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 (www.nwc.com/1613/1613f1.jhtml).]
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 (www.nwc.com/1613/1613f1.jhtml) 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