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The needle in the haystack: on the search for the right BPM system

Wide-ranging changes to business processes make exceptional demands on company control solutions

Flying blind or landing on the spot? This is how managers must feel when they identify changes in their market, and know they only have a matter of minutes in which to react. Added pressure is created by the growing dynamics to be top of the game in fast-moving markets, where restructuring and acquisitions are a side-effect of competition and not the exception. The result: a constant increase in demands for transparency and quality in company activities, processes and information.

Business Process Management (BPM) is no longer a closed book when it comes to tackling these requirements. However, new trends continue to appear, and companies must bear them all in mind when selecting their BPM solution.

"Not only must new investments in IT systems show results quickly, in the shadow of today's difficult economic environment, but they must also be able to create real added value in the long term. "Flexibility, scalability, the ability to integrate and ease of implementation are the key features that make today's IT solutions able to function for the future," emphasized Dr. Michael Otte, CEO at the BPM specialists Inspire Technologies. "The BPM architecture design in new solutions must be flexible enough to handle the new demands that arise in business processes with a minimum of modification, and while the system is running.

BPM as a survival strategy 
A survey conducted by Gartner, the market research institute, during the BPM Summit in London (Trip Report "Gartner Business Process Management Summit 2009") also highlights the current importance of establishing or optimizing IT-based business process management. "The economic downturn has increasingly led to the implementation of BPM as a strategy for reducing costs and commercial survival," said Michele Cantara, Research Vice President at Gartner. "Managing business processes makes them visible for specialist departments and also for IT teams," Cantara continued. "This makes it possible for these two entities to work more closely with each other, to achieve rapid and effective changes in the processes." The results of the survey show that BPM is worthwhile and doesn't have to break the bank: Gartner calculates that implementing BPM can help reduce costs by up to 20 percent in the first year. This means that companies can offset the cost of implementing BPM within a year. But where exactly are the pinch-points in a company? How does a future-proof BPM solution have to be designed to ensure that these key figures are not merely a pipe dream?

It must be able to grow along with business-specific requirements
Another issue that plays an important role in the introduction of Business Process Management is its degree of acceptance by users. If they don't get a feeling of achievement soon after its implementation, a BPM project can be judged a failure even at an early stage. For this reason, solutions that start off in selected departments and are then rolled out in stages are the most likely to be successful. However, scalability plays a central role in the ability of a solution to grow as the demands placed on the company increase. It doesn't matter whether a "classic" on premise solution or a hosted "software as a service" (SaaS) solution is implemented, the main aim is to avoid a rude awakening. Security of investment is also a central factor, especially in times of economic crisis. In this respect, there are suppliers that have proven the scalability of their BPM solutions in benchmark tests. In objective comparison tests, Inspire Technologies has proven that its inspire premium BPM platform can handle up to 35,000 processes per hour (335,000 transactions) on a 2-CPU machine. Its "fail-over" ability also makes this solution ideal for use in critical application areas. Because BPM inspire does not need excessive amounts of hardware, it keeps investment costs within manageable limits.

Java or .NET – seamless docking is key
An easily integrated BPM solution is key to mastering the myriad different programming paradigms and being able to operate as flexibly as possible. This is where the solution from the BPM specialists really comes into its own: "We don't just integrate in all the .NET environments (for example, Outlook, MS Sharepoint) and Java environments (for example, IBM WebSphere ESB, Portal Server, Lotus Notes), but, thanks to our modern web service layer, we can also process both WS-I compliant and also non-WS-I compliant services," explained Dr. Otte. However, a cutting-edge BPM suite doesn't just take web services into account. It also uses a mature plug-in concept to offer exceptional flexibility when it comes to its ability to integrate and include existing IT structures from a processing viewpoint. In practice, the highest demand is for the Business Intelligence (BI), document management (DMS) and archiving, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), OCR and capturing functionalities. With these, customers can be sure that their processes can be mapped effectively in almost any infrastructure. 

Business intelligence and BPM – the inseparable duo for successful business process control
Nowadays, the fact that successful companies have to work in a process-oriented manner, is self-evident. Companies use the opportunities presented by Business Process Management (BPM) across all their functions and departments to implement automated, integrated multi-system processes. This not only reduces operating costs, but also means they can bring products to market more quickly, retain customers and vendors, minimize risks and optimize flexibility and agility. Planning, monitoring and controlling processes on an on-going basis, within the framework of BPM, is a prerequisite for this. This also places Business Intelligence (BI) in the context in which it can achieve its greatest benefits: business processes. Processes can be proactively monitored, analyzed and continually modified to suit ever-changing data. Unfortunately, up to now, this has only happened in theory, because the rigid process models of the past were unable to take into account, or forecast, all eventualities. But what exactly does a BPM suite need to be able to control business processes in real time? When the BI system signals that something unexpected has happened, the processes linked to it must be adapted to handle the new situation as quickly as possible. For this reason, the engine must hold the data it receives from the Business Intelligence System in readiness, like a "data cloud", so that it can be provided as and when necessary. In addition, it must be possible to modify processes at run-time to ensure that processes which have already started don't simply disappear into thin air, and to prevent the creation of inconsistencies. It is only this interplay between the way data is used and flexible process modifications that enables on-going improvements to be made to processes, based on the BI data collected from them, and so take the next step, from Business Intelligence to Business Process Management (BPM). 

An example of dynamic process modifications can be seen at Griesser AG in Switzerland. The company, which specializes in blinds and shutters, relies on Inspire Technologies' BPM suite: "Business processes are dynamic, which is why a BPM solution must be flexible and able to adapt if something goes awry," explained Ruedi Neff, Head of IT at Griesser. "Only BPM inspire was able to give us the option of updating our processes while our systems were running. The processes from the majority of suppliers are often so bloated, inflexible, and so difficult to scale, that you have serious misgivings about even touching any of the adjusting mechanisms." Griesser is currently running 15 core processes which handle all the company's transactions in every department, ranging from production through IT to administration and business management. Every day, up to 400 users work with the solution, which simultaneously processes data in 400 process instances. The major benefit: a BPM solution that takes process control literally. 

The demands and the reality of open source BPM
Open source software has become a familiar sight in the heterogeneous IT infrastructures of modern companies. A handful of suppliers have also established themselves in the BPM sector. Before choosing a solution, a company should clearly understand the central claims made on an open source-based BPM solution. If customers expect on-going development, problem resolution and reliable maintenance and service for their projects, they should seriously reconsider their decision to go for an open source solution. Open source is based on community-minded thinking. However, this also means that it is shaped by the speed and expertise of the community. This is especially problematic if your company doesn't has its own IT resources to fall back on. You will have no success in finding a direct contact person or anyone who is actually responsible for the software. In addition, the service and support provided by third-party suppliers for open source software frequently involves significant costs. This is where choosing a commercial provider that operates an indirect sales model, and can devote themselves exclusively to the consistent on-going development of BPM software, would be preferable, because they also provide sales, maintenance and service support, and have a network of locally based expert partners.

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