BPM'S expanding horizons [KM World]
(KM World Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) No longer the domain of large enterprises, business process management (BPM) is now also feasible for small and mediumsized businesses. And, new features such as social media and mobile applications are making BPM more robust and versatile.
Bank of Tennessee (bankoften nessee.com), a community bank, wanted to improve its procedures while providing a collaborative environment for workers. "We wanted to streamline and automate our processes, starting with loan origination, and to provide an enterprise social environment," says Will Barrett, senior operations officer. "At first, we looked at consumer social software products such as Jive (jivesoftware.com) and Yammer (yammer.com), but they did not address all our major concerns. We wanted a social environment that was tied to our processes and could directly impact our efficiency."
The company looked at regional and national banks to see what their approach was for addressing those concerns. "They have the same issues but on a larger scale," Barrett says. Given the modest size of the bank's IT department and other resources, taking a path identical to that of many large banks was not an option because it would have entailed considerable customization and a large financial investment. Instead, Bank of Tennessee sought a solution that already included its key requirements and was affordable to develop and support.
The search led to the selection of the Appian (appian.com) BPM Suite. "We felt they were ahead in the social offering," Barrett explains, "as well as having the robust rules engine that we needed." In addition, the suite included a mobile component. The bank decided to use Appian's professional services to develop the application. "We thought their knowledge of the product's capabilities and our process knowledge were a good combination," Barrett says.
The plan was to develop the application in the cloud and later move it on site. That would allow development and testing without disrupting the bank's existing systems. "The engagement started out with scoping the project," says Adrienne Hubbard, leader of the services team that assisted with the deployment, "and then we put together the high-level architecture, including the mobile and social aspects."
When Barrett was satisfied with the vision, the team began an iterative process of building a prototype of the application, adding requirements and then downloading the prototype to the Bank of Tennessee to test the loan application forms. "This was a very big institutional change for us," Barrett says, so we wanted to carry out thorough testing." Additional modifications were made to display the forms on mobile devices, because the flow needed to be changed to accommodate the smaller screens.
Another important element of the project was to integrate with other information systems. "A huge part of the initiative was to standardize the input forms so they contained the right information for multiple applications," Hubbard explains. As each form was developed, Barrett brought in the stakeholders to show them how it worked and how it would support the way they do business. "We have loan officers, underwriters, processors, all collaborating around the loan," says Barrett.
Shortening the timeline
Because of the collaborative nature of the work, the social element was considered very important to the application, and is tightly intertwined with the business processes. "Every time a new mortgage request is initiated," Hubbard says, "a post is kicked off that shows all of the steps. The loan officer is the focal point for that process and is notified anytime someone joins the conversation - for example, providing feedback about a customer."
Now in the pilot stage, the first processes will be migrated from the cloud to onsite at the bank within the next few months. Barrett is anticipating immediately shaving time off the loan process. "Our customers say the timeline is their priority, and the Appian application will enhance the customer experience because we can shorten the timeline and eliminate errors." In addition, once the application is on site, the bank will be able to easily change and improve its existing processes in house. "Between the increased collaboration and the streamlined processes," says Barrett, "we expect to improve our overall performance."
Work processes and enterprise social applications are more compelling than either one alone, according to Matt Calkins, CEO of Appian. "Work automation has not been adopted completely across the enterprise nor does everyone have access to the BPM interface," he says. "Social software is not always productive because it is not tied directly to business processes. When social functionality is linked to the work, it is much more effective." If the work processes and the social element are isolated from each other, neither can provide the enrichment that is possible when they are together.
The social function in Appian can be extended beyond any particular process, however. A newsfeed provides information on competitors and relevant articles, lists role-based upcoming events and offers a forum in which staff, customers and partners can collaborate. Therefore, individuals who are not part of a particular business process can still comment on issues related to business process, which expands the knowledge resources accessible within and beyond the enterprise.
Moving to mobile
Liquid Controls (liquidcontrols. com), a unit of DDEX Corp. (idex corp.com), manufactures flow meters and accessories for precise liquid measurement in transfer and process control applications. Originally the company used a document-centric workflow software product from BP Logix (bplogix.com) to manage its documents for regulatory purposes. As BP Logix's product evolved into a sophisticated solution called Process Director, Liquid Controls began using it for a broad range of functions, including tracking processes in accounting, sales, quality assurance, IT and HR.
