Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Business Process Management Simplified: And How Does BPM Feature in the Retail World?

Business Process Management Simplified: And How Does BPM Feature in the Retail World?

And How Does BPM Feature in the Retail World?

The retail landscape has seen significant changes since the inception of the internet. While retailing in the past essentially meant simply distributing the product in question, that is no longer the case. In order to succeed in today’s fast paced retail world, a business needs to focus on retaining customers just as much as attracting new ones. Aspects that need to be addressed in such scenarios include enabling better communication between the business and its customer base, improving the supply chain, as well as seeing how IT solutions can help simplify the overall workflow.

Various retailers have already delved into the BPM sphere. Amongst the various things that one can expect a good Business Process Management solution to provide include, lowered operational costs and reduced cyclic times. Besides, one can also expect a significant ROI in an investment such as this simply because the operations and the solution would work in tandem, and both would be equally responsible for the outcome of the implementation.

How Can BPM Help?

Retailers now accept that their field is becoming more and more complex, and this is mainly because of the surge in service channels coupled with problems in tracking sales. Moreover, brand loyalty isn’t what it used to be, anymore; and in order for customers to come back, one has to ensure not just the high quality of the product, but high service levels as well. With an effective BPM solution in place, you can provide your customers with various platforms to interact with you (these would include in-store communication, over the phone, emails, chat, etc). Of course, you don’t necessarily need a BPM solution in place to offer your customers these options but a BPM solution would ensure that the interactions that take place through the varied mediums are fused seamlessly, thereby giving the business in question better flexibility, better productivity, better processes, and thereby, better customer satisfaction.

BPM solutions for the retail industry also take into account that having a smooth and reliable supply chain can affect the way the business functions to a large extent. A good BPM solution, when it comes to addressing the supply chain, would be able to send out automatic notifications across the business’ various stores, departments, etc; and the same can also be done when it comes to routing work across different sections/levels. The automation would help minimize errors and would also hasten the entire process.

Also, since the workforce is quite an important aspect in this sector, businesses can also use BPM solutions to track the performances of their employees and the processes through an assortment of tools designed specifically for this purpose. This would allow a business to review, strategize, improve and execute their future plans in accordance.

On the whole, with an effective BPM solution in place retailers can expect to respond to change more quickly, give their customers a better experience, get real time control over the business’ processes, effectively manage the supply chain, as well as look forward to enhanced retail distribution, product portfolio, and campaign management.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

E Governance in Today’s BPM World

Any government, it is said, is only as transparent as its citizenry wants it to be and as the government functionaries choose it to be. However, with an increasing number of countries now paying due attention to their citizens’ rights to information, this transparency does seem to be on the rise. With e-governance, a government gives all its citizens a common platform to voice their opinions, seek answers, and most importantly, to get work done.

E-governance is not something that is limited to the west any more, and a number of Indian states have also embraced this technology is some form or the other. States that are already part of the e-governance revolution in this country include Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu, with more looking to follow suit.

This shift in paradigm is not without reason. Not only does this allow the government mechanism to be available to the common people round the clock, but it also cuts across the geographical barriers owing to the continually rising internet connectivity penetration even in previously unreachable hinterlands. So, not only would this result in saving time and money, but would also provide people with the much needed ease of access. For instance, registration of property could be incorporated into e-Governance, and so could an assortment of application processes.

Governments need to recognize that looking at BPM e-Governance solutions is the way to go because documentation accounts for a considerable chunk of its work, and this would include collecting documents and forms from the electorate, or supplying the electorate with any record or document that it requires.

With a good document management system in place governments would succeed in making their processes more transparent. Moreover, since government processes, like any other business process, require to be cost efficient, incorporating an effective document management solution would work in reducing the costs considerably. Process and documental Security is also a crucial aspect, and with the right document management solution in place the classification of documents and access to the same can also be handled effectively.

