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Software // Information Management

Processes Get Smart

The key to designing smarter processes is measuring and analyzing process results to spot improvements. Bring processes to the next level by blending business activity monitoring and BI with BPM. Such combined approaches are paying off at Great Clips, TransUnion and DHL.

Hang around business process management (BPM) practitioners awhile and, sooner or later, one of them will say, "It's a journey, not a destination." In a perfect world, you could design and automate processes and get everything right the first time. But in the real world, that's not how it happens. Even if nothing goes disastrously wrong, there's usually much room for improvement in a newly automated process.

The key to designing smarter processes is to measure and analyze process results to identify activities and steps that can be optimized. Business activity monitoring (BAM) and business intelligence (BI) tools used in combination with BPM software can give process designers the visibility they need to identify what they should be doing better.

Although the signs of convergence are just emerging at the product level, with integrations between BI and BPM companies and analytics and BAM embedded in BPM suites, more common are integrations and combinations of technology assembled by practitioners in the field. Where BAM is real-time and operational, helping you see what's going on in your processes to find and fix problems, business intelligence takes a deeper look at historical data and is more about optimization: What has the process done in the last day or week? Where are the hot spots? What processes are taking longer than others, or longer than they used to? What opportunities exist to make the process more efficient? You might spot a way to eliminate steps, or discover approvals are taking too long and talk to people about it or provide training.

Techniques and approaches often overlap, but here are five ways companies are using these technologies in combination to design smarter processes.

Scenario One: BAM As Precursor to BI

True to its name, BAM monitors processes, collecting key process metrics that can be visually presented in the form of a dashboard or analyzed in a spreadsheet. Many BAM modules automatically send alerts when a metric veers out of a predefined range.

BAM is so useful that some companies use it even before they get involved with BPM. "Let's face it, everything is a process," says Gartner analyst Bill Gassman. "Any time anything gets done, there's a process involved." Often, the first step toward better process management is monitoring certain stages or steps to determine how long they are taking, how often they're successful, whether they're meeting service levels and so on. Companies may then recognize the need for BPM software that will automate time-consuming manual tasks.

At the next stage, BAM can be extremely helpful in streamlining automated processes. "The combination of BPM and BAM gives business people knobs and levers of control over their business and awareness of opportunities or problems," Gassman says. Further evolution to business intelligence, he adds, helps business people understand where to position those knobs and levers for optimum performance.

Great Clips, operator of a chain of 2,500 franchised hair salons in the Midwest, was growing fast and struggling to share information across the many departments involved in opening new salons--legal, marketing, construction, management, operations. The company wanted to expand without hiring more people at headquarters. The first thought was that CRM (customer relationship management) software could solve the problem, but executives soon realized that CRM wouldn't take care of the human-to-human work handoffs or handle the sometimes complex relationships among various franchisees, many of whom had established relationships in different markets.

The company focused instead on BPM, custom database integration and document management. Using BPM software from Metastorm, Great Clips modeled and automated many of the 120 steps in the salon-opening process, and it now opens 250 locations per year, up from 150 previously. The firm was able to automate about 20 information-gathering steps and cut two weeks out of their usual 14-week new-store launch process.

Using BAM, Great Clips keeps an eye on automated processes, to find and implement improvements. "We never had good visibility into what was going on with the process," recalls CIO Jim Waldo. "Now we have good information on the status of work between key milestones and how those milestones compare to our standards."

For instance, Metastorm's monitoring module watches supplier delivery times. "One vendor was consistently late ... and that was leading to late openings in certain parts of our system," says Waldo. In other cases, Great Clips identified trends that the suppliers hadn't recognized, such as reorders for equipment that had repeatedly failed. "We use BAM to highlight those problems as they're developing and work with vendors to find the causes and rectify them," Waldo says.

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