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BPMS tools as hub of software development architecture

A business process management suite can deliver speed, flexibility and cost savings to a software development environment. For the greatest return, make the BPMS the focal point.

The business world is on the cusp of big change. This happens every so often as technology advances. One major...

transformation was in the 1960s when computing power first became capable of supporting business operations. And then in the early 1970s, computer programming moved from punch cards to online data entry systems. These two events changed the world. Since then we have seen the advent of transformative technology like the internet, cloud computing, IoT and business process management system (BPMS) tools. And robotic process automation (RPA) and AI are on the near horizon.

The question for your company is: What to do about these emerging technologies? Will IT and company operations remain the same or will they be revamped to take advantage of the global marketplace and thus keep the company relevant and competitive? This is a strategic decision that will have a tremendous impact.

Assuming a company decides to remain relevant and competitive, it will then need to rethink the approach to IT support and its operational architecture. On the infrastructure side are decisions about hardware integration, communications systems, cloud computing, data management and PC configuration. On the application side, the CIO and CTO must look at moving away from current legacy and licensed application support and moving to BPMS tools, RPA, IoT, AI and other resources to formulate a new application creation and operation paradigm.

Ideally, IT will create an environment where applications can be "generated" or modified in days rather than in months, and where costs, quality and dependability are controlled and optimized. Such speed makes IT a better partner to the business. But while such a software development and operating environment will deliver advantages of flexibility and speed, it will only do so if these tools (BPMS, RPA, IoT, AI, etc.) are used together creatively -- with the BPMS as the center of this new software development tool architecture. 

This BPMS-centric environment "wraps" legacy and licensed applications to control execution and access to their functionality, closing them away from the demands of internal and external customers.

This BPMS-centric environment 'wraps' legacy and licensed applications to control execution and access to their functionality, closing them away from the demands of internal and external customers.

The choice of design approach for this new IT environment is critical. Options range from the more traditional approach using Java or some other language for development, the replacement of all legacy applications, or the creation of a hybrid environment that will eventually allow all legacy applications to sunset. The best option is the creation of a hybrid environment because it allows the company to continue to use the legacy applications but closes them away from business staff by presenting screens that are built and controlled with the new BPMS technology. This hybrid approach combines the look and feel of modern applications with the capabilities of legacy applications, without a great deal of redevelopment. It also lets the company replace the legacy applications slowly as it modernizes the IT operation and makes many needed corrections to the legacy applications external to the BPMS environment.

As mentioned above, the central software tool in this new software development architecture is the BPMS. BPMS tools create an environment where applications are designed from business and data models and rules, and applications are defined or generated from an annotated version of the business operating models. While the need for external programming for these solutions is going down, there is still a need to interface BPMS applications to legacy and licensed applications and to control the way data is moved and edited as it flows through the different applications.

Recommended reading

"High Performance Through Business Process Management: Strategy Execution in a Digital World" by Mathias Kirchmer, Springer International Publishing, 2017

Because the BPMS tools form a complete operating environment, solutions that are built from annotated business models are executed within the BPMS environment and external support components are called when needed. Business rules are also called in from a central repository in an approach that not only allows reuse but also immediately propagates any change to all applications that use that rule. The various BPMS tool suites also have tremendous API capabilities and allow communication with most application environments. This combination makes these tools ideal as the central technology in a new digital infrastructure design; they can tie everything together and control how all of the components will work in harmony.

The more robust BPMS tools are also capable of generating or defining mobility applications that integrate with other BPMS applications and support a type of pass-through of data to and from legacy and licensed applications. (This use of the BPMS is not the standard use that vendors talk about: generating applications as you define them through models and associated information.)

This kind of environment is capable of extremely rapid change, an attribute that supports business transformation and the ability to adjust to the buying patterns and interaction preferences of customers. The BPMS can regenerate applications and thus adjust to business operating model changes, changes in the way data is used and rule changes. The BPMS then reflects these changes in legacy application wrappers, data edits and application systems that run in the BPMS environment and those that run as social apps on mobile devices.

Also, as an additional bonus, once in place, this environment offers cost savings since models, rules, data definitions and more can be reused rather than re-created from scratch.

The BPMS, mobility, RPA and IoT, etc., technologies to support this kind of architecture exist and have been proven to work. I am, however, suggesting that it be used creatively. But when you apply creativity, the whole approach to digital transformation and its impact on the business operation changes. The concept of simply supporting transactional activity and automating repetitive tasks needs to be expanded; the IT shop of tomorrow will be about competitive advantage based on an ability to deliver fast, high-quality, inexpensive changes.

The fact is that transformation around a BPMS is a strategy, not a single act. It must be planned and its timing must float with financial reality. And it must also be a long-term commitment that will outlast any change in senior officers.

Next Steps

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This was last published in April 2017

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