Blow the Lid Off Automation

Integration and automation are old hat for business process management, but BPM vendors are adding real-time reports for better process visibility and adaptability.

Cover ImageOrchestration-focused BPM frameworks support business performance by applying goals, policies and rules, while adjusting process flow to accommodate outcomes that can't be predicted. In patient admissions, for example, the next step is dependent on the outcome and circumstances of the preceding step. Information discovered in the diagnostic stage drastically alters treatment, and a change in the patient's "state" (such as sudden heart failure) may completely alter the process flow.

This transition in BPM can be described as a shift from event-driven to goal-oriented processes. Earlier workflow and BPM systems provided the ability to stitch together a series of events into a process sequence. These tools supported some variation in process flows, such as splits and joins, but the majority of the process was predetermined. In the goal-driven approach that defines orchestration, processes are defined in terms of end goals and milestones, but you don't need an exact path or process flow programmed in advance.

What differentiates a goal-driven system is the ability to determine the process sequence based on current context. For example, a BPM system can compare the business rules and policies that apply to the current state of a process to determine what step should occur next and what information will be required in that step.

Visibility Drives Performance

In the coming third phase of BPM's evolution, integration and orchestration will be combined with real-time reporting to continuously validate and refine the business users' understanding of performance drivers. This intelligence will enable users to adapt business systems and process flows for maximum performance, and it will blow the lid off what for years has been a black box shrouding automation. With few exceptions, reporting on process events and performance used to be done only after execution — and usually within a separate environment. Changes either required bringing down and recompiling an application or were limited to exceptions and yes/no decision points.

The latest trend in BPM is to provide more sophisticated reporting capabilities within the BPM environment itself. This trend has been both enabled and necessitated by the movement to more flexible architectures and goal-driven process models. Improved integration capabilities, for example, are being exploited to present information on process state via work portals, dashboards and graphical environments. These tools will let business users see the impact changes will have on process efficiency.

Next-stage BPM systems should provide key performance indicators around process throughput, application availability and other performance metrics. Another differentiator will be support for end-to-end visibility into information flow, integration points and performance analytics, such as project milestones and business volumes.

Many systems already monitor the impact of events on downstream activities, determining, for example, whether process backlogs will likely cause a delay, and they'll alert administrators to reallocate workloads. Some vendors are now coupling this monitoring capability with simulation engines to support scenario planning and what-if analysis. Real-time feedback and future-performance metrics deliver the greatest value when they can support decisions and process improvement within a single, closed-loop environment.

The need for better reporting will only accelerate with growing use of business process execution language (BPEL). BPEL will allow process execution to be commoditized and distributed, so larger BPM processes will be calling on many BPEL-based subprocesses that may be executed within other environments. This will demand intelligence on interactions among subprocesses and larger superprocesses.

The more flexible and adaptable the processes and supporting systems become, the greater the need for visibility. And, in the same manner, the greater the ability to monitor and predict results, the more BPM will be identified with maximizing business performance, rather than simply integrating and automating systems and tasks.

Nathaniel Palmer is Vice President & Chief Analyst of Delphi Group, a Perot Systems Company. Write to him at [email protected].