Many of the processes move through different departments, such as sales, accounting and engineering, in order to be completed. "A typical process we would handle through Process Director would be approval for financial transactions that span multiple systems," says Bruce Lawrence, IT manager at Liquid Controls. "These need to move from desk to desk across widely dispersed geographical areas. Approval for a project in one location might need to come from someone based elsewhere."
Process Director collects information from multiple departments and routes it to each individual for approval, and then to an employee who initiates the system update to close out the process. "We have 60 different processes in Process Director at my site," Lawrence says, "and having all the information in one place gives us good visibility into the status of each one."
Recently, Liquid Controls began using the mobile option to keep the tasks moving along when workflow members are on the road. This first step does not include a mobile app for Process Director, but uses e-mail replies to complete workflow tasks. "Sometimes a project needs approval from an individual who is off site and does not have access to Process Director," Lawrence explains. 'The user can now forward the appropriate e-mail to the Process Director server to approve his or her task." The task is then processed within the Process Director server; no direct connection to the server is required. Liquid Controls is also custom designing forms to fit mobile screens so that eventually users will be able to interact directly with workflows from their mobile devices.
Good design is a critical and sometimes underemphasized part of mobile applications, says Scott Menter, VP of business solutions at BP Logix. "For a small form factor, the application looks and acts differently from the way it does on the desktop. We provide controls so that you can specify in a very fine-grained way what you are presenting based on the type of device you're using."
Services for redesigning and optimizing processes for the mobile experience is a large and growing market that is expected to account for $7.6 billion annually by 2015, according to Forrester (forrester.com). Unfortunately, many of today's mobile processes are doomed to failure because of poor design.
Clay Richardson, research analyst at Forrester, emphasizes, 'The most important thing for companies to think about is to identify where mobile applications can help cut the time to complete tasks and to focus on the user experience. The flow of tasks on mobile should anticipate what the users want to do and make it easy for them to do it." Companies should think about the outcome they want and then design the application around that, rather than try to duplicate the desktop experience on a much smaller screen.
In addition, they should ensure that the mobile application is tied into core business processes, in order to prevent a disconnect between the two that produces a silo of information generated from the mobile application. Sometimes this means re-engineering the backend systems so that all the information is integrated into the workflow. "This is an important step," Richardson says. "Building a mobile application without thinking about the processes behind the scenes will almost certainly deliver a poor customer experience."
iBPMS: the new frontier for BPM
The intelligent business process management system (iBPMS) will be the next generation of BPM-enabled application, according to Gartner (gartner.com). In an iBPMS, the BPM stack incorporates social media, mobile device support, expanded analytics including complex event processing (CEP), decision support tools and access to external information sources such as video, audio and social streams. Collectively, that capability provides well orchestrated process management that improves operations and supports innovation in a qualitatively different way than that of traditional BPM.
"One great example of leveraging an intelligent process is an agricultural application being used on five megafarms in Australia," says Jim Sinur, VP of Gartner Research. "In this project, data is being provided from probes measuring soil components and rainfall, from runoff models indicating where the rain goes, and from external models of weather forecasts. All this information is analyzed to calibrate the amount of liquid fertilizer that should be applied. The result in some cases was a 40 percent increase in plant yield." The system depends on a complex rule base, robust analytics and decision support to determine the appropriate actions.
BPM vendors that are lacking critical parts of this evolving category are adding those capabilities by developing them in house or through acquisition. Most are trying to reach that goal incrementally rather than producing a solution that will require a full upgrade. "This is a journey, not an end game," Sinur says, "and all vendors and clients are on this journey
Initially, Gartner estimated that about 1 5 percent of companies would be interested in iBPMS software, but more recent figures indicated that more than 50 percent, comprised of both existing and new customers, are in fact interested.
BY JUDITH LAMONT, /IMWORLD SENIOR WRITER
Judith Lamont, Ph.D., is a research analyst with Zentek Corp., e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
(c) 2013 Information Today, Inc.
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