Other benefits that a good BPM e-governance solution would provide include ensuring that documents are not lost or misplaced and that they can be tracked easily; that inter-governmental communication is streamlined; that audits can be more reliable; that collaboration between various departments is augmented; and a smoother overall workflow. A good BPM e-governance solution should ideally be able to seamlessly integrate with the process’ existing framework; and should also allow room for reengineering at a later stage if the need arises. Also, owing to the diverse electorate, such a solution should be multilingual. These, in effect, would lead to the smoother overall functioning of all the government bodies involved, which resultantly would lead to a more satisfied electorate.

And since this is the primary aim of every government body (or should be), then not using e-governance to empower the people would only leave them discontented, unsatisfied, and looking for change.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

SaaS BPM – A Suitable Present Day Confluence?

The talk about SaaS BPM has been doing rounds for over a couple of years now. An increasing number of industry related experts now speak in favor of this integration and one of the main reasons is the level of collaboration that this integration offers. Process managers and others involved with the project, who until recently, had to be physically present together for implementation of the project, can now partake in the input/decision making process from remote locations.

What is SaaS?

Software as a Service (SaaS) is an offering wherein the provider’s role extends far beyond delivering a functional product, and includes providing the customer with availability, scalability, reliability, etc. A good SaaS model would also give its users the ability to personalize and customize their own settings, while also offering common functions to all users. What essentially sets a SaaS model apart from the onsite solutions though is the licensing aspect. As opposed to using a perpetual license, a SaaS solution would come with a subscription model, wherein the ownership of the solution would remain with the provider.

There are various advantages of offering a BPM solutions as SaaS, and apart from increased collaboration, these are the added advantages.

Business Size Not a Constraint:

When it comes to implementing a BPM strategy for a big business, one can expect to bear considerable expenses coupled with risk and complexities. If the business involves more than one location, then infrastructure would have to be provided for each location, and each location could also end up requiring its own support staff. Opting for a SaaS based BPM solution in such a scenario would help not just because you do not have to worry about the technological support, but also because it is, more often than not, a more cost effective option.

Customer Centric Models:

As opposed to using traditional ‘push’ marketing, a SaaS model would be way more customer centric. This is simply because those who create SaaS BPM solutions depend on the renewal of their services to make money, and this ensures that providers interact with their clients on an ongoing basis as opposed to trying to make that single sale.

Decreased Risk:

Opting for a SaaS BPM solution would require a considerably lower investment than opting for an onsite one. Also, the process manager who uses the solution in question would be free to decide on the solution’s suitability, giving the business in question the option to stop using the service if it feels that it is not deriving adequate results from the new implementation.

The Cost Factor:

While there are people who are of the opinion that SaaS BPM solutions end up costing more in the long run, one should also take into account the ongoing expenses for on-site BPM solutions in the form of software upgrades, maintenance, and the dedicated manpower that is required. A SaaS BPM solution also makes it possible for businesses to serve any number of customers by taking away the need for dedicated server space. These solutions which provide automated periodical upgrades and help in lowering the ‘cost of ownership’ , I feel, can be particularly beneficial when it comes to small and medium businesses with little or no internal IT framework, especially considering the economic conditions, a SaaS BPM solutions would be cost effective for an immediate BPM roll-out strategy.

Lastly, while security is cited as a concern in SaaS BPM solutions, this too is being addressed by most providers. Besides, the demand for such solutions is certainly on the rise as businesses look for newer ways to increase productivity. Using SaaS based solutions gives businesses the option to experiment, and after seeing successful results, to delve further into this sphere. So just as more and more businesses look towards SaaS BPM, an increasing number of providers now aim to provide them with relevant products.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Relevance of Simulation in Today’s BPM World

The way most BPM solutions approach improving any process is by first understanding the process, then analyzing it; and this is generally followed by process simulation which allows the business to visualize possible effects of the change/s. This is followed by the process improvement stage and finally, the automation of the process in question. The question being, can BPM solutions do without the simulation stage?

Well, we do know that the BPM sphere has seen rapid growth since its inception, and changing trends are now becoming increasingly commonplace. Processes are definitely more automated now as compared to a couple of years ago, and the focus of such solutions is becoming more and more client based. However, with the focus shifting on the needs of individual clients, providing relevant solutions does raise the expense factor to a certain extent.

