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BPM: not just for workflow-An intelligent enterprise platform

This article appears in the issue January/February 2018 [Volume 27, Issue 1]
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PMG’s software is a configurable workflow solution, but the PMG Digital Business Platform product name reflects the broader use to which the platform can be applied. A key feature is that it is low-code or no-code, meaning that business users are able to develop applications and make changes themselves, without having to go through the IT department.

“A lot of interest has emerged in the idea of citizen developers,” says Robert Castles, principal and chief vision officer for PMG. “However, there is also considerable hype surrounding this concept, and many companies have not set up all the elements correctly. For example, the process owner may not be familiar with the idea of documenting what has been built, in the same way that the IT department would be.” The gap between IT and business users may be getting smaller, but companies still need to pay attention to how to bridge that gap.

Predictions for the growth of software and services in the business process management (BPM) market range from 14 percent to 18 percent per year. That healthy growth rate is driven by the demand for efficiency, compliance and improved profits. More importantly, demand is fueled by the increasing capability of BPM platforms to solve numerous core business problems. Rather than simply automating repetitive processes, they are now aiding digital transformation through their ability to integrate easily with other enterprise applications, analyze data and adapt to changing needs and circumstances.

Even just a few years ago, using a BPM platform for strategic planning would have been unlikely, but that is exactly what has happened at Kautex, a manufacturer of fuel tanks, cleaning solutions, camshafts and specialty plastic containers. Originally the company wanted to migrate its existing automated business processes from a legacy system that was developed in house. After testing a BPM system from PMG, the company saw that it could be used to meet some higher priority needs and temporarily deferred the initial plan.

Kautex became aware of PMG because the software was already used by its parent company, Textron. Those applications, however, were aligned with more traditional process automation. Kautex’s pressing need was to provide a short-term solution for balancing the configuration of its fuel tank production teams during a time when IT was configuring and installing a new clocking system. To achieve the appropriate alignment, Kautex had to track certain processes and obtain analytics about performance. The company decided that PMG had the features it needed.

The PMG Digital Business Platform is a configurable workflow product, but, as the name indicates, the vision and capability extend beyond what would typically be thought of as a process to the orchestration of data and actions throughout the enterprise. This flexibility is one of the factors that influenced Kautex’s choice of PMG.

“We needed to get an application up and running so we could plan our staffing levels for the production shifts,” says Jon Jenkins, manager of IT business process automation at Kautex. “To understand what the requirements would be, we had to look at our current teams and our output. PMG’s platform allowed us to do this in short order, which was just what we needed.”

Word got around that the platform had provided important insights leading to operational changes, and other departments became interested. Although the process automation group had intended to keep a fairly low profile initially while it worked on the legacy processes, Jenkins made the decision to go on to some additional user-driven applications.

The HR department was an early adopter of the PMG Digital Business Platform. “We wanted to standardize the onboarding process globally,” says Jenkins. Onboarding means more than getting new hires into the database and signed up for benefits packages. “The process for integrating new workers includes many steps designed to help them settle into their new jobs,” Jenkin explains. “There are multiple status checks, training plans and other types of follow-up. It is about a nine-month process from the beginning of the hiring process to full integration.” Several HR-related processes are already in place, and others are in development.

Smoothing the transition

Users have been enthusiastic, but the development of the applications has posed some challenges. “A lot of what we are doing is quite sophisticated,” Jenkins says. “With our more complex or more active services, the core IT team developed and supported everything.” However, that approach eventually burdened IT with a great deal of maintenance. “Progressively we are working to hand back as much responsibility as possible to the process owners,” Jenkins adds.

To create a smooth transition from development to running the application, the business process team meets regularly with the process owners, scheduling reviews and taking action to fix pain points. At this stage in its evolution of using the BPM system, most of the heavy lifting is still done by IT. “Some aspects of the system can be managed by business users, and others are in progress,” Jenkins says.

Kautex has migrated 35 of its legacy processes, along with developing many new ones, and now has a total of 110 applications in place. “These applications touch every department,” says Jenkins. “What makes it rewarding is that we see the difference it makes for our workers. We take complex situations and remove a lot of the stress, simplifying their activities and helping to solve their daily problems.”

But Kautex is also pushing the envelope in the use of the PMG Digital Business Platform. “One of the big ones we are working on at the moment is a completely non-traditional service,” Jenkins says. “We are helping a team develop a solution to enhance the strategic planning to decide where to manufacture fuel tanks over the next seven to 10 years.” A previous analytic approach was using Excel, but that is now shifting to a backend database. Kautex is building forms and workflows around that data, which provide more possibilities for viewing the data and understanding processes for controlling manufacturing operations.

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