Last month, Gartner published predictions that suggested that modern business environments are more knowledge-based and unpredictable than ever before and need technology that can support this state of affairs (http://www.gartner.com/it/page.jsp?id=1278415). The current crop of Business Process Management (BPM) solutions have done a great job at taking existing processes, modelling them, finding optimisations and eliminating errors. However, the overarching promise of BPM - to introduce automation and make business processes more responsive - has not yet been realised.
In 2010, the business prerogative across all sectors is to use IT to drive efficiency and enable a business to react more quickly to customer and market changes. To do this, I believe we need to take a different view of BPM technology and try to see how it can be used to make knowledge-based business more ‘operationally responsive', reacting to customer needs and market changes instantly. This is already beginning to happen, and as it gains momentum, BPM will prove its usefulness in bringing ‘order to the chaos', and will make it onto the strategic agenda of every CIO.
Acting on information - by the millisecond
In the financial arena, new stock exchanges such as Turquoise provide a very good example of the potential for a new approach to BPM. Turquoise needs to identify, in real-time, unusual patterns of trading behaviour that could be an indication of abusive behaviour, which in turn could present a compliance issue.
Turquoise is using Event Processing technology to spot any unusual patterns of trading behaviour and alert an operator to take action. This alert then starts a human-orientated process - ideal for handling, and potentially automating, using BPM. This is an excellent case of where the sense-and-respond capabilities of event processing can be used together with BPM but this scenario goes beyond currently what BPM systems can offer. I believe that the potential for creating real business value by bringing together the two disciplines of event processing and BPM is substantial.
Gaining insight - anywhere in the world
In the telecoms space, for example, convergence of event processing and BPM can enable mobile operators to not just see when a customer is about to go over their pre-paid limit, but to then take concerted action. Customers can be sent messages automatically, inviting them to add more to their pre-pay account, which could then commence a text-based payment system, introducing more automation into the interaction, as well as improved customer service and, of course, revenue protection for the operator.
3 Italia is one company that's embarked on this journey. The Italian mobile operator found it couldn't confirm customers' call limits quickly enough when they were out of the country and, as a result, they were going over their pre-paid limit while making expensive cross-border calls. The operator was losing revenue because its billing system couldn't react quickly enough to customer changes. 3 Italia is now using event processing to proactively identify the problems, often before they occur, and then launch a process to fix the issue. So, similar to Turquoise, the combination of event processing and BPM addresses 3 Italia's requirements ideally.
Insight across the enterprise - and beyond
Part of the evolution to a next-generation BPM solution is around the need to embrace an enterprise-wide solution, not a department-specific one.
Any real world, non-trivial, business process belongs to the whole enterprise rather than being contained in a department. Order fulfilment, for example, runs from marketing and sales through to the back office, warehouse, distribution and to the finance team to handle the invoicing and payment.
In fact, most modern, real-world business processes go beyond a business's own environment, involving partners, customers and suppliers. Information needs to be gathered from multiple external streams of data and so needs to be captured by a BPM solution that is capable of going beyond the enterprise. Future business success is not just about responding to and controlling things that are going on within your own organisation, it's also about responding more quickly to external events.
My belief is that BPM will get really interesting when it is combined with event processing and can therefore detect situations that are occurring and automatically begin a process that takes action on that information.
Looking ahead, BPM needs to deliver the ability to improve processes, based on a more holistic view of what's going on in an organisation. Retail banks need the rigours of their current BPM systems matched with the responsiveness of an event processing system, in order to help them meet the growing pressure to quickly spot customer issues and instantly improve the customer interaction. It's about delivering real-time insight into what's going on in processes across the organisation and, using that insight, to drive efficiencies. And this needs to happen without any requirement to ‘rip and replace' - instead, organisations need the ability to build on their existing IT investment, adding on these ‘next generation' improvements.
BPM is becoming a mainstream technology. It allows discipline to be brought to the way processes are executed, enabling organisations to simulate, test and optimise the way they are operating. The next stage is to match it with the other side of the coin, where it can help an organisation respond to events and become truly operationally responsive - something worthy of the full attention of any CIO.