It has been fascinating to see the recent advances in robotics … recently Little Dog from Boston Dynamics, demonstrated advanced, automated locomotive skills. Not only maneuvering skills - similar to its predecessor Big Dog - but with added agility and adaptability to various terrains. What does robotics have to do with BPM?
Business process management is often touted as a management discipline that models “as-is” processes, analyzes them, comes up with improved “to-be” processes - with hopefully improved efficiencies. These efficiencies could correspond to both improvements in the internal processes (Lean) - through reducing waste and improving speed - as well as the overall perceived consistency and quality of processes (Six Sigma). Continuous improvement methodologies and initiatives are valuable. However, BPM’s greatest value proposition is execution. Now, through BPM suites some tasks will be completely automated and executed through policies (business rules) that drive the processes. BPM also involves human participants. So in addition to automating some of the tasks, through BPM Suites human participants will be assisted, guided, and empowered through decisioning rules in BPM suite solutions - even as they carry out their tasks. Most importantly, the end-to-end business processes are executed by the BPM suite engine that keeps track of all the events throughout the lifecycle of executing processes. The BPM value proposition at its core emanates from the execution of policies and procedures (processes). A business is a collection of policies and procedures, Where are these policies and procedures?
- Regulation Policy and Procedure - Typically these are the “bylaws” for internal, regulatory, production and customer facing policies and procedures. Whether they are automated or not, it does not matter, they need to be followed.
- Decision policy and procedures by experts - These are the decisioning rules that are in “people’s heads.” Every organization has knowledge workers that know how things get, or should be, done
- Ossified policies and procedures - This category of policies and procedures are “hidden” or embedded in legacy code or ossified in ERP systems. There is little or no visibility of these policies and procedures. Interestingly, another source of this type of policies and procedures is data. One of the biggest challenges is the visibility, transparency, and agility of the processes ossified in ERP systems.
- Modeled policies and procedures - This category type is often used to capture “as is” and “to be” process maps. There could be, and typically are, other modeling elements. Sometimes enterprise architecture or business process analysis tools are used to capture these models. The problem is that models sometimes become an end in themselves: with voluminous modeling artifacts or documents and little or no demonstrable improvements.
- Execution of policies and procedures - Execution is the biggest value proposition for BPM. BPMS technology is essential for process improvement. Execution facilitates the governance of improvement as well as work optimization for your BPM initiatives. Yes, there will always be manual, undocumented, or “modeled” policies and procedures. But the greatest value of BPM emanates from executing the modeled policies and procedures, through a BPM suite.
Why execution? Here are some key advantages of process execution:
- Process Improvement, governance, and/or compliance - Modeling is useful. However, often process improvement initiatives end up with voluminous documentation, with little or no value. The chief objective of improvement is not voluminous documentation or artifacts of models. It’s about getting results. To achieve concrete results, the proposed process improvement needs to be executed through a BPMS. So, with the process execution platforms (i.e. the BPMS), what gets modeled is what gets executed - thus you benefit from immediate process improvement and quick time-to-value. The BPMS business platform that immediately provides executable solutions with all the assets (process flows, business rules, information, service integration, UI, etc.) - is essential for agility with tangible results.
- Continuous business process activity monitoring and improvement - What gets measured gets done. Since the processes are automated, the BPMS can keep track of all the activities and events from the execution of the processes. With robust BPM platforms, you can establish metrics throughout the entire lifecycle of a BPM project (design-time to run-time). These quantitative metrics can be tightly linked to key performance indicators to proactively drive continuous improvement. With BPM execution, this process event-driven monitoring is “free” - the measures are there and the overall solution can proactively keep the processes in control.
- Assist, Guide, Coach and Optimize your operators - Similar to robots assisting humans, either in labor or combat, the automated procedures, policies, and decisions in the context of automated processes assist the human operators in carrying out their day to day tasks optimally.
- Build corporate assets and apply the best asset contextually - Some of the “assets” in BPM include the process flows, the decision rules, the service levels, the event correlation rules, the expressions, the constraints and also the information model, the User Interface and service integration with incumbent applications or legacy systems. With BPMS execution, you have the opportunity to leverage a dynamic multi-dimensional repository of these assets, so that during the automated execution of processes the most relevant asset is applied, depending upon the context: what product or solution is being executed, at what time, where, when, by whom, for whom, etc.
These are few of the advantages of process execution. The analogy to robotics is compelling. BPMS solutions are agile. New policies and procedures could easily be introduced to execute for specific contexts. The BPM solution empowers the human participants - those who execute tasks in the context of process applications. Most importantly, business performance metrics could be drilled down to detect potential bottlenecks in process applications, operators, or organizations that own the process. Thus, process performance is tied to executing and automated process elements. We have called this real-time Lean Six Sigma: where processes are kept in control and continuous improvements are achieved while executing the processes in real time (vs. after the fact, as in traditional LSS). Finally, similar to execution in robotics, process applications could also learn, adapt and optimize. Thus process behavioral patterns and optimizations could be mined from process, operational, warehouse or census data. The discovered policies and patterns could then be operationalized in the context of automated processes. We will discuss predictive and adaptive BPM in a subsequent blog posting. So what does robotics have to do with BPM? Well, as you can see just about everything. What automation does for robotics, BPM can do for business applications with human participants execution - always agile, responsive, and continuously improving.