How do you optimize business processes?
One of the overarching themes of IT today is the increasing integration of business and technology—specifically, the opportunity to redefine IT not as a cluster of technical domains but, more usefully, an instrument of business goals.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the emergence of BPM—business process management—as a discipline and solution class. The idea behind BPM is compelling: just as IT solutions help to visualize, control, and automate the workings of a complex technical infrastructure, so can BPM help visualize, control, and automate business processes. And the benefits that emerge are similar as well: higher performance and availability, and lower risks and costs, associated with services of all kinds.
Like almost every other aspect of business today, BPM is rapidly evolving to create new value in new ways. One clear opportunity along these lines lies in the specific links between the technical infrastructure and business processes. If an organization is genuinely committed to optimizing processes over time, it will certainly need to understand as clearly as possible how technical complexities can affect those processes, and respond in an efficient and informed fashion to bottlenecks or outright failures.
Such issues can be particularly difficult to resolve given an advanced, virtualized IT architecture. Suppose an organization has deployed a private cloud; the cloud, by design, will be exceptionally automated, allocating resources and creating new virtual servers on demand to accomplish tasks as defined by business policies.
Such an architecture may also, however, make it harder to understand how business processes execute—and what, should technical problems emerge, their expected business impact might be.
IBM leads the world in business process management solutions
Anyone who remembers the vintage IBM slogan "Business is Our Middle Name" won't be surprised to hear that IBM is a global leader in BPM solutions. In fact, according to some estimates, IBM is the number one BPM solution provider, with a market share more than twice the nearest competitor's.
"BPM's Business Process Choreographer tool draws information from SmartCloud APM to illustrate the health of business processes. This means that when processes experience slowdown, and that slowdown has a technical root cause, that root cause can be quickly and easily pinpointed—and the right IT team member can be assigned to address the issue."
Now IBM's leadership in BPM has been extended in a new way: through integrating IBM Business Process Manager (BPM) and IBM SmartCloud Application Management (v. 7.6). This new integration supports BPM by focusing on the technical infrastructure supporting business processes—empowering organizations to optimize and accelerate those processes in an important way they couldn't before.
To understand how, first consider what IBM Business Process Manager does. Fundamentally, it helps organizations detect, clarify, and quantify some of the most common procedural problems—among others, inconsistent or suboptimal prioritization, incomplete data flow between systems or groups of people, lack of control over business events such as exceptions, and generally poor visibility into all the elements and steps of complex process execution.
Via IBM Business Process Manager, this semi-chaos becomes instead an orderly engine of business activity. Workflow is more efficient (and in some cases, automated), errors are less frequent, and they create less business impact when they do occur. Special cases, too, tend to be handled in a more consistent fashion—instead of generating excessive costs based on a unique organizational response each time they occur.
What IBM Business Process Manager doesn't directly address, however, is the underlying technological foundation on which those processes run.
This is where IBM SmartCloud Application Performance Management (SmartCloud APM) comes in—a solution that gives organizations the actionable intelligence they need to detect and resolve technical issues as rapidly and cost-effectively as possible. It accomplishes this via five different views of application performance: discovery, the end-user experience, transaction tracing, diagnostics, and analytics.
IT gets insight into business processes, and process managers get insight into the underlying technology
In version 7.6 of SmartCloud APM, these two solutions have been linked in new ways for a double benefit: more technical insight when beginning with a process perspective, and more process insight when coming from an IT infrastructure perspective.
BPM application support teams, for example, naturally focus on business processes—and so may struggle with visualizing and resolving technical issues that affect process performance of the underlying IT infrastructure. That struggle is now greatly reduced because the process dashboards they utilize can now directly draw on information coming from SmartCloud APM.
Specifically, the information is passed to BPM's Business Process Choreographer tool, which launches in context to illustrate the health of processes in a way that includes technical complexities such as allocated resources and system uptime. This means that when processes experience slowdown, and that slowdown has a technical root cause, that root cause can be quickly and easily pinpointed—and the right IT team member can be assigned to address the issue. (In fact, the solution can even generate alerts automatically, to notify BPM administrators of an issue before they have a chance to notice it for themselves.)
Conversely, IT team members—whose focus is typically on technical domains, systems, and resources—now get superior insight into the business process side of emerging problems. Suppose that, for instance, a database or network issue is detected. Process-centric questions immediately emerge. Which processes will the detected issue affect? What will the impact on them be? What are the business priorities of those processes—and which should be resolved first, for the best overall result?
Because SmartCloud APM and IBM are now integrated, IT professionals can obtain accurate answers to those questions—fast. They can also pass that information on to anyone else who might need to know, such as line-of-business managers, in the event that problem resolution may take extra time and expectations should be managed.
In short, the correlation between business processes and the technical infrastructure is now far clearer, translating into a faster, more informed response to emerging issues and a superior business outcome.
Two scenarios make the case for the SmartCloud APM/BPM integrations
Let's consider a couple of common scenarios to illustrate how the new integration capabilities might typically play out in a real-world business situation—one with a focus on technical root cause analysis, and the other with a focus on business process impact.
In both of these scenarios, it's presumed that some aspect of the IT infrastructure is underperforming relative to targets. Perhaps a database isn't as responsive as it should be; perhaps a virtual server needs to be restarted. What differs between these two examples is the specific information that team members need in order to understand and solve the problem and minimize its business impact. And in both scenarios, that information is achieved via the new integration.
Scenario One: Technical Root Cause Analysis
In this scenario, an IT team member begins by discovering that a business process has slowed unacceptably, as reflected in the Tivoli Enterprise Portal interface (which aggregates and intuitively depicts monitoring information). The next logical step is to determine what the root cause of this slowdown might be. Normally this would be a challenging thing to do given the complexity of the IT infrastructure.
Fortunately, SmartCloud APM's extensive analytical capabilities are directly on point. They allow IT to drill down, inside a logical topology view of the service, to isolate exactly which component or resource is responsible for the reduced performance. Subsequently, this information can be passed on to an appropriate subject matter expert chartered with that area, who can in turn resolve it in any way needed to bring the service back up to the necessary performance.
Scenario Two: Business Process Impact
In this scenario, essentially the same root cause applies, yet the goal is different. Instead of needing to establish the technical root cause, the goal is to establish which business processes are affected, and by how much, in order to create a prioritized response to the total situation.
Again we start with an IT administrator discovering a technical issue with an underlying resource. Now, though, that administrator can do something quite different: easily identify the affected BPM processes and services, via the Process Groups summary, which is directly informed by the new data-sharing between BPM and SmartCloud APM.
Subsequently, the administrator can notify the appropriate managers that a problem exists, as well as provide an estimate of the duration of the problem. And because one process is shown to have a higher business priority than another, the administrator can focus primary effort on it first—essentially, conduct the triage needed to get the worst problems under control fastest.