Perspectives of BPM differ depending on whether you look at it from the IT side or from the business side. IT tends to view BPM from a “bottom-up” perspective — that is, from the data integration layer on up to the top BPM layer, where businesspeople describe processes that map to that infrastructure. Business folk get the penthouse view, as they construct workflows on the BPM layer and help IT determine how everything gets implemented under the hood.
The general consensus is that the business-driven approach works best.
“A business process needs to be completely defined independently from IT,” says Matt Quinn, director of technology marketing at Tibco, which acquired BPM pure-play Staffware last month. “It needs to be a business-focused view of what a business process constitutes. Of course, you can’t simply drive everything top-down — you do need to actually capture business processes at a technology level as well. But if you understand the business process from end to end, without having the constraint of IT initially, you’ve got a much broader context for really understanding what your business is.”
The new imperative that IT must play a strategic role in achieving business objectives supports Quinn’s assertion. So does history. Not too long ago, BPM meant “business process modeling,” which, according to Ismael Ghalimi, chief strategy officer of Intalio, fizzled in the late ’90s because it demanded that business analysts learn principles of software engineering. By contrast, today’s BPM gives business analysts easy tools to map workflows, perform business simulations, rough out GUIs, and so on, yielding value for the business side even if a planned application never actually sees the light of day.
“We believe the business process should start with the subject matter experts,” says Scott Cosby, director of WebSphere Business Integration product management at IBM. But Cosby also thinks the business side should start by modeling and measuring existing processes before planning new ones.
According to Cosby, a company could, for example, gather metrics from an existing inventory system using IBM’s WebSphere Business Integration Monitor, which is based on the Holosofx product IBM purchased in 2002. Armed with that information, the company could then use the WebSphere Business Integration Modeler to re-create inventory system processes and run simulations to discover where to make improvements. This real-time information gathering is known as BAM (business activity monitoring), and depending on whom you talk to, it’s either integral or peripheral to BPM.
“We made a decision two years ago that BPM couldn’t exist without BAM because we found that nobody automates a process for any reason other than to improve it,” says Rod Favaron, CEO of Lombardi Software. “So we spent a lot of engineering time over the last 18 months building an integrated BAM capability. That’s what we’re known for, the really rapid ability to build the process, bring it live, get people using it, measure its effectiveness, and then change it.”
That’s fine for some, says Neal Novotny, director of product marketing at Intalio. But Intalio is of the “old school,” which holds that BPM is the process and execution engine that helps manage already defined processes and that BAM should take place after the fact.
Seeing the process for the trees