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BPM: keeping it flexible

This article appears in the issue February 2014 [Vol 23, Issue 2]
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The growth of the market for business process management (BPM) products and services was 6.5 percent in 2012, according to IDC, a rate that is respectable though not phenomenal. Revenues for that year were $2.7 billion. The largest investments in BPM by enterprises were from transformational BPM projects. "These projects consist of strategic implementations that are designed to change the way a company does business and focus on process reusability and scale," says Maureen Fleming, VP of BPM research at IDC. "For example, they may revolutionize the way an enterprise interacts with its customers throughout its operations."

Departmental implementations are tactical and are designed to improve processes such as automating employee onboarding. The range of applications may expand to cover other departmental processes. Some are simple and others are complex, but they are departmentally or functionally focused and do not cover the entire enterprise.

Finally, "long tail" applications include ad hoc, quickly implemented applications designed to solve a particular issue. "These projects are all about the people who are trying to accomplish a task, often a small team," Fleming explains. Transformational and departmental projects accounted for the largest share of spending, but the long tail accounted for the largest number of projects, according to Fleming.

The BPM solutions discussed here fall into the mid-range, where interoperability is critical. "The larger implementations have all of the major BPM functionality modules under the covers," Fleming says, "but the focused solutions are more collaborative with existing applications, bridging gaps between applications, and also able to compose solutions that are not wholly dependent on the BPM tooling." Tasks from a BPM implementation, for example, are often published onto an activity stream such as Yammer with access to Salesforce.com via APIs from within the task user interface (UI). 

Streamlining customer interactions

Corporation Service Company (CSC) provides online applications for business services such as compliance, legal and financial services. As a registered agent, CSC keeps track of corporate filings and sends alerts for such activities as filing deadlines. CSC Entity Management tracks corporate data such as annual report filings and business license renewals.

To make the customer experience in using the services as smooth as possible, it was important to keep the customer service representatives (CSRs) moving through their tasks quickly. Therefore, CSC wanted a BPM software product to support its customer transactions and workflow. Topping its list were ease of use and the ability to integrate with other applications. Its requirements were neither for an all-encompassing BPM system nor an ad hoc one, but something in between.

The company conducted a rigorous evaluation using a matrix containing core business functions, which were given weighted values, against which the products were rated. In addition, they consulted with analysts and with colleagues who had used BPM solutions. From a long list, they narrowed the candidates to three products, with Bonita BPM from Bonitasoft emerging as the winner.

Now about a year into the deployment of Bonita BPM, CSC has focused mainly on communication between the CSRs and customers. "We took an existing CSR process and put it into Bonita BPM," says Doug Farmer, IT manager and software architect at CSC, "and we saw an immediate increase of 10 percent in CSR responses compared to previous counts."

Over time, CSC plans to chain together multiple customer service processes to create ones that extend more broadly throughout the enterprise. "Bonita BPM runs on top of our existing applications, so we did not have to develop customized workflows within them. In addition, we needed to be able to write connectors easily," Farmer says. CSC is developing its own connectors for e-mail inboxes, databases and other applications such as Salesforce.com. "Bonita BPM gives us the flexibility to integrate with systems throughout the company, which lets us incorporate the information we need," he adds.

Bonita BPM offers a graphical workflow designer, portal interface and workflow engine. The company was founded in 2009 to address three issues that were limiting BPM, particularly in organizations that were not in a position to deploy expensive, complex products. "We wanted to create a solution that was flexible and easy to implement," says CEO and co-founder Miguel Valdés Faura. "Other solutions at that time were monolithic and could not readily be embedded in existing applications."

Connectivity was a second goal. "About 95 percent of processes need to interact with other systems," Faura says, "and we wanted to eliminate the need for a lot of the coding by creating connectors." Bonita BPM has about 100 connectors; customers can also create their own. In addition, Bonitasoft includes a module that allows for easy customization of the user interface. An open source solution, Bonita BPM is a fully supported commercial product, but a free community version is also available for download.

Automating IT management

With more than 400 data centers worldwide, RDX is among the largest pure-play providers of data infrastructure management. The company supports infrastructure and database applications from Oracle, PeopleSoft and JD Edwards (both also from Oracle), as well as UNIX operating systems. All of RDX's services are provided by staff based in the United States, and with a growth rate of more than 70 percent per year, the company faced a challenge in staffing up to the required level.

The company needed a software solution that would help with triage of technical issues and automate customer interactions. After looking into the options, RDX found that Resolve IT process automation (ITPA) software from gen-E was the best match for its requirements. ITPA, which is also known as run book automation (RBA), is the ability to automate a set of defined procedures for operating a network or computer system. A specialized application for BPM, ITPA can dramatically enhance monitoring of IT resources and recovery from incidents.

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