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By CIOinsight  |  Posted 03-01-2004 Print Email

Process

Confusing technology acronyms abound, so know what you're looking for.


Getting your arms around the terminology is a task unto itself. There are a dizzying number of acronyms, including BPA (business process analysis), BPMN (business process modeling notation), BPML (business process modeling language), BPQL (Business Process Query Language) and BPEL (business process execution language), to name a few.

BPMN is the notation language established by the Business Process Management Initiative (BPMI.org) to provide an industry standard for modeling processes. It's based on a number of other types of notation, such as iDesk, Swimlane and UML Activity Diagrams. BPMN is what allows you to make the visual diagrams of your "as is" and "to be" processes.

The code for these models is stored in a "business execution engine" which can output to two XML-based languages, BPML and BPEL. While BPMI has endorsed BPML, BPEL lends itself more readily to Web services. If you're looking to implement the new processes as a part of a broader business management initiative, and sharing them with disparate business units, partners and external customers, BPEL may be the way to go.

When choosing a vendor, remember that not all business process management (BPM) vendors offer modeling tools: Many rely on pure-play modeling firms. Those modeling firms, in turn, often have arrangements with the larger BPM vendors to handle the execution of the models. Increasingly, standardization makes the flow of data from one vendor to another a relatively simple task. Forrester Research suggests companies seek out vendors who are committed to BPMN and BPEL, while Gartner advises companies to choose tools that offer simulation (not all do) and that can easily integrate with other programs, such as Visio, as well as with one-stop shop vendors such as SAP, Oracle Corp. or IBM Corp. and content- management technologies.

Also keep in mind that while the modeling tools themselves are relatively inexpensive—some cost about $50,000, including training—the ability to simulate and then actually automate certain parts of the process comes with a steeper price tag.

"If you want to get to the process automation level of modeling, the tuition is high," says Ievalts of Principal Residential Mortgage. Expenses include creating the necessary infrastructure, hiring a development staff and the individual project costs. Make sure you understand the total cost of ownership before jumping in.

Of course, it's extremely important to measure the results of the new process to make sure you're actually realizing the benefits you modeled. Francis says H-P's return far exceeds its original investment in both manpower and technology. "You're really at the head of the stream," he says, "and the ROI is just huge."

Modeling the company's Latin American supply-chain process alone yielded a cost reduction of $242,000 per month. Another modeling initiative resulted in retiring a legacy system. That move is expected to yield savings of $23 million per year.

Ultimately, however, the greatest payback from BPM is the ability to continually make incremental changes in processes, and to have these changes integrated efficiently in the software that end-users touch. The Holy Grail of BPM is continuous process modeling, the long-sought practice the Japanese call Kaizen. The result: Process efficiency becomes a never-ending journey, and employee productivity continues to achieve new heights.

Ask your CTO:

  • How dependent are we upon Web services, and will that be the best way to share new processes?

    Ask potential vendors:

  • Does my service level agreement include simulation?

    Tell your executive team:

  • We need to measure the success of the process changes to make sure our processes actually improve.


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