Friday, August 28, 2009

Nimble business process management helps enterprises gain rapid productivity returns

Listen to the podcast. View a full transcript or download the transcript. Find it on iTunes/iPod and Podcast.com. Learn more. Sponsor: BP Logix.

Welcome to a sponsored podcast discussion on the importance of business process management (BPM), especially for use across a variety of existing systems, in complex IT landscapes, and for building flexible business processes in dynamic environments.

The current economic climate has certainly highlighted how drastically businesses need to quickly adapt. Many organizations have had to adjust internally to new requirements and new budgets. They have also watched as their markets and supplier networks have shifted and become harder to predict.

To better understand how business processes can be developed and managed nimbly to help deal with such change, I recently moderated a panel of users, BPM providers, and analysts. Please join me in welcoming David A. Kelly, senior analyst at Upside Research; Joby O'Brien, vice president of development at BP Logix, and Jason Woodruff, project manager at TLT-Babcock.

Here are some excerpts:
Kelly: What's important is to be able to drive efficiency throughout an organization, and across all these business processes. With the economic challenges that organizations are facing, they've had to juggle suppliers, products, customers, ways to market, and ways to sell.

As they're doing that, they're looking at their existing business processes, trying to increase efficiencies, and they are trying to really make things more streamlined. ... Some organizations are even getting into cloud solutions and outside services that they need to integrate into their business processes. We've seen a real change in terms of how organizations are looking to manage these types of processes across applications, across data sources, across user populations.

... BPM solutions have been around for quite sometime now, and a lot of organizations have really put them to good use. But, over the past three or four years, we've seen this progression of organizations that are using BPM from a task-oriented solution to one that they have migrated into this infrastructure solution. ... [But] now with the changes and pressures that organizations are facing in the economy and their business cycles, we see organizations look for much more direct, shorter-term payback and ways to optimize business processes.

O'Brien: It's difficult for an organization, especially right now, to look at something on a one-, two-, or three-year plan. A lot of the BPM infrastructure products and a lot of the larger, more traditional ways that BPM vendors approach this reflect that type of plan. What we're seeing is that companies are looking for a quicker way to see a return on their BPM investment. What that means really is getting an implementation done and into production faster.

When there are particular business needs that are critical to an organization or business, those are the ones they tend try to address first. They are looking for ways to provide a solution that can be deployed rapidly. ... They take the processes that are most critical, and that are being driven by the business users and their needs, and address those with a one-at-a-time approach as they go through the organization.

It's very different than a more traditional approach, where you put all of the different requirements out there and spend six months going through discovery, design, and the different approaches. So, it's very different, but provides a rapid deployment of highly customized implementations.

Woodruff: TLT-Babcock is a supplier of air handling and material handling equipment, primarily in the utility and industrial markets. So, we have our hands in a lot of markets and lot of places.

As a project manager, ... I realized a need for streamlining our process. Right now, we don't want to ride the wave, but we want to drive the wave. We want to be proactive and we want to be the best out there. In order to do that, we need to improve our processes and continuously monitor and change them as needed.

After quite a bit of investigation and looking at different products, we developed and used a matrix that, first and foremost, looked at functionality. We need to do what we need to do. That requires flexibility and ultimately usability, not only from the implementation stage, but the end user stage, and to do so in the most cost-effective manner. That's where we are today.

We looked at why document control was an issue and what we could do to improve it. Then, we started looking at our processes and internal functions and realized that we needed a way to not just streamline them. One, we needed a way to define them better. Two, we needed to make sure that they are consistent and repetitive, which is basically automation.

O'Brien: There's one thing that Jason said that we think is particularly important. He used one phrase that's key to Nimble BPM. He used the term "monitor and change," and that is really critical. That means that I have deployed and am moving forward, but have the ability, with BP Logix Workflow Director, to monitor how things are going -- and then the ability to make changes based on the business requirements. This is really key to a Nimble BPM approach.

The approach of trying to get everybody to have a consensus, a six-month discovery, to go through all the different modeling, to put it down in stone, and then implement it works well in a lot of cases. But organizations that are trying to adapt very quickly and move into a more automated phase for the business processes need the ability to start quickly.

... The idea or the approach with the Nimble BPM is to allow folks like Jason -- and those within IT -- to be able to start quickly. They can put one together based on what the business users are indicating they need. They can then give them the tools and the ability to monitor things and make those changes, as they learn more.

In that approach, you can significantly compress that initial discovery phase. In a lot of the cases, you can actually turn that discovery phase into an automation phase, where, as part of that, you're going through the monitoring and the change, but you have already started at that point.

Woodruff: We saw this as an opportunity not just to implement a new product like Workflow Director, but to really reevaluate our processes and, in many cases, redefine them, sometimes gradually, other times quite drastically.

Our project cycle, from when we get an order to when our equipment is up and operating, can be two, three, sometimes four years. During that time there are many different processes from many different departments happening in parallel and serially as well. You name it -- it's all over the place. So, we started with that six-month discovery process, where we are trying to really get our hands around what do we do, why do we do it that way and what we should be doing.

As a result, we've defined some pretty complex business models and have begun developing. It’s been interesting that during that development of these longer-term, far-reaching implementations, the sort of spur-of-the-moment things have come up, been addressed, and been released, almost without realizing it.

A user will come and say they have a problem with this particular process. We can help. We'll sit down, find out what they need, create a form, model the workflow, and, within a couple of days, they're off and running. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.
Listen to the podcast. View a full transcript or download the transcript. Find it on iTunes/iPod and Podcast.com. Learn more. Sponsor: BP Logix.