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Defining business process terms

Kristen Caretta, Associate Editor

Given the multiple meanings and frequent definition overlaps of different business process terms, figuring out what someone's referring to can be confusing. Does BPM mean business process management or business process modeling? And while decoding the initialism is one challenge, finding the relationships between these techniques and strategies is another -- and one that can add value to your own business process management approach.

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Here are some frequently used business process terms and how they all fit together:

BPA: Business process analysis or business process automation

When you hear BPA how often do you think of automation? What about analysis? There's a big difference between the two terms.

 Business process automation focuses on the automation of business processes, while business process analysis is focused on the definition, analysis and mapping of business processes, according to David A. Kelly, president of Upside Research Inc.

The goal of process analysis, he explained, is to gain an understanding of an organization's existing business processes, "hopefully, but not necessarily, with the intent to automate." Automation usually requires some level of analysis, too, but the goal is to automate, not necessarily gain insight into the process.

Both automation and analysis can improve processes, however. "Doing business process analysis typically takes things to the next level by documenting a process and allowing an organization to see how that process fits in with other business processes," Kelly said.

Quick tip: To get the most out of both automation and analysis in your organization, Kelly suggests starting with business process automation on relatively unchanging processes and then working to expand process understanding and improvement by doing business process analysis on processes that need more flexibility.

BPM: Business process management or business process modeling

Business process management is what most people mean by BPM (assuming they are not referring to business performance management). BPM is used by organizations to improve end-to-end business processes, typically spanning five stages: design, modeling, execution, monitoring and optimization.

Business process modeling is a key aspect of business process management. Modeling creates representations of current business processes so they may be analyzed and improved. Continuous improvement strategies such as Six Sigma also use process modeling techniques.

Modeling business processes can facilitate quick changes, according to Gartner Inc. analyst Michele Cantara. Because business users can quickly and unexpectedly change due to layoffs, restructuring and other staffing issues, the process models can serve as an established approach for business analysts who may not be able to connect with the users. "Processes need to change quickly in some cases," Cantara said. "Modeling allows business analysts to see current processes and possibilities for change."

Modeling is often used with process simulation, a strategy that uses real data to predict how revamped business processes will fare in hypothetical situations. The simulations provide business analysts with further information to base decisions on; for example, they identify bottlenecks and process areas that need improvement.

Quick tip: If you're just starting out, Clay Richardson, a senior analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass., suggests using some cloud-based collaboration tools to help with strategic mapping and planning. For example, IBM's BPM BlueWorks provides pre-built community content, including process models.

BPMS: Business process management suite or business process management system

A business process management system or suite (BPMS) is a set of software components showcasing the building blocks of processes. A BPMS brings together multiple workflows -- whether human or system to system -- in a coordinated view. It provides perspective and context on BPM assets to help organizations better understand what process aspects need to change.

The BPMS should facilitate business process change throughout the BPM lifecycle and bring together multiple workflows -- whether human or system to system -- in a coordinated view. A BPMS emphasizes business user involvement at all levels of the lifecycle and coordination over control of resources.

Gartner's definition of a BPMS identifies 10 major features in a BPMS package, including a model-driven composition environment, document and content interaction, user and group interaction and simulation and optimization.

Quick tip: Gartner's 2009 Magic Quadrant for Business Process Management Suites identifies four main use cases for buying a BPMS: implementation of a specific process-based application, support for a continuous process improvement mentality, redesign for a process-based SOA and business transformation initiatives.

Other business process terms

BAM: Business activity monitoring/management: BAM uses technology to proactively define and analyze risks and opportunities within an organization to optimize efficiency. Business process data is gathered, processed, analyzed and monitored for breaks in process efficiency.

For more information on business activity monitoring, read "Business process management solution drives U.K. hospital compliance."

BPO: Business process optimization: Business process optimization involves taking process performance data (usually from the modeling phase), identifying potential or actual bottlenecks and the opportunities for improvements (analysis) and then applying the enhancements to the overall process design to improve efficiency and overall business value.

For more information on business process optimization, read " CIO moving more into business, process optimization."

 

Let us know what you think about the story; email Kristen Caretta, Associate Editor, or follow her on Twitter @kcaretta.


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