Architecture & DesignQ&A: The Role of BPM in an SOA Strategy

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Sandy Carter, Vice President, SOA Strategy, Channels and Marketing, IBM was kind enough to talk to and about how BPM (Business Process Management) fits into an SOA (Service Oriented Architecture) Strategy.

Q: Business Process Management (BPM) appears to be moving to the forefront in IT circles; can you please explain the growing interest?

A: There are two key drivers to the increased interest in BPM within IT circles. First, there have been many advances in BPM-related IT products in everything from modeling tools to process choreography and workflow technologies. The recent popularity of service oriented architecture (SOA) within IT circles has also helped drive increased interest in BPM. Second, and more importantly, BPM is getting increase focus from business executives who often are the project sponsors and budget owners. This drives IT executives to also focus on BPM to support their line-of-business executives.

Q: Is BPM new?

A: No! BPM as a business management discipline has been around for a long time. Many followers of BPM point to the early days of the Industrial Revolution as the advent of mass production as the starting point for BPM. The next “wave” for BPM occurred in the 1990s when Business Process Reengineering was en vogue with companies driven by many of the strategy consulting firms and the research of Michael Hammer. We are actually in the 3rd generation of BPM and the technologies have matured and the adoption of SOA has brought renewed interest in BPM.

Q: How does BPM complement an SOA strategy?

A: BPM and SOA are really two sides of the same coin and they derive many benefits when brought together. SOA is the engine room for BPM; it provides a flexible IT architecture that is easily and quickly adapted to changing business requirements and allows a company to fully leverage IT investments through reusable components. BPM is the ‘gearbox’ for SOA; it provides business direction on how the IT assets are to be brought together to support and execute business functions.

Q: Can you do BPM without SOA?

A: It is possible to do BPM without SOA however companies who choose to do this will quickly run into a steep curve of diminishing returns. Without the flexibility and adaptability that SOA provides, BPM initiatives will continue to drive complexity into the IT systems as the systems try to keep up with fast-changing business requirements.

Q: How should an organization approach a BPM strategy?

A: Organizations often start with BPM by using process modeling as a way to gain a better understanding of core business processes. Once the current state is documented, the business can begin the cycle of process improvement by designing and implementing changes to the process and measuring the new process performance.

Some companies are also starting out by monitoring basic activities in and across their environment to gain a better understanding on the current state of the business. Ultimately, BPM is about improvement and understanding where problem areas exist so employees can then go an fix them, is also a good way to start.

Q:What skills should a developer possess in order to support the company’s BPM efforts?

A: BPM leverages existing developer skills and tools to build process driven solutions. Development focuses on ‘assembling’ components into process flows rather that creating new code.

Essentially, a developer should have a general understanding of process flow activity and the linkages of steps and activities required to complete work is also a valuable skill. More sophisticated BPM implementations may require systems and process integration and a developer who combines the business perspective with the general technical knowledge will achieve greatest success.

Q: How can companies take advantage of existing BPM and SOA best practices and resources?

A: Considering that reuse is a critical component of SOA, it makes sense for companies and communities to share services as they help execute specific business processes. For example, IBM offers the SOA Business Catalog that is a comprehensive resource to find reusable IT services based on IBM and Business Partner Software. The IBM SOA Business Catalog allows customers to search for information on SOA assets or IT “services,” combinations of software code, intellectual property and best practices, used to solve specific business problems.

Taking the SOA best practices a bit further, companies should also take advantage of industry-specific expertise. We refer to these as roadmaps and IBM created them to help companies succeed through the various stages of SOA evaluation and deployment.

Each of the SOA roadmaps contains a business blueprint, which helps customers map the business side of an SOA strategy, and an industry specific framework, which includes core technology used to execute the business blueprint. The SOA Roadmaps focus on critical business process areas within a given industry. Some examples include online booking for the insurance industry, member enrollment and benefits/eligibility for healthcare, payments for banking, personal shopping for retail, service provisioning and service delivery for telecommunications and supply chain collaboration for industrial.

The business blueprints begin with detailed research that outlines industry challenges and how those industries can benefit from SOA. Each piece of research examines specific business scenarios, describing how those processes are typically executed today and how they could be improved with SOA. The business blueprint also recommends an SOA entry point to make it easier for businesses to know the best place to start to deliver the most immediate business benefits. IBM’s SOA entry points make it easier for customers to approach and initiate SOA project. The three business entry points include people, process and information. The two technical entry points include connectivity and reuse.

Q: What are the tangible business benefits that can be derived from BPM?

A: BPM is about value chain analysis and finding where you can derive value in your core business processes. So where is value derived in BPM itself? Through the following actions:

Understanding – By documenting and analyzing your current processes you can find which processes contain value, which ones are pure ‘utility,’ which ones are redundant, and which ones are unnecessary. You can derive immediate value just from knowing where to start and what to leave alone.

Collaboration – Using your business process documentation as a common base of communication, begin a dialog between business and IT owners to work together to improve the business process design and align the IT resources to your business strategy. Time and time again we hear from clients that they have communication problems between business and IT. Business requirements are misunderstood, IT’s value is unclear. BPM provides value in bridging that gap between the business and IT.

Automation – Use technology to your advantage to automate processes, manage workflow, and provide structure around how your business operates. This will help you drive increased revenue, lower operational costs, and lower error rates due to human mistakes.

Optimization – By monitoring how your process performs over time, you can harvest data that can be used to drive the continuous improvements cycle and optimize your process performance. Each iteration of process improvement will drive increased value to the business. Additionally, using monitoring as a way to alert you to small problems before they become big ones.

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

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