business needs, unlocking the full power of your resources to optimize your total return on investment.

By Amy L. Dickson, Schaumburg, Illinois. Amy is Product Manager for WebSphere® Process Server in IBM Software Group.

1IBM Institute for Business Value study, “ ”A New Way of Working: Insight from Global Leaders” (2010)