The Traditional View of Simulation in BPM:

A number of people still see simulation as an integral part of BPM solutions. The rationale is that since you have a BPM model in place, you have access to data that indicates exactly what happens within the given process, and this gives you the data for your simulation model. But for a complete understanding of this aspect, taking a step backward offers more insight.

The Process Analysis Stage:

Since this is the stage that precedes the simulation stage, let’s see how it fits into the scheme of things starting from here. Analyzing and optimizing a process is usually overlooked by the process leader and it is this role that looks to identify any problems as well as make any suggestions. This is done after having gone through the entire process, its performance, as well as all associated data; and the aim is to better the overall process performance.

Also, since a majority of the businesses looking at BPM solutions aren’t in a position to get more manpower, BPM solutions tend to offer tools that allow businesses to test various alternatives.

Process Simulation:

Since there is a need to test various alternatives, many BPM solutions do incorporate simulation tools which allow businesses to compare an assortment of scenarios. These tools essentially run using statistical analysis of factors like resource utilization, queue lengths, average task completion, durations, etc. and can be an effective method to test probable situations. However, a simulation tool is generally very complex in nature, with every statistical link requiring checking. This can lead to a lot of complexity within the process instead, which is against the most widely accepted philosophy of BPM – making processes simple and transparent.

The Process Improvement Stage:

Some BPM solutions come with optimization tools which allow a business to establish the best path towards the improvement of the process. This works in addressing the simulation stage’s natural glitches; wherein, as opposed to an analyst determining the areas that can be improved upon, the tool would actually give you feasible options.

Besides, comparing simulated scenarios isn’t always beneficial to business growth. This is simply because different business managers would look to measure different metrics/components in reaching to effective conclusions.

So while I’m not writing off the role of simulation completely, I am certainly of the opinion that more cost effectual and efficient BPM solutions can be offered without the use of simulation tools.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Process excellence in Manufacturing with BPM Technology

Manufacturing houses the world over have to deal with production and supply chain related issues, and this often calls for quick responses and timely intervention clubbed with innovative approaches. Not only does a manufacturing house have to deal with customers, but also with an array of distributors, suppliers, vendors, and its own workforce. While there have been various attempts in the past to streamline production processes through the use of various enterprise solutions, the results have been quite mixed. This is mainly because the focus doesn’t always remain on the business’ individual process requirements. Business units are broken down into smaller assembly units and each use stripped down process modeling with limited interaction. Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) typically only support production routing, production processes, and instructions for the work to be done. Hence, MES systems are focused only on production and are unable to execute processes, integrate multivendor applications or play a role in the planning, designing and building phase of manufacturing.

BPM to the Rescue

Business Process Management tools cure this exact pain. It gives businesses the ability to fine tune processes while eliminating any shortcomings, while also automating production processes in order to minimize errors and maximize reliability. Through effective BPM implementation a production house can also utilize its assets to the fullest, thereby getting the most out of its existing manpower and equipment. Besides, in going the BPM way a production house would have the ability to extend its channels of revenue, and this would also give the business an opportunity to gather pertinent customer data from various points of sale.

Managing the Supply Chain:

Since this fast paced technological world that we now live in calls for quick fire and accurate decision making while also maintaining visibility, it is important that businesses and their respective supply chain collaborators work in tandem by quickly adapting to changing market needs and scenarios. Using a BPM solution to streamline a business’ entire supply chain network would help the business adapt to the latest trends, minimize wastage, and run on decreased operating costs.


When it comes to the operational aspect of any manufacturing business, one of the most common complaints involves the lack of synchronized data. If the operations part of a manufacturing house is not adequately integrated, it could very well lead to inaccurate reporting of data, loss of man hours, unnecessary inventories, inappropriate planning and decision making, etc. With the help of an integrated BPM solution, one can expect to have access to all information in real time.

Apart from the positives mentioned above, here are some more reasons why a production house would benefit by employing a BPM strategy.

  • Collaboration: In keeping common goals and running a unified platform a production house gives its ‘people’ network a place where they can interact and collaborate.
  • Workflow: Integrating a business’ technological aspects with the processes and the people behind the processes keeps a due check on prioritization, thereby ensuring a smooth workflow.
  • Transparency: Using a BPM solution would tell a business exactly where and how its resources are being used, and to what effect.

