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Development Meets Business Process Modeling: A Q&A with IBM


March 25, 2005

Debbie Moynihan, Program Director, IBM WebSphere Business Integration Product Management was kind enough to talk to Developer.com and Gamelan.com about Business Process Modeling.

Q: What is business process modeling?

A: Business Process Modeling is a standardized means of visually depicting a business process, including the flow, decision points, business events, business logic, business context, and associated resources. A business process model enables a business to document, simulate, share, implement, measure the success, and continually improve a business process. Business process modeling tools today often enable business process simulation which can allow the business analyst to simulate different business process models and identify the model with the best ROI. Business process models also serve as guides that can be used to structure improvement activities to align business processes to business goals and objectives.

Q: How does business process modeling differ from the traditional modeling approach to application development?

A: Business process modeling enables the business users and the IT team to clearly communicate. Business process modeling focuses on the way the business is run and the processes across organizations and applications. Traditional software development modeling is targeted at one software application for the purpose of application development. Business process modeling engages the process specialists and domain experts in clearly articulating the intent of a business process in terms that relate to them and the corresponding end users involved in the process. A business process can contain process logic that can be leveraged by an application developer to either create new applications or update existing ones. With business process modeling, a business process analyst defines the requirements of an application, but they do not need to know how it will be implemented. The business analyst can view and edit the business process model from a business perspective, adding in costs, resources and business context. The integration developer can then view and edit the same process flow, adding service bindings, database calls, etc to transform the model into a run-time workflow. This approach allows the business analysts and the IT team to work together to develop flexible applications that match business requirements and provide the best ROI to the business. The business process model can also be used as input into the application development process by transforming the business process definition into standard formats such as UML, or the Unified Modeling Language that can be used by the downstream application developers.

Business process monitoring allows you to take advantage of the full value of business process modeling. Business process monitoring enables you to monitor the effectiveness of your deployed processes for continuous improvement. This holistic, process-centric approach to managing overall performance allows greater flexibility to quickly deploy the most effective business processes to meet the changing needs of your customers and business partners and to more quickly respond to competitive threats.

Q: BPM is being discussed in many development circles, what is the difference between business process management and business performance management?

A: While the acronyms are the same, Business Performance Management (BPM) really takes Business Process Management to the next level. Business Process Management is a methodology for continuous business process improvement. This includes business process modeling, business process deployment on a run-time process server, business process monitoring, and business process optimization.

Though BPM is not a single product, but a requirement of businesses to be able to understand what is affecting their performance (for example, people, processes, infrastructure, or assets), understand why it is having that effect, and take corrective action to achieve the desired business performance. A complete BPM solution is realized through a set of best practices, methods, and software built around a consistent and extensible architecture.

BPM solutions should combine market-leading software, industry expertise and best practices enabling organizations to better monitor, manage, analyze and take action to make smarter decisions, gain competitive advantage, and achieve greater performance results.

For example, process modeling allows a customer to model and simulate their business processes to get an understanding of the perspective performance before deploying them. Adding monitoring capability allows the customer to better understand actual performance, measure against key performance indicators, and react to any deviations. Adding capabilities such as analytics would enable them to do root cause analysis. Through multiple sources, role-based dashboard views, the customer has analysis of business performance data within the contextual insight of the business. This includes data from multiple sources, including external sources. Collaboration enables users to take action based on the dashboard views. While individual capabilities each provide value, integrating the capabilities provides greater value.

Q: What are the development requirements to support business process modeling?

A: The development requirements depend on the complexity of the business process model. For example, a standard business process model that will be used for documentation and discussion purposes can be created by someone with domain expertise in the business area and requires no programming skills.

However, if a business process model is going to be deployed as a run-time application, an integration specialist with basic programming skills will need to map the process model to the appropriate IT artifacts, i.e. web services bindings, calls to databases, etc. within the company or even outside of the company while also conducting unit testing and debugging on the application prior to deployment.

Q: What industry standards come into play with business process modeling?

A: The most common industry standards for business process modeling include UML, XMI, BPEL, and BPMN. More specifically:

UML: unified modeling language is OMG's most used specification and it covers not only business process modeling but also application structure and architecture modeling, and data structure. This standard allows the ability to take your business process model and share it in the context of an overall architecture model, i.e. a new business process may drive a large number of transactions to a particular underlying enterprise application and thus might impact the necessary configuration and architecture of that application.

