The BPM elements: Of Charts, Forms and Variables

In the ever evolving and in complexity growing arena of business process management – that sometimes seems to be excessively inflated with acronyms like iBPMS, S-BPM (download the book to S-BPM at Springer Open: link), RW-BPMS (call for papers and workshop in June 2015: link), BP2 and many others, which in cases can cause more confusion than orientation to the subject matter at hand – it at times becomes necessary to increase the level of abstraction and simplification in order to coordinate and execute real life BPM initiatives.

process flowFrom the view point of an actual effort to visualize, optimize, automate (where possible) and implement business processes, there always are certain core elements in place that make up the principal efforts of creation, maintenance and continuous improvements within the BPM discipline. Regardless of which technology is being used and the methodology that is being applied – there always will be at the very heart of things flow charts, end user forms, variables, system integrations and some sort of reports.

The possibility of visualizing the conditional process flow and case sequences is the most basic requirement and the very first stepping stone into the world of business process management. Luckily, it’s also one of the best covered features in almost all respective technologies for BPM out there and an aspect that typically requires the lowest level of effort accomplishing, nowadays. From open source solutions to enterprise suites, basically all of them sport some sort of graphical engine that allows for a quick and none-technical visual representation of process flows. Many platforms even align to various industry standards such as BPMN, BPEL, WF and others.

Keeping in mind the very basics, normally the second and by far biggest milestone of a BPM initiative will be the creation and maintenance of the end user forms that are dynamically tied to the drafted out process steps. The effort of creating these process forms, which in turn embody most of the end user experience, can represent a consumption of up to 80% of all resources dedicated to an implementation. There, on the process forms’ level, the “real” process logic takes shape, where form fields and sub-forms react to data entry, policy validation, simple and complex calculations. As a subset of the form creation one will always encounter in a (semi) parallel manner the definition of the process variables and the resulting data universe. If one were to reduce BPM as a technology and methodology to a bare minimum, the design and implementation of complex and powerful forms would clearly stand out as the most important aspect of later process adaptation and success. Fast, intelligent, adaptive and robust forms are decisive for accomplishing the premise of BPM of continuously improving and optimizing business processes. Such forms, that in cases can fancy themselves to be complete applications in their own rights, are then being created either entirely by code (defying somewhat the very nature of BPM) or be leveraged by wizard driven, low code form creation frameworks that produce the active server page source code behind the scenes (such as K2’s Smart Forms, for instance). Analyzing the role forms have to play for a modern and successful BPM solution, its importance for BPM in the context of the IoT becomes also clear. Aspects like adaptive, 0 footprint and mobile (app driven) user experiences are being furthered or hindered by the way process forms have been designed and implemented.

Taking a BPM implementation to a true end-to-end level, as it is defined in the ABPMP’s CBOK, a third component can’t be missing – process system integrations. No human centric process reaches its full potential in efficiency and efficacy without said integrations. When considering change and innovation cycles of business software and technologies, one could argue that BPM and ERP are facing each other at the opposite ends of two extremes. While BPM processes are meant to be adjusted periodically, within short periods of time, adapting to volatile market realities, ERP solutions will likely have a much slower frequency of change. From that perspective system integrations within business processes are foremost tools to enhance the BPM end-user experiences by leveraging but yet not duplicating ERP datasets. Besides ERP <-> BPM integrations, there will be of course countless other system interactions that will enhance the impact of an optimized business process, such as cross process and BPM integrations or typical interactions with systems like CRMs, BIs, ECM’s, BREs and more. Some vendors even did embark on a system consolidation effort, making way for what Gartner describes as iBPMS, making available several of these business applications within a single framework (usually bundling together BPM, ECM, BRE, BI and ESB), hence reducing the need for external system interaction.

Reports or – even more rudimentary – stored, raw process data could be described as the last piece of the “basic” elements of a BPM implementation. Now, while certainly advanced reporting, BAM, pattern recognition and predictive analytics are powerful features to accompany a process automation, covering the first elementary step of making sure that all the process as well as the business (form) data is stored in an automated, uniform, accumulative and (very important) scalable fashion – throughout all implemented business processes – is far more crucial (and more often than not something overlooked) for gaining real process insights and such enabling continued improvements. The key ingredients for viable business reports are in part derivatives of the process and form-variable design efforts and also in part the understanding of well-defined process metrics.

There are numerous other aspects worth considering when looking at the “art of optimizing and automating business processes”, like identifying a fitting ontology framework for instance, but from our experience at NSI, unlikely will any of those have such a determining effect on the successful outcome of BPM projects as will have the very basic elements of BPM – flow charting, form designing and variable definition, integration and report building.

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By Kay Winkler @ NSI Soluciones | June 1, 2015

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