Other benefits of using BPM solutions in production industries include the ability to run processes in accordance to specific business needs; reducing the possibility of delays in the supply of materials; using automatic notifications to correspond within various internal departments and with external sources like customers, vendors, and suppliers; as well as the ability to integrate one’s existing range of applications like SCM and ERP.

So do I see more manufacturing houses embrace this technology in the time to come? Of course!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Value of BPM for BPO Operations

BPM tools have helped businesses in various fields, and while a number of key players in the BPO industry have already jumped on the BPM bandwagon, a large number of BPO’s continue to remain under tremendous timelines related pressures. With the need for innovative products that can help increase productivity while cutting costs being the foremost criteria of almost every BPO, BPM providers continue to make continual upgrades and use state of the art technology to better their existing offerings.

If you are wondering why a BPO would need BPM solutions, do consider the following data released by IBM last year. Most businesses end up wasting more than 5 hours per employee; more than two thirds of all employees end up making decisions despite having incorrect information around once every week; two thirds feel that while there are people who can help them perform better, they just don’t know how to find them; and lastly, in excess of 90% of all the business heads who were interviewed opined that their business’ operating style needed a makeover.

Within a BPO, processes like sales, marketing, operations, insurance, banking, online services, human resources, and even administration can benefit through BPM tools. This is simply because any process which has room to be partially or completely automated, improved, and monitored, can benefit from BPM technology. Some BPOs have also used BPM tools as the key differentiator in customer acquisition situations. Through BPM, a BPO can also display its understanding of processes at the core level to any of its existing or probable client/s.

BPM can also help in the event where a business is looking to outsource work to a BPO. BPM would help the business in question have better control on the outsourced process while also being able to impart its SLAs in a more effective manner and provide complete transparency. Moreover, end customers do tend to face the challenge of basing a great amount of dependency on the BPO of critical processes. Besides, they might not necessarily feel comfortable to outsource critical tasks such as exiting or moving a process function to another BPO, and converting it into an internal process could also seem like a risky proposition. BPM can circumvent this risk by standardizing such processes and this could very well simplify a potential handover.

In looking at BPM solutions, these are aspects that a BPO should look into:

a) The offered solution should be quickly developed.

b) The solution should be low cost at the onset, and sustainable in the long run.

c) The solution should be able to integrate with the BPO’s existing technology.

Since the BPO spectrum is quite varied, the pertinent BPM solutions also follow suit. For example, the solution that a financial sector BPO requires would vary from the one that is needed by a service oriented BPO. The good thing is that BPM can deliver solutions, irrespective of the core area of expertise.

For instance, when it comes to codifying or guiding workflow, BPM would simply automate your otherwise manual tasks of taking notes. BPM could also help in creating subordinate processes which can then be handed over to third-parties in scenarios such as application support, loan processing, data verification, etc.

So yes, a BPO can surely benefit through the use of BPM solutions, as not only does this present an opportunity of garnering increased control, but also of increased and higher standards of output. And with the doldrums still not quite out of the picture, cost effective BPM solutions for BPOs do seem to be the order of the day.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Composite Applications in Today’s BPM World

The demand for enterprise applications is definitely on the rise, and a business, in this day and age, can easily find a software package to address almost any aspect of the business. Solutions for facets like CRM, ERP, SCM, MRP, etc. are quite easy to come by, with a plethora of vendors trying to fill the existent marketplace. However, just as businesses strive to create their place under the sun, the same also applies to vendors of business solutions, and this has given rise to the integration of these solutions under a single umbrella.

The idea behind running composite applications is to move the focus from individual application development, to integrating them into a single unit instead. These applications also work in addressing the gaps between existing applications and creating solutions specific to specific tasks, allowing the business process to follow the steps laid by the solution as opposed to having users work as mediators in between different processes.

