In this blog series. we examine BPM from multiple perspectives, you can find Part 1 – BPM as a Tool here. Part 2 of our series analyzes BPM as it relates to business processes and defines the elements of a good production BPM solution.
BPM as a Solution
Instead of viewing BPM as a specific tool that is implemented across the enterprise, an alternative view looks at BPM as an approach that provides a solution to inefficiencies in a specific or related set of business processes. BPM is not a tool that you buy and install. Rather, it is a solution that you implement, combining various automated tools and process design techniques, to create streamlined work processes. A BPM solution meets specific requirements for a related set of business processes in an organization.
Production BPM Solutions
One key market that Perficient believes is underserved by today’s BPM tool focus on ad-hoc, collaborative, low volume workflows is high volume, human-centric, document-based, production BPM systems. These are the types of applications that were often the mainstay of early workflow and BPM efforts and seem to be considered by some industry analysts now as boring. However, they still represent a large opportunity for improving efficiency, removing cost, and increasing customer responsiveness in the core functions of many businesses.
They are typically systems that support large back office operations engaged in functions like claims processing and underwriting, loan operations, account opening and maintenance, mortgage origination, credit card dispute processing, accounts payable, and others. These are areas of a business that involve many people performing standardized, repetitive processes. Small improvements in an individual process are magnified by the fact that many people do the same functions repeatedly each day.
Typical high volume, production systems will have hundreds or thousands of full-time users. Tens to hundreds of thousands of work items may be in the system, and work queues may contain thousands of work items each. Processors are generally fed work, and supervisors manage teams of users and selected queues. Often these applications are human-centric because they involve a fair amount of externally generated content that is not cost effective to convert to structured data. Elements of the work may also include interaction with customers via correspondence and telephone.
These functions were a likely target for early workflow systems that often started as adjuncts to imaging and document management systems. Most of the automated functions were supported by mainframe systems that stored all the structured data that related to the cases or accounts, but the business operations were mired in paper documents that were involved in most aspects of the processes.
Significant increases in efficiency could be gained just by converting the documents into an electronic format and storing them on-line. This allowed multiple users to access documents at the same time, sped-up movement of documents from one location to another, and eradicated document loss. It also allowed the creation of workflow systems in which the process was driven by the receipt of the documents.
However, in some cases the promise of this technology did not move much beyond a system that did an initial sort of the documents and assigned them for work. Users and IT staff were able to make the shift from paper to computer-based image documents but they could not envision how the availability of these documents on-line significantly expanded how work processes could be organized. This required melding new technology with business processes and an understanding of business people.
Thus, while these types of applications and business processes were some of the first targets of early BPM tools, the resulting systems sometimes only scratched the surface of the efficiency gains available. There are still a large number of operations that are ripe for the application of high volume, production BPM solutions. Simple workflow systems, while easier and cheaper to implement, do not exploit the full value that the business can realize by carefully redesigning their processes and using the full capabilities of different automated technologies that make up a production BPM solution.
The size of these solutions and the potential savings from a large, well-implemented, production BPM solution means that it is cost-effective to design and customize unique features, specialized tools, and system integrations to maximize the efficiency of a particular application. When there are thousands of users working several work items each per hour, an incremental investment in a feature that saves a few seconds per work item can still provide a significant payoff. This is a key concept that must be appreciated to implement highly efficient production BPM systems.
Elements of a Production BPM Solution
A good BPM solution must bring together multiple components:
- Process Reengineering Methodology – The key element is an approach to refining and improving processes in which the solution designer understands and exploits technology, but goes beyond the technology to frame the solution from a business perspective.
- A high volume BPM engine – This provides the key abilities to design and execute business process maps that embody rules for the movement of work through an organization. It must be able to handle thousands of users processing hundreds of thousands of work items.
- An ECM repository – This supports efficient access to unstructured data, usually in the form of documents, that are a key part of most production business processes.
- A user application layer – This provides the user interface that allows human participants in the business process to interact with the work items and related content at each step as efficiently and effectively as possible.
- Application integration tools – These allow efficient, bi-directional communication with other systems involved in the business process and allows the application layer to provide a common front end.
- Reporting and analysis tools – A complex business process requires management both in the short term and the long term. Short term management focuses on meeting daily work volume goals, quality goals, and timeliness goals. Longer term management looks at continuously improving the process to further increase efficiency and quality.
- Industry solution–specific expertise and best practices – Experience and best practices for BPM implementation in general. as well as for the specific business areas being automated, are crucial to avoid the many pitfalls that that inexperienced BPM teams tend to suffer.
A high volume, production BPM solution needs all of these elements if it is to exploit the full value that process redesign can bring.
This blog post is an excerpt from Peter Gretz’s white paper, “Effectively Applying BPM to High Volume, Human-Centric, Production Operations.”