XMI: is the XML metadata exchange. This standard is a proposal from OMG and is intended to provide a standard for enabling developers to exchange metadata information. Metadata is important to business process modeling, to enable the business analyst to have the ability to define all of the business context and relationships between different activities and artifacts in a business process flow.

BPEL: business process execution language is an XML-based language designed to enable task-sharing for distributed computing, even across multiple organizations, while using a combination of Web services. Several business process modeling tools provide the ability to export BPEL, and there are several BPEL process integration servers available today. This means that you can deploy from the modeling tool to the run-time server in native BPEL, resulting in an application that matches the business-defined process requirements and maximum ROI benefits.

BPMN: business process modeling notation provides a standard way to share process information with other business users, integration developers, customers and business partners.

Q: Why would an organization invest time and resources into business process modeling?

A: There are three key benefits of implementing business process modeling:

1) Clarity: Business process modeling identify and clearly document a business's most strategic business processes, and helps optimize those business processes to drive maximum ROI and competitive differentiation, as well as conforming to corporate standards. For example, by using business process modeling with simulation, business users and IT can clearly identify which processes have the best ROI, so that those projects are given top priority. By having a clear understanding of business processes and related costs and resources needed, business can reduce costs by eliminating unnecessary process steps, duplicate processes, and manual processes. Business process modeling fosters stronger communication between the business and IT teams to work together to support the company's strategy.

2) Responsiveness: Business process modeling enables increased operational effectiveness for IT and a better match with business requirements and IT deliverables. Business process modeling tools can validate the business process model prior to deployment, such that the business analyst can realize if they made a mistake in the model and correct it before sharing the model with IT. Utilizing business process modeling coupled with an overall business process management strategy, you can quickly modify applications to adapt business processes on demand as a result of changes in the market or competitive threats.

3) Business Flexibility: The key word to this benefit is "business", in that the business leaders and process analysts can modify the business process without having to go to IT. With business process modeling, the business user has a tool to modify and simulate business processes, to see how a new business process will run and affect the business. New or modified business process models can reuse components, services, and sub-processes of existing processes across organizations and functional areas. A business user can then share the model with IT to deploy new applications, products and services quickly to respond to the ever-changing business needs.

Q: In which environments is business process modeling most effective?

A: There are several 'ingredients' that contribute to effective business process modeling. First, business process modeling is most successful in those organizations that embrace it as an organizational strategy and allocate the proper IT and business resources (including executive sponsorship) to ensure its success.

Second, once the appropriate mix of business and IT resources are organized, the business process modeling team should step back and focus on looking at specific business processes across the entire organization.

Third, the organization should determine what are the initial business processes or business issues that it would like to tackle with business process modeling. Some business processes that can gain benefits from business process modeling right away include: 1) simplifying a complex process, i.e. a process that spans multiple functional areas and organizations, like consolidating processes after a merger or acquisition or across divisions, 2) automating part or all of a process that is highly manual or not well-defined, i.e. a process that today includes a lot of human interaction like insurance claims processing, or 3) modifying a business process to ensure regulatory compliance, like Sarbanes-Oxley or HIPPA.

Fourth, for long-term success, an organization should seriously consider establishing an integration center of competence that is focused on business process management and ensuring its success including setting the best practices and methodology around the business process modeling activities.

Q: What does 2005 hold for business process modeling?

A: The two main trends that we're seeing are increased focus on open standards and a more holistic approach to business process modeling with tighter integration with business requirements management and application development.

First, the increasing use of industry standards is being driven by the need to allow for greater sharing of models throughout the organization and among third parties. Business process modeling will also be used more and more as a foundation for defining unique activities and deploying those as services in a services oriented architecture for increased business flexibility. Businesses are seeking tools that allow them to integrate not only new web services but also leverage existing assets within a process flow. Several business process modeling tools now allow you to export your business process models as web services using the BPEL standard.

Second, while business process modeling has always been important as a methodology, there has been a noticeable shift and a rise in the demand for software solutions that enable business process modeling with the ability to deploy the models as run-time workflows with integrated monitoring for a closed loop approach to business process integration and optimization. More and more companies are also recognizing the importance of business process management and are investing in centers of excellence around integration and business process management.

Thank you for taking the time to talk with us Debbie!

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