When downloading a BPMS trial or demo, keep in mind that when it comes to production, the resulting system will differ from out-of-the-box version in many essential aspects:
- The user portal - web application that starts processes, displays the list of tasks assigned to the user, manage activity forms for these tasks, monitors and administers processes. It will have different design in production and most likely different functionality too. If you’re lucky you will be able to customize out-of-the-box portal but be prepared to rewrite it from scratch at some point. Or to get away from a standalone BPM portal completely and wire process functionality into corporate applications. The reason: users typically do not accept BPMS suppier’s opinion that BPM should be the center of user’s universe.
- In particular, you should eventually get rid of “start process” button. From user’s perspective, he doesn’t “start a process” but do something real e.g. accepts the incoming order or submits a request for vacation. The system must start the appropriate process transparantely.
- Be prepared that activity forms generated by BPMS in few mouse clicks will no longer meet the functionality, usability and design requirements at some point. So it’s better to have an idea how will you eventually develop these forms in terms of tools, labor force and costs. The importance of this issue can not be overestimated: what good is that the process scheme is depicted in two days if forms development for this process then takes say two months? (I do not play down the importance of rapid prototyping of screen interfaces - it’s the must for BPM, one won’t even come close to production without it.) By the way you probably would like to use the same tools to rewrite the BPM portal.
- Similarly you will no longer be satisfied with out-of-the-box reporting and monitoring tools at some point.
- Demo and pilot processes typically store all data in process attributes, process variables or operands (different systems use different terminology) but only relatively insufficient and/or temporary information will be stored this way in production. Most data will go into a traditional database and only the primary key of the corresponding record will be stored within the process. Considering the process of client purchase order negotiation as an example, the information about the client and the order items are likely to be stored in a database while customer and order identifiers will remain in process attributes together with the deadline date for the call to the client. The reason to act this way is obvious: data which may be of interest after the process instance has ended must be stored so that they could be accessed independently from the process instance. This also means a separate user interface to this data independent from process screen forms. As for the process screen forms, they should access both process attributes via BPMS API and database fields via DBMS API.
- Building on the previous item, most likely the part of the long-term information (but usually not all) already have a room at your existing enterprise applications. Accordingly, the process attributes will store only the identifiers of the appropirate business objects and process screen forms will access the data stored within the application. (The latter isn’t an absolute requirement - the total integration is often very time-consuming so partial integration may be more justified.)
- Similarly, while a demo or pilot most likely will store related documents (usually Word or Excel files) as attachments to a process instance, you’ll have to consider something more solid for production. The reason is the same: if the document may be of interest after the process instance has ended, then it must be kept independently from the process instances and user access to it must be provided independently from the user interface to the process. However you don’t need the full-blown ECM system: because BPMS takes care about the workflow you need only documents storage functionality with basic interfaces (user’s and programming) and services (search, archiving, security).
- Users authentication and authorization in a demo or pilot is usually done via independent LDAP directory, database or even a static list stored in the XML file. It is obvious that production system should utilize your existing user directory. But a bad surprise may be the amount of effort it requires. To start with there are usually several such directories. A typical example: an Active Directory, a separate authorization system within the legacy accounting system and a database keeping the users of remote offices and partner companies. As the project evolves additional requirements may arise e.g. the planned absence and automatic rerouting of the tasks. It is known that for a company having about a hundred of users Active Directory implementation alone is a non-trivial project and now we are facing more difficult task. As a result as much as 50% of total BPM project costs are spent on authorization and authentication issues at some projects. Imagine for a moment that it happened in your project and you didn’t take it into account in project schedule: you are out of schedule and budget for as much as 100%!
- For obvious reasons not the most complex business processes are taken for demos and pilot projects. That would be all right but worse than that, they are usually technically implemented as a single process thread. But in reality even the relatively simple employee onboarding process technically consists of several processes communicating with each other (it’s enough to notice that processing the incoming resumes is not directly related to the publication of vacancies). This is even more true for end-to-end processes that are of greatest interest in terms of business (see “End-to-end Process Orchestration” antipattern and “Internal Order” pattern). Accordingly, you will need more functionality from your BPMS pretty soon - not only the orchestration but also choreography. Modern BPMS are fine with that but if a rudimentary worflow and/or document management built into your accounting system is all what you have then you may be in trouble.
- And finally, a production system differs from a pilot by reliability, performance, security … but these are standard requirements not specific to BPM.
But don’t be scared: these issues are typically resolved one by one in incremental fasion; all companies that are successfull in BPM (and any vendor can provide dozens of references) did the job. It’s just better to know in advance what’s awaiting you after successful BPM pilot and to address the appropriate questions to yourself and to your supplier.