Put to the Test: Lombardi Takes BPM Mainstream - InformationWeek

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Software // Information Management

Put to the Test: Lombardi Takes BPM Mainstream

With Outlook integration and an on-demand modeling tool, Lombardi exposes business process management to ordinary business users. It's what analysts can do with process data that sets the technology apart.

  • Rich performance optimization functionality, including path analysis, wizard-driven optimization and scenario-based assessment.
  • Easy-to-use, role-based work portal environment.
  • TeamWorks authorized users adapt processes for exception handling at run time.
  • On-Demand Blueprint tool brings process modeling to business users
  • CONS
  • Light on integration technologies; Lombardi assumes firms will have an existing integration infrastructure or will rely on Web Services.
  • Lacks solution templates, frameworks and vertical-industry accelerators common to industry-focused BPMS vendors.
  • In late 2005, the Object Management Group (OMG) began working on a Business Process Maturity Model (BPMM) standard designed to help organizations assess and grow their process management capabilities. Understanding process maturity helps managers assess their performance in the right context and chart a course toward achieving larger corporate goals.

    Lombardi Software, a pure-play business process management suite (BPMS) vendor, is taking this issue head on by embedding BPMM capabilities into its core TeamWorks product, into the Lombardi for Office (LFO) add-on product and into Blueprint, its just-announced on-demand modeling tool set. This review covers all three products. TeamWorks itself is built on top of a robust and scalable process engine, and as you would expect it includes a process development environment and portal. TeamWorks also offers some of the best analytics and performance-improvement functionality available. LFO provides an end-user process interface directly inside of Microsoft Office. The new Blueprint offering is aimed at giving organizations a collaborative mechanism through which untrained business users who aren't familiar with modeling can share their understanding of processes and process bottlenecks. This grassroots input feeds directly into model development and over time pays dividends in enhancing companywide process maturity. Of course, the models developed in Blueprint are executable when brought into the TeamWorks BPMS.

    Suggesting Process Improvements

    The key feature that distinguishes Lombardi TeamWorks from the majority of BPM suites on the market is its Performance Server, which sits alongside the core process engine. The Performance Server combines process data (cycle time, duration and so on) with the line-of-business (LOB) data of the application domain. The server makes this information available in real time rather than relying on the development of OLAP cubes, as other vendors tend to do. As a result, TeamWorks gives management visibility into the work that is in a business process today, rather than what was there yesterday.

    It's what business analysts can do with this information that truly sets the product apart. Lombardi effectively enables iterative analysis. Other vendors will tell you that all of this performance information is available in their product too, but they leave it to you to write custom queries. In contrast, TeamWorks includes a range of built-in process analysis mechanisms. For example, Guided Optimization Wizards look for correlations between LOB data and process data, and TeamWorks infers business rules from the actual run-time data. In this screen capture of an Optimization Wizard, the system itself spotted that in 28 out of 29 cases (97 percent) where the order price was over $9,872 and the customer was "Wal-Mart", the manager approved the order.

    This is quite different from approaches in which the business analyst must first imagine and then develop rules before checking to see if a process runs more effectively (using simulation models that also must be built). In TeamWorks, the potential improvements are suggested by the process data itself. While some of these suggestions might be obvious. For example the "Add Resources" option in the "Process Optimizer", the interface provides some interesting starting points for the Analyst looking to improve the process.

    Under the covers of TeamWorks, an embedded simulation engine performs a path analysis of all cases (a.k.a., process instances) that ran through the system in a given time period. This capability is at the heart of a point-and-click Process Optimizer toolthat lets business analysts dice and slice supplier, process, time set, location or customer data -- indeed any existing data set or permutation of data related to the process. Users then do what-if analyses against any number of scenarios by changing some of the business assumptions defined in the processes or rules. The tool then helps the analyst visualize the future impact of those changes.

    Having created a scenario (and future set of simulation data), the Process Optimizer then helps the analyst make changes to the production environment and, later, compare the actual results with the predicted behavior (with traceability into individual cases).

    In addition to these diagnostic tools, the Performance Server helps you understand which tasks are at risk of surpassing (or falling short of) service level agreements, and it also gives users a navigable view of their own performance, the team's performance, the business unit's performance as well as overall process performance. Lombardi has further enhanced this performance assessment and optimization functionality to focus on organizational roles, letting analysts look at their impact and utilization across all (or many) processes. This role-based assessment helps optimize the use of scarce or high-priced skill sets such as those of skilled underwriters or other key knowledge workers.

    One feature I didn't expect to find in TeamWork's out-of-the-box is the ability to adapt processes at run time for exception handling. This capability lets authorized users insert any number of activities or subprocesses at any point in a process, and they have control over who should undertake activities and in which order they should happen. This feature lets users deal with the unexpected, such as when a customer asks for something the process is not designed to handle or when the user realizes more input is required before making a decision. Rather than having to model every possibility up front, organizations can use this last feature to evolve process models over time.

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