The Changing Facade

Solutions created using Business Process Management platforms differ from the solutions developed not so long ago, as BPM solutions deliver ‘process’ models and metadata mapping instead of delivering database instantiations and database models, as in the case of conventional solutions. Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) components now run completely independently, and human interaction/decision making is now a part of the entire automation process as well. This gives the end user the ability to configure/assemble components as required while also streamlining them with one’s existing web based services. Besides, by uniting the human workflow aspect with automation process, the overall workflow can be managed in a more effective manner.

One very important aspect of composite applications is that they generally do not aim at 100% functionality. This is simply because they come with a range of executable components which can then be sequenced as per the end user’s preferences. Instead of complete functionality, such solutions aim at dynamic assembly, flexibility, integration, and extensibility.

What to Expect

With more and more businesses making the required infrastructural changes, one can expect the ability of a BPM solution to enable composite applications to be one of the key components in a BPM implementation. You should also know that composite applications go beyond the realm of SOA, and various large businesses have already gone ahead and deployed various service enabled applications aimed at leveraging SOA in different forms. This also makes it important for such solutions to look at incorporating the various services/components that are being clubbed together.

The benefits are manifold; BPM enabled solutions can help streamline the business process, it can help bridge the business/IT gap, the integration capabilities help leverage on existing IT investments, it can help reduce operational costs, it can diminish business risks, it would be easy to implement; it would be a hastened process, and it would also allow both vertical and horizontal scalability. As a customer, before any BPM implementation, I would definitely ask the question… Does this BPM platform help me create applications rapidly and integrate easily with existing systems?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

What Can You Expect from Embeddable BPM Solutions?

The very core of embeddable BPM solutions relies on the basis that this brings to the fore various advanced capabilities when it comes to addressing existent process management applications and systems. A good embeddable BPM solution would be built from scratch, taking into account the specific integration of a business’ existing applications and workflow solutions.

Amongst the basic things that you should expect from a good embeddable BPM solution include scalable and reliable architecture, and the ability of quick integration (this could be across different platforms such as MOSS 2007, Microsoft SharePoint, BizTalk Server, etc). Also, your embeddable BPM solution should incorporate as many BPM functions as required, while also leaving room for high levels of flexibility though the use of a standard based approach.

Human Resource Workflow Solutions:
No BPM strategy would be fully effective if the business does not take into account the ‘human’ factor, especially if the business in question allocates work in a team based manner. Therefore, the embeddable BPM solution that you chose should be able to use integrated queues for the same, and should ideally support the ‘push pull’ pattern. This solution should be able to assign rights to users as required, and task allocation should be possible through random, systematic, or round robin systems, as chosen by the business. Also, even though the solution aims to automate the process, manual allocation should still remain a possibility.

Integration with Applications:
As mentioned before, the ability of quick integration is very important when it comes to embeddable BPM solutions. For example, if your business already uses SAP, then the solution should run on architecture that can seamlessly integrate with the same. It should allow connectivity with multiple databases such as MS SQL, My Directory, and Oracle; and should also allow the end user to make modifications to the embedded workflow patterns as well as the user interface.

The User Interface:
There is no denying the fact that the user interface plays an important role in the successful implementation of most embeddable BPM solutions. The use of extremely intuitive user interfaces can be found quite easily, and so can the use of an assortment of built-in templates. This aspect of the BPM solution should also be easy to modify, and should also take into account factors like the geographical location of the end user.

Further, the use of an XML variable interface can help simplify the input of XML data into the workflow, and the same also holds true for creating new XML schemas or simply importing ones that already exist.

A good embeddable BPM solution should allow interface access through various channels, and should be able to define various media types when it comes to the delivery of tasks (these would include web, email, voice, SMS, IM, etc).

Overall, your embeddable solution should aim at increasing your visibility through the use of a simple to use set of features which are run on the latest technology, while also being able to seamlessly integrate with your business’ existing infrastructure; and at all times, paying due attention to 3rd party software usage restrictions.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

And Just What is Business Process Management?

The financial slowdown notwithstanding, the BPM arena continues to grow. Various businesses are constantly looking for new ways that can help raise their performance levels as well as means to effectively address the ever changing market demands.

If you do intend to incorporate a BPM strategy in your business, it becomes important that you have your basics in place. This is essentially because businesses generally have various processes that need to be addressed while implementing an overall BPM strategy, and while your primary focus should always remain on delivering your products/services to your customers, it is also important that you remain in the know how when it comes to your business’ BPM strategy.

