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BPM's future: Dynamic services, not pre-canned logic

Linda Tucci, Executive Editor

LAS VEGAS -- Companies that did not use the Y2K deadline to get a grip on the morass of redundant, unconnected, surreptitious applications that run their businesses might want to start now.

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According to Gartner Inc. analyst Yvonne Genovese, the frenzy in the business application market over the next three years will equal or surpass that of Y2K.

"The role of business applications is going to change significantly, and business process management plays a very important role in how you make the right decisions long term in applications," Genovese said.

Genovese, who covers business application strategies at the Stamford, Conn.-based consultancy, was one of a parade of experts at the Gartner Business Process Management Summit in Las Vegas this week. About 1,000 people from 30 countries, nearly evenly split between business and IT professionals, are attending the event. Many of them are just starting to consider BPM, judging from a show of hands at Genovese's and other sessions.

Business applications are changing because the metes and bounds of business are changing. "Business is moving at hyperspeed," Genovese said. Companies are doing business globally. The ecosystem of suppliers and business partners is widening. Compliance mandates are multiplying. And in the midst of this complex, connected, morphing marketplace, vendors are pressuring you to upgrade to the next generation of products.

Resist.

"Take a step back," Genovese said, and analyze what you have.

Dave Kennington, who works in corporate technology at Prudential Financial Inc. in Newark, N.J., said his company had just purchased a product from BPM vendor Pegasystems Inc. as part of a service quality initiative in its retirement services business.

He said he made the trek to Las Vegas as much for the networking and peer reviews as for the conference sessions. "I am interested to hear what other companies are doing in this space and what the best practices are in implementing BPM," Kennington said.

Canned logic

Scratch a big company, and you're likely to find several ERP systems, many customer relationship management applications and a furious tug of war between the pre-canned logic of packaged software suites and what the industry calls "dynamic assemblies."

"People bought business applications because they wanted best practices," Genovese said. But what they actually bought was what the vendors defined as best practices -- in other words, "somebody else's business process," she said. An implicit business process.

In rapidly changing business environments, implicit business processes can start to feel like a straitjacket. Service-oriented architecture will help make processes explicit and more dynamic. Some vendors, such as SAP AG, are busy breaking up their suites and selling processes separately, as a service, Genovese said. More options for customization from Oracle Corp. and Microsoft are coming down the pike.

But today, she added, what you still can't do in packaged business applications is build processes that mirror how your business users actually do their work. "The suite of the future is not here," she said.

Matt Calkins, CEO and founder of Appian Corp., a Vienna, Va.-based BPM vendor, agreed, telling attendees at a lunchtime talk that BPM should mirror and augment real life, not rewrite it. "BPM is about what work looks like, not what work looks like after I get my hooks in you."

Calkins cautioned the audience of business users and IT pros that BPM should "first conform and then evolve to the future," recounting Appian's marching orders from customer Archstone-Smith Trust, the giant real estate investment trust in Englewood, Colo. Proud of its detailed processes that accounted for every possible contingency, Archstone-Smith instructed Appian to map what was there before attempting to change anything, Calkins said, and "that's how it should be. BPM, above all, should do no harm."

2010 and beyond

Companies that thrive in a fast-moving marketplace will move from pre-canned logic to dynamic, flexible processes by 2010, according to Gartner. Here are some of Genovese's suggestions for getting there:

  • Know what your processes are before you try to change them. BPM tools can help.

  • Bring in business intelligence and business activity monitoring tools to help build dynamic processes.

  • Be aware that users are beginning to look for ways to monitor and guide their performance; vendors are just starting to offer platforms to do this.

  • Look for quick hits -- opportunities "at the edges" to build dynamic, flexible processes.

  • If you break apart an end-to-end process, make sure the enterprise knows you're doing it and how you're going to put it together again.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Linda Tucci, Senior News Writer.


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