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BPM Frontier: Dynamic Processes

BPM conquers the new territory which is called in different ways: Dynamic Processes, Unstructured Processes, Knowledge Worker Processes, Barely Repeatable Processes, Case Management.

BPM now reached the maturity level where the management of repetitive and predictable processes has become a matter of technique. It grants reliable process execution by unreliable employees - low-paid, with low skills and low motivation. Such processes are common for state and semi-state organizations and also for businesses following an extensive path of development.

But only “very talented” individuals can believe that every process can be rigidly structured:

Leaving aside the extremes - fully structured and completely ad-hoc processes - there are two combinations: either a structured process launches the ad-hoc or vice versa.

  1. “A Little Help From a Friend” pattern: a structured process launches ad-hoc subprocess. An example: system integrator’s “request-to-order” process. Let’s assume that sales rep’s meeting with a client was positive meaning that he found  ”pain points” - issues that the client will pay for if they were resolved by the integrator. The next step of the process is finding a solution. However, the client’s problems may vary at very wide range (note that integrator’s value is exactly his ability to solve a wide range of problems) starting from the simplest need of a boxed software to complex projects. In the latter case the process will follow a trajectory unknown in advance that may involve an architect, developer, sales manager, systems engineer, vendor’s tech support etc. Traditional BPMS can only represent this unpredictable subprocess as a single task (see “Process Antipattern: One Man Show“). This is a poor-man’s solution indeed because it isn’t visible who is addressing the issue at the moment, what progress has been made and what the current timeframe is.
  2. The opposite situation, the “Process Toolset” pattern: unpredictable process at the top launching well-formalized subprocesses. An example: a law firm having client’s case as the top-level process. It’s absolutely impossible to predict in what direction the case will turn next day, e.g. a new document may be submitted by the opposite party that will change radically both  the case prospects and our plan for actions. Yet many of the actions initiated within the case are standard, making it possible to formalize each as a subprocess. They are mostly preparing applications or other documents for the court. Such subprocesses is executed by a dedicated specialist - a common resource not assigned to a specific case. From business perspective it’s interesting to monitor performance not only of the case as a whole but also of subprocesses and resources usage.

Going down from the top-level business processes (company’s value chain) to the lowest level (micromanagement) we must be prepared to encounter both structured and ad-hoc process. Support for the latter in today’s BPMS is far behind but this subject is widely discussed by researchers, analysts and vendors:

  • The following estimate was made at Gartner’2009 conference: as much as 60% of an organization’s processes are unstructured – and probably also unmonitored, unmanaged, unknown and unruly. These 60% are like “average temperature by the clinic” but the “invisibility” of these processes can indeed be the major issue from business standpoint.
  • Tapping into Collective Knowledge Will Drive Unstructured Process Activity” - Jim Sinur predicts that organizations acceptance of collective knowledge, industry networks and even social networks will result in fundamental changes in BPM. His another post on the same subject: “White-collar and unstructured processes go together like cheese to wine“.
  • The boom of social networks pushes the idea to borrow approaches evolved there for communication within dynamic processes - see the Workshop on BPM and social software at BPM conference in Ulm. For example, when confronted with a problem, I can publish the question on the corporate social network (”a help from a friend”). It’s visible to my “friends” including the project manager and team lead. The best answer gets a bonus.
  • SAP shows how Google Wave collaboration technology can be used - not for process execution but for modeling. SAP Gravity is a BPMN modeler implemented within Google Wave. Taking into account that the ability to redesign a process on the fly is essential for dynamic process execution, SAP makes progress not only in process modeling and discovery but in the the execution too.
  • Oracle talked about collaborative and dynamic BPM at Oracle OpenWorld’2009. They emphasized commitment to SCA that makes possible to combine different kinds of processes with business rules, analytics, etc. That’s no surprise taking into account that they have acquired about 50 companies in two years and hence face huge integration challanges.
  • HandySoft, ActionBase and other vendors claim dynamic processes support in the latest versions of their products.
  • The most authoritative industry experts gather to discuss dynamic processes in general and their support in BPMN.

So we can see a number of minds attacking the problem from different directions. Well the more alternative approaches, the better final solution should be.

Yet for BPMS vendors that may be a bloody battle. There is probably more BPM vendors than the market needs and now a new front  opens for the competition: dynamic processes. It’s quite wide front if all aspects of dynamics are taken into account so I’m afraid not all vendors will be able to fight it in the current economic situation. But at the end of the day those who provided full support to dynamic processes will posess a competitive advantage clearly visible for the users.

10/24/09 | Articles | , , ,     Comments: 14

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