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Software // Information Management
11:54 AM

Repeat To Succeed

Why build from scratch when you can reuse proven processes? To ensure BPM success, design components you can use again and again throughout your organization.

"Men in business affairs come near perfection, then fail. If they were as attentive at the end as at the beginning, their business would succeed."

These are not the words of a modern-day management consultant, but of the Chinese philosopher Lao Tse in the sixth century B.C. It's an insight that is as true today as it was then, and it can easily be applied to business process management (BPM) initiatives. Too often, companies automate one process well, but then their efforts and enthusiasm taper off or get deflected to a new problem just when they ought to be working toward an enterprise rollout that capitalizes on the BPM investment and improves processes throughout the organization.

How do you keep the momentum going and make the most of BPM software and techniques? Many practitioners are finding the answer is to build on those initial pilot projects and early successes by literally reusing process designs and components with changes as needed.

Setting Standards for Processes

The City of Norfolk, VA, has more than 3,000 forms that each represent a process. Some 4,000 employees of this rapidly growing city are being empowered to streamline these paper-bound processes through an enterprisewide license to Metastorm e-Work BPM software. So far, 350 users have been trained on the software and have been authorized to design new processes.

The city's IT team supports the BPM initiative by integrating e-Work with internal databases and other legacy systems that validate, maintain and authenticate data. E-Work is also integrated with a Geographic Information System to validate building locations and facilities. A user group facilitates collaboration on new processes; a process designer can pick up the phone and find out who has tackled a similar process so they can share designs and discuss nuances and lessons learned.

Executive Summary

Reuse will do more than almost anything to ensure a successful business process management (BPM) deployment. Create basic processes for routing, data lookups and so forth, then redeploy those processes and components in your future workflows. Like object-oriented programming in the '80s, designing BPM in reusable blocks saves time and work for developers and business users. In this section we:

  • Explain how companies are creating efficient new processes and then redeploying them throughout the organization.
  • Describe the basic features to look for in the still-new BPM software category.
  • Provide a Product Guide to 24 of the leading BPM products.
  • Share the nine habits of highly effective BPM deployments (gleaned from early adopters).
  • Introduce programmatic integration servers, a new software category. These products wrap existing processes into new processes automated by BPM software, instead of ripping out and replacing legacy applications — ultimate reuse.
  • Present a five-step approach to BPM success.

  • "You save a lot of time this way," says IT director Hap Cluff. "Sometimes you can use as much as 80 percent of a system that someone else has already done and you can write the last 20 percent. It may take a little time to understand the process design, but you don't have to reinvent it from scratch every time."

    When one designer develops an interface for PeopleSoft, for instance, others throughout the organization will be able to connect their processes to PeopleSoft, too.

    The city doesn't just encourage process reuse, it enforces it. "We don't want people to go off and do it their own way," Cluff says. "If we've found a good way to automate a task, that's a standard we set. If there's a better way to do it, then we change the standard."

    So far, 10 processes have been automated and 50 more are planned for 2005. With the aid of reused process components, a staff of six handled 30,000 construction permits last year and is on track to issue 48,000 this year with no added personnel.

    A benefit of linking people, data and process flows across locations is that the city's Building Construction Services Division was able to open a remote office so it could for the first time issue permits outside of the main office downtown. This remote office was important because most new construction is being done 30 minutes outside of the downtown area. Applicants are also no longer required to travel between six facilities to get permits approved. E-Work lets the permit technician direct the flow of work, so documents can now be scanned and transferred electronically between departments for processing and sign-offs.

    Sharing What Works

    Another firm repeating BPM success is American National Insurance Company, which has automated more than 200 individual processes since it started using BPM software in 1998. Just how has reuse paid off? The firm's first call center automation initiative took nearly nine months to compete, but a second call center project took half that time because many processes from the first project were reused. A cross-functional customer service action team developed standards, identified best practices and made sure that proven processes were shared.

    "When we develop something that works, we catalog it and identify it in a manner such that if we have to do the same thing again, we don't have to start from scratch," says Gary Kirkham, a vice president. Naturally, certain elements change from one process to another — such as data sources, data outputs and participants. "But the heart and soul of what makes those business processes work is the fact that we try to reuse as much of them as we can."

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