IT Detours On the Road to BPM

Want deeper business metrics and closed-loop process optimization? Even the best BPM suites still require customization and IT hand holding.

Plan a Better Route

The simulation capabilities in our lineup of BPM products were a huge differentiator. Simulation lets the business process designer play back the process to see the flow in action and determine whether specific business rules and logic are implemented correctly. Simulation can also incorporate features to assess path probability (will the condition at point X be true or false), resource assignment, task duration and cost factors, running a process a user-configurable number of times to discover bottlenecks and costs associated with each step.

Only Savvion, Ultimus, Lombardi, CA, BlueSpring and Fuego offered simulation capabilities, and all did so with varying degrees of control over the simulation. Savvion and Fuego offered the only 360-degree simulation engines, capable of not only storing metrics from simulation runs, but also able to retrieve real-time metrics from the process engine and configure the simulation engine with those metrics for offline analysis and optimization. This "round-trip metrics" capability put Savvion and Fuego far ahead of even Lombardi, which offered similar simulation configuration options but didn't provide the ability to apply run-time metrics to the simulation.

Another method of using run-time metrics is through integration of KPIs back into the model. This is something that will require IT but will be well worth the time and energy. Once a KPI is defined, say response time for a specific event, it can be integrated into the process and decisions can be made based on the data available. If the average response time in the Green Bay call center were to rise above 10 minutes, for example, the system could alert a manager or even start routing calls to the Seattle call center automatically. This feature was available in most products, although depth of capabilities and ease of implementation varied. Ultimus required writing to and reading from an external database to accomplish our aforementioned example, while Oracle, Fuego and Savvion made the process much more palatable.

Oracle partners with vendors such as Popkin for simulation, and Pegasystems recently introduced its own simulation engine, although it didn't submit it for review. All the other products we evaluated offered limited simulation capabilities that provided little more than verification of the process logic.

Are We THERE Yet?

No single product offered an uninterrupted road to BPM nirvana. Modeling tools make it easy for business users and analysts to draw up maps, but IT still has to drive them into production. Analytics and reporting features will undoubtedly get business-user friendlier, but we expect BPM vendors to leave the heavy lifting to third-party reporting products, analytic tools and BI suites (so expect more partnerships). And simulation is definitely under construction for most products.

That said, a couple of products made our shortlist. Among the standouts in all three areas were Fuego and Savvion, with Fuego offering a helpful skinning feature in the modeling environment and Savvion providing superior simulation capabilities. Both products were also among the leaders in reporting and business activity monitoring. While you may need to take a few detours through the IT department to make the most of these products, they offer the most promising route to the next stage of BPM.

[Editors note: For a more IT-focused analysis of these products, read "How to Win the BPM Game" in the July 7 issue of Network Computing magazine (]

BPM Put to the Test

Reader interest in business process management (BPM) systems is on the upswing, so we set off on a collaborative journey with our sister publication, Network Computing (NWC), to gain hands-on insight. Our coverage focuses on business-oriented modeling, reporting, analytic and business activity monitoring capabilities while NWC's coverage ( gears toward IT's needs and concerns.

Lori MacVittie and the team at NWC's Green Bay, Wis., Business Application Lab installed and tested BPM suites from nine vendors: BlueSpring Software, Computer Associates, Fuego, Lombardi Software, Pegasystems, Savvion, Tibco, Ultimus and Oracle. Some 20 vendors were invited to participate, but BEA, FileNet and Microsoft declined, and we couldn't work out logistics and deadlines with others including Appian, Chordian, Fujitsu, Metastorm and Vitria.

To test the products, we built a purchasing process that demanded integration with Oracle 9i and SQL Server 2000, which contained customer, order and shipping data. Each product was also required to implement an order entry and fulfillment scenario involving reporting and analysis, modeling, simulation and collaboration. The test required application and database integration as well as internal (customer service representative) and external (customer) human interaction. Business rules were needed to handle order routing, and the systems had to use Microsoft Exchange for e-mail interaction and Active Directory for authentication purposes.

Lori MacVittie is a senior technology editor for Network Computing magazine. She has been a software developer, a network administrator and a member of the technical architecture team for a global transportation and logistics organization. Write to her at [email protected].


Business Process Management Systems

The Brief
» BPM systems automate processes by interpreting step-by-step business rules and coordinating machine-to-machine interactions, human approvals and exception handling. These features alone provide big advances over disconnected systems and cumbersome manual processing. Consistency, documentation and tracking are a bonus for all and a must for regulated companies.

» Start with process improvement. Many companies streamline without implementing BPM systems. Define as-is processes to identify gaps and bottlenecks. Next, model a new process that eliminates overlaps, minimizes manual steps and takes advantage of obvious technology integrations and upgrades.
» Step up to process management. A BPM system will give you, among other benefits, automated process execution and monitoring, with load balancing, exception handling and alerts that proactively spot problems.
» Graduate to business activity monitoring and closed-loop feedback. Advanced users analyze operational metrics and reports, develop business performance measures and adjust processes for better performance. On the cutting edge, real-time metrics are combined with simulation for on-the-fly decision support and process change.

»If your processes combine human-to-human and system-to-system interaction, consider pure-play BPM vendors with depth in both integration and workflow.
»If your enterprise depends on multiple, heterogeneous applications and, particularly, if you're already invested in integration servers, consider enterprise application integration vendors now addressing BPM.
»Platform and application giants including Microsoft, IBM, BEA and Oracle are moving into BPM. Vendor consolidation and the security of big names may be attractive, but remember that BPM is a business initiative. Are the products accessible to and the approach aimed at the business side?

Action Items
»Organize cross-departmental/functional teams (including IT), and gain top-level executive support. Moving to a process-oriented approach is a big cultural change: It won't happen without cooperation.
»Look for early wins by spotting broken processes that cut across departments and that, if fixed, promise big productivity gains or cost savings.

Editor's Choice
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Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek