BPM and BI enable better decisions

14 01 2010

There are many recognised and well documented benefits of BPM (Business Process Management), many of which focus around the benefits that empower users to make better decisions. The same can be said for high level staff, people who take decisions on how the business should go about doing business. Many BPM suites provide a dashboard that allows management and key staff to review process performance, throughput etc. However, do we need to know more than these basic operational facts?

Business Intelligence (BI) can help

Now I don’t have a great amount of experience in the BI field. However, I am very aware that BI (at least the concept, practices and technologies) can add real value to BPM management dashboards. While it is great to know the through put of a particular process for example, it would be far more informative to see the type of “cases” or “workitems” that are in that process. The type of customers involved, their requests, who are carrying out the majority of cases here, what other applications are having a factor on performance etc. This is where BI can add real value.

By integrating either good BI practices or a good BI solution with BPM, you enrich the overview of how a business process is performing, and to an extent, how your business itself is performing. In addition, vast time savings will be made with regards to gathering decision making variables and showing these as informative reports.

BI solution or an intelligent BPM platform?

This is the question…It’s all well and good trying to integrate a good BI solution with your BPM platform, but this won’t be simple. Because of this the market is moving to BPM vendors purchasing BI providers (maybe vice versa) in order to bring something different and more informative to their product offering.

To write a complete BI solution would be hard, however BPM vendors can go a long way to providing BI in their own dashboards, the key is time and investment. The outcome may not demonstrate as nicely “Out of the box” as established BI solutions, but many of the benefits of using a BI solution will be incorporated. I am sure we will see many BPM solutions including “open source” BI solutions in their own product offerings over the next 18 months…

There are of course exceptions to the rule. My own company provides a BPM platform that can provide BI capabilities within processes and reporting dashboards. This is done because the maps themselves and the data stored are implemented at a more technical developer level (rather than at a high level mapping environment). This provides great flexibility in what information you want to gather and effectively store ready for reporting on. The same integration capabilities are available with custom reporting and custom dashboard controls, allowing reports to integrate with other LOBs and or its own BI type of system.

Conclusion

No matter how you choose to implement richer reports, the point is that organisations should look to BI principles when executing BPM reports or viewing dashboards. The more relevant information that is available, the more likely you are (as a business) to make better more informed decisions, which can only be a good thing. In addition, financial savings are very apparent when looking at how much money it costs to generate similar types of reports from legacy systems / other LOBs…All in all, BPM and BI is a natural fit, one which vendors and customers alike should take advantage of.

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ECM access on my phone?

7 01 2010

There is a lot being made of ECM and the ways in which users interact with content stored in an ECM repository. There is a real belief that more of us will choose to access ECM content via a multitude of devices, the most obvious being my mobile phone.

With smart phones, such as the iPhone, Windows 6.5 mobiles and now the Google’s Nexus, the real question I find myself asking is “will I really want to access content on my phone?” For many the answer will be “NO”, and for many others the answer will be a very loud “YES”. So what are the real benefits and issues, without getting bogged down in technical jargon…?

ECM on my phone…

Most of us like to be as flexible as possible when it comes to doing work. By this I mean, if I am on the train, instead of wasting my time (maybe sleeping?)  I can get on with some work. With your phone you can check and send some emails, respond to meeting requests etc and in many cases get quite a bit of work done before you are even in the office. The same flexibility is required when we may not be in the office for a while. Obviously my device of choice will be a laptop; however, the flexibility to be without my laptop and use my phone is something that will appeal to many of us… Because of this, being able to connect and work in a “flexible” fashion is very important to individuals and businesses as a whole.

Will my phone interact with our ECM solution?

Basically “Yes”. Most phones these days now come with a web browser (all smart phones do), and if your ECM solution can provide a browser based front end, then interacting with your ECM system isn’t technically very hard. The issue you may well face is using the device itself to navigate around the web pages and download / view the content you want. For me, this is a basic way of allowing content to be shown on a mobile phone. Most of the issues faced then are based around the device itself and what you can realistically achieve on it…

Do I have to use a browser on my phone?

Again the answer is “No”. Using a browser gives us the simplest way of interacting with content on our ECM system; it’s also probably one of the cheapest. However it isn’t the best solution for such a small device, it does make certain features “fiddly” to use, think;

a)      Searching

b)      Checking in / out a file (if you would do such a thing)

c)       Reviewing properties

d)      Reviewing an audit log / history

e)      Tracking in a Case Management / BPM system

This is because you will need to use a lot of clicks and zooming in and out using the browser etc.

The best solution is to provide mobile based applications that can interact with your ECM solution.

ECM mobile applications

If we realistically want to work and interact with our ECM platform, and for that matter, Case Management / BPM solutions, then mobile based applications is the way forward. With the power of smart phones ever increasing, having dedicated applications on your mobile phone isn’t a problem. With mobile applications comes greater flexibility as each application will be specifically designed to be accessed via devices with limited real-estate in terms of space on the screen. This makes using the applications far simpler and easier, which means we are ultimately more likely to want to access our ECM systems via our mobile device.

As we start 2010 it is obvious that ECM solutions need to provide many more ways for users to interact with them. This doesn’t mean a generic web environment / interface, rather a multitude of applications and interfaces that are dedicated to interact with your repository from a particular device.  The trick for providers is providing a single “architecture” for access, which serves all of the different applications that may interact with your ECM repository…





Case Management isn’t BPM

9 09 2009

This week I have found myself talking to a couple of clients about why their particular system cannot do quite what they thought it could. Basically, these clients had made investments in what they thought was workflow or BPM solutions. However, what they actually have is a Case Management solution. This solution is working fine for them at the moment, however, their ideas for future expansion of the system, incorporating more complex processes simply cannot happen with their chosen platform…

So what has happened? Well far too often vendors (especially those who do not specialise in ECM or BPM) claim their solution provides workflow or BPM facilities. Now I am not saying this is done on purpose to mislead customers, rather I believe it is done because they don’t know the difference between BPM and Case Management, and nor does the customer.

Most people I have spoken to about this agree with me, that Case Management isn’t BPM and shouldn’t be confused with it. This has caused some discussion out there in Twitter world. If you want to engage, why not chat to me on Twitter http://twitter.com/AndrewOneDegree) or some of these people about it @sfracisatx, @JohnBJansen, @skemsley and @DevilsRefugee

 

So what is the difference?

BPM is about control, and good BPM solutions provide you with great flexibility to go along with that control. So you have the flexibility to take control of any process within your business, no matter how complex it may be. However, Case Management doesn’t allow you to do this, rather it provides a solid one fit framework in which an item of work (Case) can be controlled and completed.

Let’s look at how Case Management can work. Typically you will have a number of “Queues” which contain work within them. Richer Case Management solutions will allow a “Case” of work to be split into smaller pieces of work, probably with each bit of work being allocated to one of those queues. Now it is up to a user agent to then open up that queue, and pull a particular piece of work (though they could be given the first one in the queue). The agent then completes the tasks and the work, and it’s then done. I know they can “hold”, “refer”, “suspend” etc but the point is, the piece of work doesn’t go anywhere, (it stays on the same logical step / activity) it isn’t moving along a logical process. Once the individual pieces of work are done, the case is in effect completed. Hence you have managed the case fully.

Now for me this is pure Case Management, it simply does what it says on the tin…

Is it BPM still though?

Now this particular way of working can be argued to be a business process, and you are correct, many BPM systems provide Case Management, and can provide it because of what else they can do. However, let’s take the same Case Management system and ask it to do some of the following tasks:

  • Automatically route the work to a particular skilled group of individuals
  • Identify and complete tasks / smaller processes that do not need human interaction
  • Automatically hold items at a particular stage and wait for other processes to complete
  • Split a task down into a smaller business processes
    • With the process needing to allocate work, move work to a different department

If it can do all these things, then you don’t have a Case Management system, rather you have a BPM system. Now the next question is, does your chosen BPM system deliver all that is expected of a BPM platform, the flexibility to use the same system across any business process?

Essentially BPM provides us with steps (activities) along the business process and provides the intelligence to be able to move work through these different multiple steps to completion. Case Management provides, if you like, a single step (activity) business process, as work isn’t being moved along to different stages, departments, etc…

 

When Case Management over BPM

Well it’s all down to requirements, and that’s how it should be. If your requirements don’t warrant a BPM platform or the ability to map out multiple business processes, then look at a Case Management solution. Case Management solutions should always be a cheaper option to BPM, because they aren’t so flexible nor complex.

 

Conclusion

Let’s ensure there is always a clear distinction between Case Management and BPM. It is confusing, but there is a logical and procedural difference between the two, and this should always be made clear by vendors to customers. Use Case Management for single step type processes and BPM for anything else that requires “movement” along a process…





A worrying trend in IT

15 04 2009

You don’t have to look too hard on the internet to find businesses giving away solutions and services. I can’t think of any other industry where businesses actively choose to make a loss. For me, I find it hard to comprehend that individuals would offer their services for nothing, but when businesses start doing it, I fear for the IT industry as a whole…

Why offer software and services for free?

Well it seems to me to have all started with Search Engines. Obviously you can’t have people paying to use a search engine, however, how does a company that provides a highly valued service, do so for free, and bare the implementation costs? What business argument is there behind that?

Well the only argument is that of users. The more users you have using your service / software the more “value” it must have. Now turning that “value” into actual cash, proves to be a sticky area.

Money options?

So how does a company with millions of users, such as Google or Facebook actually turn these users into some form of cash flow?

Well, in the case of Google, Advertisements is the way forward. Advertisers pay to have a potential audience the size of that provided by Google. In addition, the actual advertisement cost is so small compared to that of TV, Radio or News papers. For companies and Google, this is a great arrangement, which is only possible because of the number of users Google receives.

Now this currently works well for Google, however is it the silver bullet for all? Probably not. It is hard to place a value on advertisements, and it’s even harder to place a value on an advert placed within another website, such as Facebook or Twitter.

Worrying trends

In the fight for users, companies are starting to provide software solutions for free. Cloud Computing services and access to free web based applications mean users are now questioning why they would pay for something, when they could get it for free. This undervalues so many solutions and services provided by IT companies, bringing such organisations under increasing pressure.

With the current economic trend, many small organisations are offering services at such vastly reduced rates that there is no way they can actually make a profit. Worryingly some IT developers and organisations feel this is the only way in which to win work.

Beware…

While the “users” model works for the likes of Google, the chances of it working for even big players, such as Facebook and Twitter are still uncertain. The main issue is, and will always be, that your business model is very volatile and relies on confidence of you keeping your market share of users. If you start to lose users, you will find your business will unravel far quicker than those businesses built on a more traditional model.

Not only is the quest for “users” highly risky, it is also damaging to the IT industry as a whole. With services and software being offered for nothing, just to get users to a site, it makes it increasingly harder for small IT businesses to actually deliver and sell their products. This in the end, can only lead to a “slow” down in creativity and worryingly a reduction in product / service competition.

Be true to yourself…

If you build and deliver software solutions, always charge correctly. Don’t get caught up into trying to win endless users to then fuel a business model that is potentially highly volatile, and flawed.

If you are an end user / consumer, remember if something is free there will be a catch. You only get what you pay for in life, and this is still true of the internet and web based applications. Ask yourself, just why are they offering this for free?