Two Ways to Win at Process Improvement - InformationWeek

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7/14/2006
12:20 PM
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Two Ways to Win at Process Improvement

Business process management suites cover all the bases, but you can score big savings with process analysis and activity monitoring alone.

The surest way to win consistently in baseball is to field a complete team that combines hitting, pitching, defense and team speed. But investing in a few big bats is simpler, and you can still win a lot of games. The same is true of business process management (BPM), which seeks to improve business performance by optimizing processes from beginning to end. You can go with a complete set of software tools--a BPM suite--to address every facet of process improvement: operational cost and cycle time, compliance, agility and performance visibility. But you can also score big wins simply by modeling, analyzing and measuring performance from a process perspective.

'BPA' Versus 'BPMS'

BPM is a management discipline that looks at the enterprise not as a collection of functional units like sales, manufacturing and customer service, but as a set of business processes that cut across traditional stovepipe boundaries. Out of this one basic idea, two distinct software technologies have evolved.

One, called business process analysis (BPA), provides tools that let business users capture how the current process actually works, describe how an improved process should work and describe the proposed improvement in terms of key performance indicators (KPIs) and other quantitative metrics--without having to know the technical details of the underlying IT. Increasingly, BPA tools are augmenting these analytical modeling capabilities to actually measure the KPIs from the process in operation, a capability called BAM.

Other than specifying "business requirements," BPA imposes no constraints, methodology or tools on IT's process implementation. But by simply embracing end-to-end "process thinking," BPA represents a radical change from the functional perspective underlying traditional business practices in everything from enterprise applications to organizational charts. Looking across these boundaries, BPA helps align IT with strategic goals by linking technical innovation with quantitative, business-defined measures of success. And BPA helps foster standardization and agility through management dashboards that make end-to-end performance metrics visible in real time.

The other software technology, called a BPM suite (BPMS), extends BPA with new tools for building IT process implementations. A BPMS represents the complete team approach. While modeling simply describes a proposed process improvement, a BPMS actually implements the improvement by executing the model, automating the workflow, integrating disparate business systems and enforcing the business rules.

A BPMS includes BPA and BAM but inserts a process execution environment in between them. As such, it represents a new way to design and build IT solutions based on a unified set of tools and middleware from a single supplier rather than a best-of-breed component stack. A BPMS also implies a kind of "top-down" methodology in which the executable design is directly driven from the model. Although it can promise a broader set of benefits, a BPMS poses a bigger challenge to traditional IT methods.

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