The History:

Do know that workflow automation is, by no means, a recent phenomenon. Office automation ideas were seen in the late 1970’s, and this led to the introduction of various workflow systems that helped automate different processes, requiring minimal human interference. Also, while the ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) applications of the 1990’s did simplify matters further still, there still remained the problem of operating these across different workflow platforms. This was addressed through the use of EAI (Enterprise Application Integration) systems in the early part of this century. It is this very integration of EAI systems with ERP applications that gave rise to the modern day BPM solutions.

BPM is:

BPM is essentially a process of streamlining the functioning of your business using a set discipline through the use of one or more technology while also incorporating a framework of rapidly developed applications. In simple terms, you use technology to automate aspects of your business. By using an effective BPM strategy a business can quickly move from the idea stage to the implementation stage; and this is through the use of productivity tools which help develop, test, and implement process models, thereby helping increase productivity.

Can BPM Help Every Business?

The way I (and scores of other people from this field) see it, any business would benefit by understanding its primary business process, looking for areas that can be bettered, and then bettering them. There is no dearth of businesses which have used BPM strategies to help address complicated business related problems, and these include both big and small businesses.

While BPM solutions would work best with businesses that already have a technological mindset, looking at technology to simplify and streamline a business is always a good idea. Also remember that incorporating BPM solutions into your business sphere could call for some radical changes, and this makes it important for the management to be open to change.

The best part about looking at BPM solutions is that you would get solutions that would take your exact requirements into consideration. Therefore, as opposed to looking at ‘stock’ options for automation, businesses now have access to tailor made or configurable BPM Suites, which are agile, flexible and powerful.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Business Process Management: Why Here, Why Now?

The Business Process Management (BPM) realm continues to evolve at a rapid pace. This is not just in relation to the technology/software that various businesses offer and employ but also with the approach to the process in itself. With these periodical changes taking place in this field, a good source of up-to-date information is often sought.

After all, BPM does play a significant role in the shrinking of most spheres of businesses. Not only does BPM help with an assortment of automation options, but also offers a continual improvement process coupled with various communication platforms. Evolved BPM components now allow businesses to customize their processes, policies, etc. in accordance to the target audience needs, geographical locations notwithstanding.

A good BPM strategy in today’s world would have you focus on integrating aspects like processes, systems, and data, along with your workforce spread across multiple locations. Your BPM strategy would also allow you to associate metrics with the life cycle of your business process, and this would take into account aspects like improving, redesigning, implementing, and managing your business process.

In looking to incorporate a BPM strategy, some basics that need to be addressed include:
  • Globalization: Even if you run a single unit today, you should ensure that your strategy takes into account that you might soon operate from one or more remote locations, thereby requiring one common platform.
  • Innovation: Ours is a constantly evolving world, and irrespective of the strategy that you follow, you should always look to embrace new technology.
  • Productivity: Your BPM efforts should not come at a cost of reduced productivity, and if that is the case, then you are obviously doing something wrong.
  • Streamlining the flow of information: Since automating various business aspects is the key to Business Process Management, you can easily collate data from various sources and use it as valuable information.
  • Customer Satisfaction: Since this forms the crux of every successful business, it is very important that you know just how you can use your BPM efforts to focus on the needs of your customers. The fact is that through your BPM efforts you can manage to retain your existing customers with a considerably higher rate of success.
Therefore, in these trying times, while most prominent economists are at loggerheads about whether the economy is rising only to fall again, having your core business strategies in place becomes very important. So while you might wish to implement a BPM strategy to simplify your workflow and/or expand your business, it is very important that you go about doing so in the right manner. With the sea of information about BPM that you have access to through the internet, it is quite easy to get lost.

While I do end up referring to a plethora of sources in my quest for BPM knowledge, I understand that not everybody can be as patient (or resourceful). This, therefore, is my endeavor to keep you posted about all the developments in the world of Business Process Management and Workflow solutions.

Also, if there’s anything that I miss, or if there’s anything that you would like to share, please feel free to contribute.