The classic procedure for creating process models begins with some soul-searching on the business side.
“The first challenge of business process management is just discovering which processes exist in a company, within a system, within the combination of workers and systems, and externally to the company,” Novotny says.
For those with particularly complex process challenges, specialists such as IDS Scheer can provide software and consulting to help with the hardcore analysis. So how does the business side choose which processes to target first?
“There is a class of processes out there in the operation of the business that is really dynamic,” Lombardi’s Favaron says. “They’re stressed all the time, and they need to change — because organizations change, or product mixes change, or workflow changes, or partners change, or the rules about the business change. So we set out to build a set of products integrated together that would allow a cross-functional team of IT and business folks to work together and automate dynamic and highly changing processes.”
For example, Broadlane’s Howell — an Intalio customer — realized his company’s contract management system needed greater flexibility. So rather than “rip out the guts out of it,” Howell says he has marshaled existing business objects around it.
“For the things we wanted to do around [contract] approval, … we could’ve put them in the application and rewrote it, but looking at it as a business process, those were the things that changed so often we decided not to touch the application,” Howell says.
Instead, the additional logic necessary to provide added flexibility is maintained within the BPM system, where it can be changed easily.
From pretty pictures to meta-apps
After business analysts isolate the sweet spots for BPM, they use a BPM system’s Visio-like tool to model processes and fit them together. When modeling processes specific to a vertical industry, vendor-provided templates often prove to be a good starting point. When this business design stage is complete, the model reaches the hands of developers, who map business processes to a development environment that takes into account the details of EAI.
That handoff is key. Most vendors offer two modelers: one for business analysts and one for IT that actually describes the details of how the application will be created and integrated. Lombardi claims to be the only vendor that provides a single, unified environment for business and IT. But the fact remains that business analysts create models governed by business rules, whereas IT must create and maintain a parallel model governed by the capabilities of existing software and where low-level messages can go.
The notion that business analysts can actually build working apps using a BPM modeler without the aid of developers is a common misconception. After all, as Chet Kapoor, vice president and general manager of BEA’s WebLogic Integration group, says, “The ultimate vision of software has always been to draw pictures and hit run.”
We may still be light-years from that reality, but today’s BPM modelers for the business side typically produce some code that can be quite useful in the IT development phase.