The usual (and, in some cases, the only) motivation an organization has in investing time and money with a BPM application is control. Nonetheless, control can mean different things to different people. For some, it can mean ensuring individual steps of a given process are executed in the sequence planned. However, certain processes have vastly complex rules that must be applied as each step is executed. Based on what happens at a particular step, the subsequent action is variable until the item of work is completed. For others, control can mean the ability to manage such rule sets if they can be expressed properly. If they cannot, control might mean simply knowing where the work item is until it is finally resolved by the right person at the right time.

The real beef of BPM and workflow systems for the Technorati and industrial engineering inclined is in the information collected. Such process metrics are not just evidence of work being accomplished but are the source of control. Beyond setting up your process and the players in it, part of installing any BPM system has always been defining what kind of process data you will collect and how it will be reported. This will often include alerts to warn of potential backlogs in either total workload or the excess duration of an item at various steps.

Depending on the generation of software you invest in, these process metrics are often difficult to gather and require complex reporting tools to create meaningful information. One way of getting the most out of your BPM application is to manipulate the information commonly referred to as "business intelligence." What you do with this intelligence, beyond simply reporting it, will mean a lot to extracting value out of your investment.

The more robust BPM applications provide tools to use this information to launch other processes. For example, setting a high- or low-level value might cause an email to be generated to alert a manager, or a system call might be made to bring additional resources to bear on the workload, such as in a call center that handles customer calls by phone, web submissions and complaints sent in on paper. As call center volumes increase, the operators are shifted from handling letter-based complaints, which are imaged and distributed electronically, to handling inbound phone calls. Any number of human or system-based interventions can be executed with a well-planned approach.

Another way to extract value from business intelligence - and the latest craze in BPM - is to feed this information to simulation tools. Using the real data as a starting point, business managers can simulate any number of scenarios that are likely to occur and can plan on how to address them. Good managers should always be prepared for business fluctuations. Since a process is only as fast as its slowest process point (based on Von Neumann's Law), knowing where that point is and how to deal with it is essential. Simulation tools help you evaluate where these weak points will occur and allow you to experiment on how to resolve these issues. In challenging times, this is a valuable tool to balance your process properly and expend resources wisely. Just as with many software applications, many owners don't use everything at their disposal. When it comes to your investment in BPM, this can be a very expensive mistake.

JIM MINIHAN [bpm@imergeconsult.com], a pioneer of workflow and process management, is an acknowledged expert on automation of service sector enterprises and their processes.

 

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